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Encyclopedia > Sign (semiotics)
Semiotics
General concepts
Biosemiotics Code Computational semiotics Connotation Decode Denotation Encode Lexical Modality Salience  Sign Semiosis Semiosphere Semiotic literary criticism Umwelt Value
Methods
Commutation test Paradigmatic analysis Syntagmatic analysis
Semioticians
Roland Barthes Marcel Danesi Ferdinand de Saussure Umberto Eco Louis Hjelmslev Roman Jakobson Roberta Kevelson Charles Peirce Thomas Sebeok
Topics of interest
Aestheticization as propaganda Aestheticization of violence Americanism

In semiotics, a sign is generally defined as, "...something that stands for something else, to someone in some capacity." (Marcel Danesi and Paul Perron, "Analyzing Cultures"). It may be understood as a discrete unit of meaning, whether denotative or connotative. Signs are not just words, but also include images, gestures, scents, tastes, textures, sounds — essentially all of the ways in which information can be processed into a codified form and communicated as a message by any sentient, reasoning mind to another. Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of signs, both individually and grouped in sign systems. ... Biosemiotics (bios=life & semion=sign) is a growing field that studies the production, action and interpretation of signs in the physical and biologic realm, in an attempt to integrate the findings of scientific biology and semiotics to form a new view of life and meaning as immanent features of the... In semiotics, the concept of a code is of fundamental importance. ... Computational semiotics is the application of semiotics to computing machinery. ... In semiotics, connotation arises when the denotative relationship between a signifier and its signified is inadequate to serve the needs of the community. ... In semiotics, the process of interpreting a message sent by the addresser to the addressee is called decoding. ... In semiotics, denotation is the surface or literal meaning encoded to a signifier, and the definition most likely to appear in a dictionary. ... In semiotics, the process of creating a message for transmission by the addresser to the addressee is called encoding. ... In the lexicon of a language, lexical words or nouns refer to things. ... In semiotics, modality refers to the particular way in which the information is to be encoded for presentation to humans, i. ... Because too much data can cause “cognitive clutter”, individuals need a system to enable them to rank available data in terms of its immediate importance. ... Semiosis is a term introduced by Charles Peirce. ... Semiosphere is the sphere of semiosis in which the sign processes operate in the set of all interconnected Umwelts. ... Semiotic literary criticism, also called literary semiotics, is the approach to literary criticism informed by the theory of signs or semiotics. ... Umwelt (from the German umwelt, environment) according to Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok is the biological foundations that lie at the very epicenter of the study of both communication and signification in the human [and non-human] animal. ... In semiotics, the value of a sign depends on its position and relations in the system of signification and upon the particular codes being used. ... In semiotics, the commutation test is used to identify the value or signficance of any of the signifiers used in the material to be analysed. ... In semiotics paradigmatic analysis is analysis of paradigms rather than surface structure (syntax) as in syntagmatic analysis, often made through commutation tests, comparisons of words chosen with absent words, words of the same type or class but not chosen. ... In semiotics syntagmatic analysis is analysis of syntax or surface structure (Syntagmatic structure), rather than paradigms as in paradigmatic analysis. ... Roland Barthes (November 12, 1915 – March 25, 1980) was a French literary critic, literary and social theorist, philosopher and semiotician. ... Marcel Danesi is known for his work in language, communications, and semiotics, being Professor of Semiotics and Communication Theory at the University of Toronto, Canada. ... Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (November 26, 1857 - February 22, 1913) was a Swiss linguist. ... Photo of Umberto Eco by Robert Birnbaum Umberto Eco (born January 5, 1932) is an Italian medievalist, philosopher and novelist, best known for his novels and essays. ... Louis Hjelmslev (October 3, 1899 - May 30, 1965) was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Danish School in linguistics. ... Roman Osipovich Jakobson (October 11, 1896 - July 18, 1982) was a Russian thinker who became one of the most influential linguists of the 20th century by pioneering the development of structural analysis of language, poetry, and art. ... Roberta Kevelson was the #1 authority on the pragmatism theories of Charles Sanders Peirce, and an authority on Semiotics in general. ... Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Santiago Peirce (pronounced purse), (September 10, 1839, Cambridge, Massachusetts – April 19, 1914, Milford, Pennsylvania) was an American polymath. ... Thomas Albert Sebeok (born in Budapest, Hungary, on November 9, 1920, died December 21, 2001 in Bloomington, Indiana) was one of the most prolific and wide-ranging of US semioticians. ... Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of beauty and the moral value of art, so aestheticization as propaganda is the process of presenting violence as an acceptable means of promoting a political aim even though it involves the injury or death of people. ... Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of beauty and the moral value of art, so the aestheticization of violence is the process of making the act and the product of violence appear attractive. ... Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of signs, both individually and grouped in sign systems. ... Marcel Danesi is known for his work in language, communications, and semiotics, being Professor of Semiotics and Communication Theory at the University of Toronto, Canada. ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ... In semiotics, denotation is the surface or literal meaning encoded to a signifier, and the definition most likely to appear in a dictionary. ... In semiotics, connotation arises when the denotative relationship between a signifier and its signified is inadequate to serve the needs of the community. ... Information is a word which has many different meanings in everyday usage and in specialized contexts, but as a rule, the concept is closely related to others such as data, instruction, knowledge, meaning, communication, representation, and mental stimulus. ... In semiotics, the concept of a code is of fundamental importance. ...


