To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

A quantum-based semiotic model for textual semantics

Francesco Galofaro (Politecnico di Milano, Milano, Italy and Libera Universita di Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy)
Zeno Toffano (Department of Telecommunications, CentraleSupelec, Gif-sur-Yvette, France and Laboratoire des signaux et systemes, Gif sur Yvette, France)
Bich-Liên Doan (CentraleSupelec, LRI, Gif-sur-Yvette, France)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 12 December 2017

Issue publication date: 7 February 2018




The paper aims to provide a semiotic interpretation of the role played by entanglement in quantum-based models aimed to information retrieval and suggests possible improvements. Actual models are capable of retrieving documents relevant to a query composed of a keyword and its acceptation expressed by a given context. The paper also considers some analogies between this technique and quantum-based approaches in other disciplines to discuss the consequence of this quantum turn, as epistemology and philosophy of language are concerned.


We use quantum geometry to design a formal model for textual semiotics. In particular, the authors refer to Greimas’s work on semantics and information theory, to Eco’s writings on semantic memory and to Lotman’s work on a cybernetic notion of culture.


Quantum approaches imply a particular point of view on meaning. Meaning is not a real, positive quality of a given word. It is a net of relations constructed in the text, whose value is progressively determined during the reading process. Furthermore, reading is not a neutral operation: to read is to determine meaning. If it is said that, from a general semiotic point of view, meaning is stored in quantum semantic memories and is read/written by semantic machines, then the operation of “reading/writing” is analogous to the operation of measuring in quantum theory: in other terms, meaning is a value, and this implies an instance (not necessarily human) according to which values are valuable.

Research limitations/implications

The authors are not proposing a complete quantum semantics. At the present, quantum information retrieval can detect the presence of semantic relations. The authors suggest a way to characterize them, leaving open the problem on how to formalize the document as a vector in four-state semantic space.

Practical implications

A quantum turn shows deep semiotic implications on the approach to language, which shows an immanent semantic organization not reducible to syntax and morphology. This organization is probabilistic and indeterministic and explains to what extent text fixes the meaning of its lexical units.

Social implications

In the authors’ perspective, signification is not the exclusivity of a human subject. Criticizing Turing test, the great semiotic and cybernetic scholar Jurij Lotman wrote that if we identify “intelligent” and “human”, we raise the failings of an actual form of intelligence to the rank of an essential characteristic. On this line, meaning is considered as a feature of social, artificial and biological systems.


The adoption of quantum formalism seems in line with cybernetic framework, involving a probabilistic, non-cartesian point of view on meaning aimed to critically discuss the human–machine relation. Furthermore, Quantum theory (QT) implies a phenomenological point of view on the conditions of possibility of meaning.



Galofaro, F., Toffano, Z. and Doan, B.-L. (2018), "A quantum-based semiotic model for textual semantics", Kybernetes, Vol. 47 No. 2, pp. 307-320.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles