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A symbol is a mark, sign, or
word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many languages, words also co ...

word
that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an
idea In common usage and in philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philoso ...

idea
,
object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Entity, something that is tangible and within the grasp of the senses ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at any particular time or pl ...
, or
relationship Relationship most often refers to: * Interpersonal relationship The concept of interpersonal relationship involves social associations, connections, or affiliations between two or more people. Interpersonal relationships vary in their degre ...
. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is
know Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in the real world. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to exp ...
n or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different
concept Concepts are defined as abstract ideas A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the bo ...

concept
s and
experience Experience refers to conscious , an English Paracelsian physician Consciousness, at its simplest, is " sentience or awareness of internal and external existence". Despite millennia of analyses, definitions, explanations and debates by philosoph ...

experience
s. All
communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to b ...

communication
(and
data processing Data processing is, generally, "the collection Collection or Collections may refer to: * Cash collection, the function of an accounts receivable department * Collection agency, agency to collect cash * Collections management (museum) ** Colle ...

data processing
) is achieved through the use of symbols. Symbols take the form of words, sounds,
gesture A gesture is a form of non-verbal communication Nonverbal communication (NVC) is the transmission of messages or signals through a nonverbal platform such as eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, Posture (psychology), posture, and body ...
s, ideas, or visual
image An image (from la, imago) is an artifact that depicts visual perception Visual perception is the ability to interpret the surrounding environment Environment most often refers to: __NOTOC__ * Natural environment, all living and non- ...

image
s and are used to convey other ideas and beliefs. For example, a red octagon is a common symbol for "STOP"; on
map A map is a symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an , , or . Symbols allow people to go beyond what is n or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different s and s. A ...

map
s, blue lines often represent rivers; and a red
rose A rose is a woody perennial plant, perennial flowering plant of the genus ''Rosa'', in the family Rosaceae, or the flower it bears. There are over three hundred Rose species, species and Garden roses, tens of thousands of cultivars. They form ...

rose
often symbolizes love and compassion.
Numerals A numeral is a figure, symbol, or group of figures or symbols denoting a number. It may refer to: * Numeral system used in mathematics * Numeral (linguistics), a part of speech denoting numbers (e.g. ''one'' and ''first'' in English) * Numerical di ...
are symbols for
number A number is a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, and with which one may do deduct ...

number
s;
letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, Object (philosophy ...
s of an
alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic written symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semanti ...

alphabet
may be symbols for certain
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
s; and personal
name A name is a term used for identification by an external observer. They can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a given context. The entity identified by a name is called its referent A referent ...

name
s are symbols representing individuals. The variable 'x', in a mathematical
equation In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no ge ...

equation
, may symbolize the position of a particle in space. The academic study of symbols is
semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavior, in sociology ...

semiotics
. In
cartography Cartography (; from χάρτης ''chartēs'', "papyrus, sheet of paper, map"; and γράφειν ''graphein'', "write") is the study and practice of making and using s. Combining , , and technique, cartography builds on the premise that rea ...
, an organized collection of symbols forms a
legend A legend is a genre of folklore that consists of a narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfictional ( memoir, biography, news report, documentary, Travel literature, tra ...
for a map.


Etymology

The word ''symbol'' derives from the
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
σύμβολον ''symbolon'', meaning "
token Token may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media * Token, a game piece or counter, used in some games * The Tokens The Tokens were an American male doo-wop-style vocal group and record production company group from Brooklyn, New York B ...
,
watchword A password, sometimes called a passcode (for example in Apple An apple is an edible fruit produced by an apple tree (''Malus domestica''). Apple fruit tree, trees are agriculture, cultivated worldwide and are the most widely grown specie ...
" from σύν ''syn'' "together" and βάλλω ''bállō'' " "I throw, put." The sense evolution in Greek is from "throwing things together" to "contrasting" to "comparing" to "token used in comparisons to determine if something is genuine." Hence, "outward sign" of something. The meaning "something which stands for something else" was first recorded in 1590, in
Edmund Spenser Edmund Spenser (; 1552/1553 – 13 January 1599) was an English poet best known for ''The Faerie Queene ''The Faerie Queene'' is an English Epic poetry, epic poem by Edmund Spenser. Books IIII were first published in 1590, then republished i ...

