You are here : Home Page / Theories / Greimas / The Veridictory Square

Available Languages

Follow us on

SignoSemio's Facebook SignoSemio's Twitter

The Veridictory Square

By Louis Hébert

Professor, Université du Québec à Rimouski

louis_hebert@uqar.ca

1. ABSTRACT

Greimas

Algirdas Julien Greimas

A device developed by Greimas and Courtés, the veridictory square (or square of veridiction) may be described in simple terms as the opposition being/seeming projected onto the semiotic square. It allows us to examine the dynamics of true/false evaluations in a semiotic act, particularly a text. The factors it takes into account are the following: (1) the evaluating subject, (2) the object being evaluated, (3) the specific characteristic evaluated in the object, (4) the veridictory categories: true (being + seeming), false (not-being + not-seeming), illusory (not-being + seeming) and secret (being + not-seeming), (5) the time of the evaluation and (6) transformations or changes in one or more of these factors. For example, when a cabaret Elvis goes into to his dressing room after the show and then comes out, he goes from seeming + not-being Elvis (illusion) to not-seeming + not-being Elvis (falsehood).

This text can be found in extended version in this book:
Louis Hébert, Dispositifs pour l'analyse des textes et des images, Limoges, Presses de l'Université de Limoges, 2007.

Click here to obtain the English translation of this book.

This text may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, provided the complete reference is given:
Louis Hébert (2006), « The Veridictory Square », in Louis Hébert (dir.), Signo [online], Rimouski (Quebec), http://www.signosemio.com/greimas/veridictory-square.asp.

2.THEORY

The square of veridiction, developed by Greimas and Courtés (cf. Courtés, 1991) and which we will refer to as the veridictory square, allows us to examine the dynamics of true/false evaluations in any semiotic act, particularly a text. To simplify, we will consider the veridictory square as the "opposition" being/seeming projected onto the semiotic square.

In the theory under consideration, any element subjected to interpretation (interpretive doing) is composed of and within the conjunction of a being and a seeming. Being is always accompanied by seeming and seeming is always associated with being. An element's being and seeming can be identical (for instance, a monk's seeming and being when he is wearing the robe) or opposite (for example, a layman will appear to be a monk with the robe as a disguise).

Being and seeming can both change through transformation. However, the transformation is not always accompanied by a corresponding transformation of the other variable: seeming may change without a change in being, and being may change without a change in seeming. For example, an honest citizen may become a wealthy drug dealer without any difference in his seeming.

However, in contrast with seeming, the knowledge one has about being may change without any difference in being (if, for example, you think someone is honest because he appears to be, and then you realize that despite appearances, he is not).

2.1 THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF THE VERIDICTORY SQUARE

The main constituent elements of the veridictory square, with the author's additions (see Hébert 2003 for justifications) are the following:

  1. The observing subject (S1, S2, etc.)
  2. The object being observed (O1, O2, etc.)
  3. The characteristic of the object being observed (C1, C2, etc.)
  4. The marker(s) for seeming and being (M1, M2), meaning the elements that validate a designation of seeming or being. The analyst may choose not to specify which elements are the markers.
  5. The four terms: being and seeming and their negations, not-being and not-seeming.
  6. The four metaterms (or compound terms) that define the four veridictory categories:
    1. True or truth (being + seeming)
    2. Illusory or lie (not-being + seeming)
    3. False or falsehood (not-being + not-seeming)
    4. Secret or dissimulation (being + not-seeming).
  7. The object's position on the square (1, 2, 3, 4) and, if applicable, the sequence of positions occupied by a single object (for example, 1 → 3).
  8. The time (T).

As with any analysis that focuses on content, we can account for three main kinds of temporality: the temporality of the story, narrative temporality (the order in which the events of the story are presented), and tactical temporality (the linear sequencing of semantic units, for instance, from one sentence to the next). For example, in reading the text, we may come across position 2 followed by position 3, whereas the chronological order in the story might be 3 followed by 2.

Temporal segmentation may be based on various criteria. In veridictory analysis, the most pertinent criterion for demarcating temporal intervals is a change in one of more key beliefs (for instance, time interval T1 would last until a change in the key belief initiates interval T2).