The nature of signs has long been discussed in philosophy. Initially, within linguistics and later semiotics, there were two general schools of thought: those who proposed that signs are dyadic, and those who proposed that signs are interpreted in a recursive pattern of triadic relationships. These five broad types of question are called analytical or logical, epistemological, ethical, metaphysical, and aesthetic respectively. ... Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and someone who engages in this study is called a linguist or linguistician. ...


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According to Saussure (1857-1913), a sign is composed of a tangible part, the signifier, and a conceptual part, the signified. He proposed that the way in which the message is communicated (the modality of the signs) and the surrounding circumstances combine to allow each sign to contribute meaning to the whole message and to express a value — the very notion of meaning is irrelevant if no-one is present, because meaning only comes into existence in the mind of an observer. He believed that the process to decode meaning was synchronic, i.e. it focused on a static set of relationships, whereas modern theorists prefer the view that significance changes depending on the situation, culture and social codes (i.e. that there is a dynamic system for transmitting meaning that changes over time and so it is diachronic). He is also important in emphasising that the relationship between a sign and its meaning is arbitrary. There is neither a natural relationship between a word and the object it refers to, nor is there a causal relationship between the inherent properties of the object and the nature of the sign used to denote it. For example, there is nothing about the physical quality of "paper" that requires the letters p-a-p-e-r to be placed in this order. Rather, someone invented "paper" (the lexical thing), and needed a word to describe it. A word is only available to acquire a new meaning if it is identifiably different from all the other words in the language and it has no existing meaning. This reduces the risk of ambiguity and confusion when the community agrees to use this configuration of letters to refer to the new thing (see naming conventions). Saussure justified characterising this process as arbitrary by limiting his interest to the structure of language, not the use of language. It was this distinction that formed the basis of structuralism. £ Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (November 26, 1857 - February 22, 1913) was a Swiss linguist. ... 1857 was a common year starting on Thursday (see link for calendar). ... 1913 (MCMXIII) is a common year starting on Wednesday. ... In semiotics, a sign is generally defined as, ...something that stands for something else, to someone in some capacity. ... In semiotics, modality refers to the particular way in which the information is to be encoded for presentation to humans, i. ... In semiotics, the value of a sign depends on its position and relations in the system of signification and upon the particular codes being used. ... In semiotics, the process of interpreting a message sent by the addresser to the addressee is called decoding. ... Synchronic study is the study of language at a particular point in time. ... Diachronic study is the study of the development of a language over a period of time. ... In the lexicon of a language, lexical words or nouns refer to things. ... ... For Wikipedias naming conventions see Wikipedia:Naming conventions A naming convention is an attempt to systematize names in a field so they unambiguously convey similar information in a similar manner. ... Structuralism is a general approach in various academic disciplines that explores the inter-relationships between fundamental elements of some kind, upon which some higher mental, linguistic, social, cultural etc structures are built, through which then meaning is produced within a particular person, system, culture. ...


Triadic signs

Charles Peirce (1839-1914) proposed a different theory. Unlike Saussure who approached the conceptual question from a study of linguistics and phonology, Peirce was a Kantian philosopher who distinguishes "sign" from "word", and characterises it as the mechanism for creating understanding. The result is not a theory of language, but a theory for the production of meaning that rejects the idea of a stable relationship between a signifier and its signified. Rather, Peirce believed that signs establish meaning through recursive relationships that arise in sets of three. The first three distinct components he identifes were: Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Santiago Peirce (pronounced purse), (September 10, 1839, Cambridge, Massachusetts – April 19, 1914, Milford, Pennsylvania) was an American polymath. ... 1839 was a common year starting on Tuesday (see link for calendar). ... 1914 (MCMXIV) is a common year starting on Thursday. ... Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and someone who engages in this study is called a linguist or linguistician. ... Phonology (Greek phone = voice/sound and logos = word/speech), is a subfield of linguistics closely associated with phonetics. ... Immanuel Kant Immanuel Kant (April 22, 1724 – February 12, 1804) was a Prussian philosopher, generally regarded as one of Europes most influential thinkers and the last major philosopher of the Enlightenment. ... Understanding is a psychological state in relation to an object or person whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to be able to deal adequately with that object. ...

