Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


The Concept of "Universe of Discourse" in Integral Semantics

Elena Carmen Faur

Although the concept of universe of discourse is approached by Coseriu only in two articles (Coseriu 1956/1967, 2000), this notion is central to his integral semantics. In Determinación y entorno (1956/1967), Coseriu defines the notion of universe of discourse as "the universal systems of significations" in rapport to which "the validity and the sense of a specific discourse can be circumscribed". The concept is discussed in the context of establishing the fundamental coordinates of speaking in general at the universal level in Coseriu's matrix. Moreover, it is very precisely individualized from the contexts of speaking, especially from the extra-verbal one.

Although as referential domain of speaking, the universe of discourse functions as a kind of background of our speaking, it does not strictly belong to the operation of designation; it is rather the universe of discourse which makes the act of designation possible. In the study from 1956/1967, Coseriu distinguishes between different universes of discourse: "literature, mythology, science, mathematics, empirical world are universes of discourse" (Coseriu 1956/1967) to the extent that they constitute "referential domains" of our speaking.

The study from 2000 brings forth further clarifications and a new division between the universes of discourse. They are now defined as "universes of knowledge which would correspond to the fundamental modes of human knowledge" (Coseriu 2000). In the same article, Coseriu distinguishes between four universes of discourse, namely (1) the universe of our routine experience, (2) the universe of science, (3) the universe of fantasy and (4) the universe of faith.

My presentation will focus both on the first delineation of the Coserian concept from 1956 and on his further distinctions from 2000. At the same time, the presentation will attempt to correlate the Coserian notion with the one proposed more recently within so-called third generation of cognitive science (see, for example, Sinha 2004 and Zlatev 2009 a, b).


  • Coseriu, E. (1956/1967), Determinación y entorno, in Teoría del lenguaje y lingüística general. Cinco estudios, Madrid, Editorial Gredos.
  • Coseriu, E. (2000), Prolusione. Orationis fundamenta: La preghiera come testo and Bilancio provvisorio. I quattro universi di discurso, in I quattro universi di discurso. Atti del Congresso Internazionale "Orationis Millennium", L'Aquila, 24-30 giugno 2000. A cura di Giuseppe de Gennaro S.I., Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano.
  • Sinha, C. (2004). The evolution of language: From signals to symbols to system, in D. Kimbrough, & U. Griebel, Evolution of Communication Systems: A Comparative Approach.
  • Zlatev, J. (2009), The Semiotic Hierarchy: Life, Consciousness, Signs and Language, in Cognitive Semiotics, Special Issue on Anthroposemiotics vs. Biosemiotics, vol. 4.