2.2 AN EXAMPLE OF A VERIDICTORY SQUARE

We will first create a veridictory square without showing a visual representation of it: In the play by Molière, with respect to the characteristic 'devout' (element C), Tartufe (element O) goes from seeming devout + being devout (Time 1, position 1: truth) to seeming devout + not-being devout (Time 2, position 2: illusion) in the eyes of Orgon (element S).

2.3 VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF THE VERIDICTORY SQUARE

Strictly speaking, we need to distinguish the veridictory square as a conceptual network from the visual representation of the network. (The same principle applies to other devices, like the semiotic square, the actantial model, etc.) The conceptual network is usually represented visually as a "square" (which is usually rectangular!). The veridictory square as a network is unitary in principle (one subject, one object, one characteristic, but one or more time intervals). The veridictory square as a representation may include one or more of these networks (a single subject, several objects; several subjects, a single object, etc.).

2.3.1 SQUARE FORMAT

This how we represent the modified veridictory square:

The modified veridictory square

 

 

Position 1
TRUE

 

 

According to subject S
at time T

 

 

 

 

 

O BEING C

   /   

O SEEMING C

 

 

 

O NOT-SEEMING C

   /   

O NOT-BEING C

 

Position 4
SECRET

Position 2
ILLUSION

 

 

 

 

Position 3
FALSE

 

 

LEGEND: S - subject, O - object, C - characteristic, T - time

2.3.2 TABLE FORMAT

We can also use tables to represent the same thing. Given the following story: A man buys a supposed Cartier watch and realizes later that it is an imitation, we would create a table like this:

The modified veridictory square represented in table form

NO

TIME T

SUBJECT

OBJECT O

SEEMING

BEING

CHARACTERISTIC C

POSITION

1

t1

man

watch

seeming

being

Cartier

1

2

t2

man

watch

seeming

not-being

Cartier

2

2.4 CHANGES IN AND RELATIVISATION OF BELIEFS

2.4.1 DECIDABLE/UNDECIDABLE AND FACTUAL/POSSIBLE

An observing subject (for example, the analyst or a character) may not be able to specify one or another of the terms that determine veridictory status. In this case, the term or the category would be undecidable; if the relevant term has not (yet) been specified, then it is an undecided term or category. Decidable terms and categories (those that are neither undecidable nor undecided) fall into two broad divisions, depending on which ontological category (status relative to existence) they are marked for: factual (certainty) or possible (possibility, doubt). It seems that Greimas' traditional veridictory square did not take into account the category of possibility, but in practice only dealt with the ontological category 'factual'. In order to represent the category 'possible' (cases where the subject is in doubt about being and/or seeming), we can use a question mark (?).

NOTE: AN EXAMPLE OF DOUBT IN THE CASE OF SEEMING

Although one might think otherwise, there can actually be doubt about seeming/not-seeming as well as doubt about being/not-being. For example, Tintin might wonder if his disguise really makes him look like a woman, and his duped victim may wonder at the virility of this strange woman.

2.4.2 ASSUMPTIVE/REFERENCE EVALUATIONS

A veridictory evaluation is always subject to relativisation: the supposed being may turn out to be only seeming, not in fact actual being. However, in a given act, we generally find reference evaluations that determine the ultimate truth. As a consequence, we need to distinguish relative elements, which are called assumptive, from absolute elements, known as reference elements, since the first are judged by the second. Assumptive evaluations are subject to contradiction by the reference evaluations.

For example, Marie (S1, assumptive) thinks that in his robe (M), Pierre (O) is and appears to be a monk (C). John (S2, assumptive) thinks the opposite. The narrator (S3, reference) eventually tells us that although Pierre appears to be a monk, he is not. Marie's and John's evaluations are assumptive. The two evaluations are in opposition: there is a conflict in beliefs (the reverse would be a consensus in beliefs). The first evaluation is erroneous and the second one correct, because it corresponds to the reference evaluation (meaning the narrator's). Obviously, a given subject's belief is subject to change. A "conversion" may or may not be preceded by doubt, during which the belief and the counter-belief confront each other, or by verification, whose purpose is to select one belief according to specific tests and criteria.