  • object: anything that can be thought, whether as a concept or thing, so long as it is capable of being encoded in a sign;
  • representamen: the sign that denotes the object (cf. Saussure's "signifier"); and
  • interpretant: the meaning obtained by decoding or interpreting the sign which may be:
    • immediate, i.e. the denotative meaning,
    • dynamical, i.e. the meaning actually produced by the sign, or
    • final, i.e. the meaning that would be produced if the sign were properly understood.

Peirce explained that signs mediate the relationship between their objects and their interpretants in a triadic mental process. Firstness is a general state of mind in which there is awareness of the environment, a prevailing emotion, and a sense of the possibilities. This is the mind in neutral, waiting to formulate thought. Secondness moves from possibility to greater certainty shown by action, reaction, causality, or reality. Here the mind identifies what message is to be communicated. Thirdness is the mode of signs shown in representation, continuity, order, and unity. The signs thought most likely to convey the intended meaning are selected and the communication process is initiated. This will involve either interpersonal behaviour using nonverbal systems to supplement verbal meaning through intonation, facial expression, or gesture, or as in the exercise of producing this page, the writing and iterative editing process to arrive at the final selection of words now appearing. In semiotics, the process of creating a message for transmission by the addresser to the addressee is called encoding. ... In semiotics, the process of interpreting a message sent by the addresser to the addressee is called decoding. ...


This process is reversed in the receiver. The neutral mind acquires the sign. It recovers from memory the object normally associated with the sign and this produces the interpretant. This is the experience of intelligibility or the result of an act of signification (not necessarily as the signified in the sense intended by Saussure). When the second sign is considered, the initial interpretant may be confirmed, or new possible meanings may be identified. As each new sign is addressed, more interpretants may emerge.


But, Peirce also refers to the '‘ground'’ of a sign. This is the idea or principle which determines how the sign represents its object, e.g. as in literal and figurative language. The triadic relation between the ground, object, and interpretant of a sign may have its own signification, which may produce another triadic relation between the relation itself, its signfication, and the interpretation of that signification. Hence, as phrased by Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1990: 7), "the process of referring effected by the sign is infinite." More traditional systems for analysing language divided linguistic expressions into two classes: literal and figurative. ... Jean-Jacques Nattiez is a musical semiologist or semiotician and professor of Musicology at the University of Montreal. ...


According to Gilles-Gaston Granger (1968: 114), Pierce's representamen is, "...a thing which is connected in a certain way to a second sign, its 'object', in such a way that it brings a third sign, its 'interpretant,' into a relationship with the same 'object,' and this in such a way that it brings a fourth sign into a relationship with this same 'object,' and so on ad infinitum."


According to Nattiez, writing with Jean Molino, this tripartite definition is based on the "trace" or neutral level, Saussure's "sound-image" (or "signified", thus Pierce's "representamen"). Thus, "a symbolic form...is not some 'intermediary' in a process of 'communication' that transmits the meaning intended by the author to the audience; it is instead the result of a complex process of creation (the poietic process) that has to do with the form as well as the content of the work; it is also the point of departure for a complex process of reception (the esthesic process that reconstructs a 'message'"). (ibid, p.17) Jean Molino is professeur ordinaire at the University of Lausanne and a semiologist. ... In semiotics, a trace is the physical and material result of poietic processes, the message made by a producer and interpreted by esthesic processes of a receiver (see esthesic and poietic). ... In semiotics the neutral level of a sign is the trace left behind, the physical or material creation or remains of esthesic and poietic processes, levels, and analyses of symbolic forms. ... Esthesic and poietic are terms used in semiotics, the study of signs, to describe perceptive and productive levels, processes, and analyses of symbolic forms. ...


Molino and Nattiez's diagram:

Poietic Process Esthesic Process
"Producer" Trace Receiver
(Nattiez 1990, p. 17)

Peirce's theory of the sign therefore offered a powerful analysis of the signification system and its codes because the focus was on the cultural context rather than linguistics which only analyses usage in slow-time whereas, in the real world, there is an often chaotic blur of language and signal exchange during human semiotic interaction. Nevertheless, the implication that triadic relations would cycle "infinitely" leads to a level of complexity not usually experienced in the routine of message creation and interpretation. Hence, different ways of expressing the idea have been developed.


