Greimas Viz

Visualizing Greimas' Dictionnaire

What is the Dictionnaire?

In 1979, Algirdas J. Greimas and Joseph Courtès published Sémiotique : dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage. The book quickly became a fundamental text of the Parisian school of semiotics; a reference that sketches its own doctrine; a research project and research in action (Coquet et al., 1982). Thirty-seven years later, its influence has spread not only through Greimas’s students and colleagues, but also within younger generations who have access to the newer version from 1993 and, more recently, its electronic format as ePub 2 and Kindle. Propelled by the lexicological form of his previous works (his two doctoral theses in 1948), the Dictionnaire can be seized both as a research and intellectual tool (similar forms already exist in the field, e.g. Cobley (ed.), 2010).


Turning the Dictionnaire into data

The 1993 edition:

  • 645 terms
  • 424 pages
  • 8,352 sentences
  • 174,872 words
  • 961,512 characters (without spaces)
  • 1,198,277 characters (including spaces)

Each term is described according to six aspects:

  • Name of concept (French and English)
  • dictionary abbreviation
  • the definition
  • two inter-trans-meta-linguistic devices: asterisks and cross-references

Example of a term:

Types of terms

  • Feminine noun = 347
  • Masculine noun = 167
  • Adjective = 101
  • Verbe = 2

Frequency of terms

Terms which appear the most in the Dictionnaire:

Length of characters per term

  • Average = 1,760
  • Median = 1,000
  • Tiniest term: Intercalation (76 characters)
  • Largest term: Sémiotique (23,000 characters)

Visualizing the Dictionnaire

The first visualization prototype present all terms by alphabetical order.
This kind of visualization is useful to appreciate at a glance different densities in a document.
Click to see or download SVG version. abc

Following the cross-references established by Greimas, we can trace the inter-relationships between terms.
This is a manner to visualize the semantic field envisioned by Greimas.
Click to see interactive version.

The semantic field is now distributed in space.
I used the algorithm Force Atlas for space distribution and the Modularity algorithm to color families.
Click to see interactive version.

The early prototype was presented as SVG with basic interactivity. The first version can be seen below.
Click to see or download SVG version. network

Technical details

Original paper

"A distant reading of Greimas' Dictionnaire", presented at the 13th World Congress of Semiotics (IASS/ISI) in Kaunas, Lithuania, June 26-30 2017.

Slides availbale through Slideshare
Everardo Reyes, Paris, June 2017.