3. APPLICATION : MOLIÈRE'S TARTUFE

Consider the following synopsis of the primary veridictory plot in Molière's play Tartufe:

T1: Orgon's entire entourage does not believe that Tartufe is devout, except his mother.
T2: Orgon believes in Tartufe until the moment when, hiding under the table, he hears Tartufe trying to seduce his wife, Elmire.
T3: Disillusioned, Orgon tries to convince his mother, Madame Pernelle, but she defends Tartufe rather than believing Orgon.
T4: Orgon's mother obtains proof of Tartufe's deceit when Mr. Loyal comes to sieze Orgon's property for Tartufe.
T5: The Prince seems to be in support of Tartufe, because one of his emissaries, the exempt (sub-lieutenant) accompanies the scoundrel to go evict Orgon by force, or so Tartufe believes.
T6: The exempt reveals to everyone that the Prince knows who Tartufe is. Tartufe is arrested.

This is a "veridictory table", rather than a square, which illustrates this rendition of the play:

An example of a veridictory square: Tartufe

NO

TIME T

SUBJECT

OBJECT O

SEEMING

BEING

CHARACTERISTIC C

POSITION

1

T1

Orgon's entourage except his mother

Tartufe

seeming

not-being

devout

2

2

T1

Orgon

Tartufe

seeming

being

devout

1

3

T2

Orgon

Tartufe

seeming

not-being

devout

2

4

T1-T3

Orgon's mother

Tartufe

seeming

being

devout

1

5

T4

Orgon's mother

Tartufe

seeming

not-being

devout

2

6

T1-T6

Tartufe

Tartufe

seeming

not-being

devout

2

7

T5

Prince and exempt

Tartufe

seeming

not-being

devout in the eyes of the Prince

2

8

T5

everyone except the exempt and the Prince

Tartufe

seeming

being

devout in the eyes of the Prince

1

9

T6

everyone

Tartufe

seeming

not-being

devout in the eyes of the Prince

2

Note: The reference evaluation is the one on line 6. In addition, you will notice that in order to accommodate the surprise ending of the play, we have changed the characteristic in mid-analysis by integrating the Prince's point of view. (Thus, there is a veridictory evaluation within a veridictory evaluation, or more accurately, within the characteristic of the evaluation.)

4. LIST OF WORKS CITED

COURTÉS, J., Analyse sémiotique du discours. De l'énoncé à l'énonciation, Paris: Hachette, 1991.
HÉBERT, L., "L’analyse des modalités véridictoires et thymiques : vrai/faux, euphorie/dysphorie", Semiotica, Bloomington: International Association for Semiotic Studies, 2003, vol. 144, 1/4, p. 261-302.

5. EXERCISES

A. Using the veridictory square, analyse the following anecdote:

"One day while walking in the forest, I [Robinson] saw a tree stump in my path, fifty yards away. A strange tree stump, hairy one would have said, looking something like an animal. And the stump moved. But this was impossible-tree stumps do not move! And then it turned into a goat. But how could a tree stump turn into a goat? Then it clicked. The stump vanished, not only in the present but in the past. There had always been a goat there. But the stump? It was an optical illusion born of Robinson's defective eyesight." (Adapted from Michel Tournier, Friday, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1997, 94-95)

B. Create veridictory squares using the following text:

"It's the mechanical music that floats down from the wooden horses, from the cars that aren't cars anymore, from the railways that aren't at all scenic, from the platform under the wrestler who hasn't any muscles and doesn't come from Marseille, from the beardless lady, the magician who's a butter-fingered jerk, the organ that's not made of gold, the shooting gallery with the empty eggs. It's the carnival made to delude the weekend crowd. We go in and drink the beer with no head on it. But under the cardboard trees the stink of the waiter's breath is real. And the change he gives you has several peculiar coins in it, so peculiar that you go on examining them for weeks and weeks, and finally, with considerable difficulty, palm them off on some beggar." (Céline, Journey to the End of the Night, trans. R. Manheim, New York: New Directions, 1983, [1934], p. 268).


Share this page