Edmund Spenser
's ''
Faerie Queene ''The Faerie Queene'' is an English epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem Narrative poetry is a form of poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature that uses aesth ...
''.


Concepts and definitions

Symbols are a means of complex communication that often can have multiple levels of meaning.Womack, Mari. Symbols and Meaning: A Concise Introduction. California: AltaMira Press, 2005. Symbols are the basis of all human understanding and serve as vehicles of conception for all human knowledge. Symbols facilitate understanding of the world in which we live, thus serving as the grounds upon which we make judgments.Palczewski, Catherine, and Ice, Richard, and Fritch, John. Rhetoric in Civic Life. Pennsylvania: Strata Publishing, Inc., 2012. In this way, people use symbols not only to make sense of the world around them, but also to identify and cooperate in society through constitutive rhetoric. Human cultures use symbols to express specific ideologies and social structures and to represent aspects of their specific culture. Thus, symbols carry meanings that depend upon one's cultural background; in other words, the meaning of a symbol is not inherent in the symbol itself but is culturally learned.
Heinrich Zimmer Heinrich Robert Zimmer (6 December 1890 – 20 March 1943) was a German Indologist and linguist, as well as a historian of South Asian art, most known for his works, ''Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization'' and ''Philosophies of India'' ...
gives a concise overview of the nature, and perennial relevance, of symbols. In the book ''Signs and Symbols'', it is stated that


Symbols and semiotics

Semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavior, in sociology ...

Semiotics
is the study of signs, symbols, and signification as communicative behavior. Semiotics studies focus on the relationship of the signifier and the signified, also taking into account the interpretation of visual cues, body language, sound, and other contextual clues. Semiotics is linked with both
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...

linguistics
and psychology. Semioticians thus not only study what a symbol implies but also how it got its meaning and how it functions to make meaning in society. Symbols allow the human brain continuously to create meaning using sensory input and decode symbols through both
denotation The denotation of a word is its central sense A sense is a biological system used by an organism for sensation, the process of gathering information about the world and responding to Stimulus (physiology), stimuli. (For example, in the human bod ...
and
connotation A connotation is a commonly understood cultural Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior Social behavior is behavior among two or more organisms within the same species, and encompasses any behavior in which o ...
.


Psychoanalysis, rhetoric, and archetypes

An alternative definition of ''symbol'', distinguishing it from the term ''
sign A sign is an object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Entity, something that is tangible and within the grasp of the senses ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at ...
'' was proposed by Swiss psychoanalyst
Carl Jung Carl Gustav Jung ( ; born Karl Gustav Jung, ; 26 July 1875 – 6 June 1961), was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. Jung's work has been influential in the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, archaeo ...

Carl Jung
. In his studies on what is now called Jungian archetypes , a sign stands for something known, as a word stands for its referent. He contrasted a sign with a ''symbol'': something that is unknown and that cannot be made clear or precise. An example of a symbol in this sense is
Christ Jesus, likely from he, יֵשׁוּעַ, translit=Yēšūaʿ, label= Hebrew/ Aramaic ( AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ, is the central figure of Christianity, the world's largest religion. He was a fir ...

Christ
as a symbol of the
archetype The concept of an archetype (; from Greek: + ) appears in areas relating to behavior, History of psychology#Emergence of German experimental psychology, historical psychology, and literary analysis. An ''archetype'' can be: # a statement, patter ...
called ''
self The self is an individual person as the object of its own reflective consciousness Consciousness, at its simplest, is or of internal and external existence. Despite millennia of analyses, definitions, explanations and debates by philosoph ...
''.
Kenneth Burke Kenneth Duva Burke (May 5, 1897 – November 19, 1993) was an American literary theory, literary theorist, as well as poet, essayist, and novelist, who wrote on 20th-century philosophy, aesthetics, criticism, and rhetoric, rhetorical theory. As a ...
described ''
Homo sapiens Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread of , characterized by and large, complex brains. This has enabled the development of advanced , , and . Humans are highly social and tend to live in complex s composed of many ...