Modern theories

It is now agreed that the effectiveness of the acts that may convert the message into text (including speaking, writing, drawing and physical movements) depends upon the knowledge of the sender. If the sender is not familiar with the current language, its codes and its culture then he or she will not be able to say anything at all, whether as a visitor in a different language area or because of a medical condition such as aphasia (see Roman Jakobson). Modern theories deny the Saussurian distinction between signifier and signified, and look for meaning not in the individual signs, but in their context and the framework of potential meanings that could be applied. Such theories assert that language is a collective memory or cultural history of all the different ways in which meaning has been communicated and may, to that extent, be constitutive of all life's experiences (see Louis Hjelmslev). This implies that speaking is simply one more form of behaviour and changes the focus of attention from the text as language, to the text as a representation of purpose, a functional version of the author's intention. But, once the message has been transmitted, the text exists independently. Hence, although the writers who co-operated to produce this page exist, they can only be represented by the signs actually selected and presented here. The interpretation process in the receiver's mind may attribute meanings completely different to those intended by the senders. Why might this happen? Neither the sender nor the receiver of a text has a perfect grasp of all language. Each individual's relatively small stock of knowledge is the product of personal experience and their attitude to learning. When the audience receives the message, there will always be an excess of connotational meanings available to be applied to the particular signs in their context (no matter how relatively complete or incomplete their knowledge, the cognitive process is the same). The first stage in understanding the message is, therefore, to suspend or defer judgement until more information becomes available. At some point, the individual receiver decides which of all the possible meanings represents the best possible "fit". Sometimes, uncertainty may not be resolved so meaning is indefinitely deferred, or a provisional or approximate meaning is allocated. More often, the receiver's desire for closure (see Gestalt psychology) leads to simple meanings being attributed out of prejudices and without reference to the sender's intentions. Aphasia is a loss or impairment of the ability to produce or comprehend language, due to brain damage. ... Roman Osipovich Jakobson (October 11, 1896 - July 18, 1982) was a Russian thinker who became one of the most influential linguists of the 20th century by pioneering the development of structural analysis of language, poetry, and art. ... Louis Hjelmslev (October 3, 1899 - May 30, 1965) was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Danish School in linguistics. ... Representation cAn refer to: BOZZLE Representation (politics), ones ability to influence the political process Representation (arts), the depiction and ethical concerns of construction in visual arts and literature. ... In literary theory and aesthetics, authorial intentionality is a concept referring to an utterances authors intent as it is encoded in the medium of communication (speech, writing, performance). ... An audience is a group of people who participate in and experience or encounter a work of art, literature, theatre, music or academics in any medium. ... Cognitive The scientific study of how people obtain, retrieve, store and manipulate information. ... Gestalt psychology (also Gestalt theory of the Berlin School) is a theory of mind and brain that proposes that the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. ...


References

  • Granger, G. G. (1968). Essai d'une philosophie du style. Paris: Colin.
  • Jakobson, Roman. (1971). "Aphasia as a Linguistic Topic" in Selected Writings, Vol. 2: Word and Language. The Hague & Paris: Mouton.
  • Jakobson, Roman & Halle, Morris. (1956). "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances" in Fundamentals of Language. The Hague & Paris: Mouton.
  • Peirce, Charles Sanders. (1960). Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Volumes I and II. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Saussure, Ferdinand de (1922). Cours de linguistique générale. Actually written by Bally and Séchehaye, compiled from notebooks of Saussure's students 1907-1911.

See also

In general linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure described a sign as a combination of a concept and a sound-image. ...

External links

  • "Semiotics For Beginners" full text online, Daniel Chandler

  Results from FactBites:
 
Semiotics for Beginners: Strengths (2347 words)
Semiotics may not itself be a discipline but it is at least a focus of enquiry, with a central concern for meaning-making practices which conventional academic disciplines treat as peripheral.
Semiotics makes us aware that the cultural values with which we make sense of the world are a tissue of conventions that have been handed down from generation to generation by the members of the culture of which we are a part.
Semiotics can help to make us aware of what we take for granted in representing the world, reminding us that we are always dealing with signs, not with an unmediated objective reality, and that sign systems are involved in the construction of meaning.
Semiotics for Beginners: Criticisms (2852 words)
Semiotics is often criticized as 'imperialistic', since some semioticians appear to regard it as concerned with, and applicable to, anything and everything, trespassing on almost every academic discipline.
Semiotics does not, for instance, lend itself to quantification, a function to which content analysis is far better adapted (which is not to suggest that the two techniques are incompatible, as many semioticians seem to assume).
Semiotic analysis often shows a tendency to downplay the affective domain - though the study of connotations ought to include the sensitive exploration of highly variable and subjective emotional nuances.
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