Homo sapiens
'' as a " symbol-using, symbol making, and symbol misusing animal" to suggest that a person creates symbols as well as misuses them. One example he uses to indicate what he means by the misuse of symbol is the story of a man who, when told that a particular food item was whale blubber, could barely keep from throwing it up. Later, his friend discovered it was actually just a dumpling. But the man's reaction was a direct consequence of the symbol of "blubber" representing something inedible in his mind. In addition, the symbol of "blubber" was created by the man through various kinds of
learning Learning is the process of acquiring new understanding Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical thing, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to use concepts to model that thing. Under ...

learning
. Burke goes on to describe symbols as also being derived from
Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud ( , ; born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian and the founder of , a clinical method for treating through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Freud was born to (from ) parents ...

Sigmund Freud
's work on
condensation Condensation is the change of the state of matter In physics, a state of matter is one of the distinct forms in which matter can exist. Four states of matter are observable in everyday life: solid, liquid, gas, and Plasma (physics), plasma. ...
and
displacement Displacement may refer to: Physical sciences Mathematics and Physics *Displacement (geometry), is the difference between the final and initial position of a point trajectory (for instance, the center of mass of a moving object). The actual path c ...
, further stating that symbols are not just relevant to the
theory of dreams A theory is a reason, rational type of abstraction, abstract thinking about a phenomenon, or the results of such thinking. The process of contemplative and rational thinking is often associated with such processes as observational study or research ...
but also to "normal symbol systems". He says they are related through "substitution", where one word, phrase, or symbol is substituted for another in order to change the meaning. In other words, if one person does not understand a certain word or phrase, another person may substitute a
synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical item in a language. A morpheme is not a word. The difference between a morpheme and a word is that a morpheme bound and free morphemes, sometimes does not stand alone ...
or symbol in order to get the meaning across. However, upon learning the new way of interpreting a specific symbol, the person may change his or her already-formed ideas to incorporate the new information.
Jean Dalby Clift Jean Dalby Clift was an American priest of the Episcopal Church and a pastoral counselorPastoral counseling is a branch of counseling in which psychology, psychologically trained Minister (Christianity), ministers, rabbis, priests, imams, and ot ...
says that people not only add their own interpretations to symbols, they also create personal symbols that represent their own understanding of their lives: what she calls "core images" of the person. She argues that symbolic work with these personal symbols or core images can be as useful as working with dream symbols in psychoanalysis or counseling. William Indick suggests that the symbols that are commonly found in myth, legend, and fantasy fulfill psychological functions and hence are why archetypes such as "the hero," "the princess" and "the witch" have remained popular for centuries.


Symbolic value

Symbols can carry symbolic value in three primary forms: Ideological, comparative, and isomorphic. Ideological symbols such as religious and state symbols convey complex sets of beliefs and ideas that indicate "the right thing to do". Comparative symbols such as prestigious office addresses, fine art, and prominent awards indicate answers to questions of "better or worse" and "superior or inferior". Isomorphic symbols blend in with the surrounding cultural environment such that they enable individuals and organizations to conform to their surroundings and evade social and political scrutiny. Examples of symbols with isomorphic value include wearing a professional dress during business meetings, shaking hands to greet others in the West, or
bowing Bowing (also called stooping) is the act of lowering the and as a social in direction to another person or symbol. It is most prominent in n cultures but it is also typical of and in many an countries. It is also used in religious contexts, ...
to greet others in the East. A single symbol can carry multiple distinct meanings such that it provides multiple types of symbolic value.


Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich Paul Johannes Tillich (August 20, 1886 – October 22, 1965) was a German-American Christian existentialist philosopher and Lutheran Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a ...
argued that, while signs are invented and forgotten, symbols are born and die. There are, therefore, dead and living symbols. A living symbol can reveal to an individual hidden levels of meaning and transcendent or religious realities. For Tillich a symbol always "points beyond itself" to something that is unquantifiable and mysterious; symbols open up the "depth dimension of reality itself". Symbols are complex, and their meanings can evolve as the individual or culture evolves. When a symbol loses its meaning and power for an individual or culture, it becomes a dead symbol. When a symbol becomes identified with the deeper reality to which it refers, it becomes idolatrous as the "symbol is taken for reality." The symbol itself is substituted for the deeper meaning it intends to convey. The unique nature of a symbol is that it gives access to deeper layers of reality which are otherwise inaccessible.


Role of context in symbolism

A symbol's
meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * Meaning (non-linguistic), a general ter ...
may be modified by various factors including popular usage,
history History (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxima ...

history
, and contextual
intent Intentions are mental states A mental state, or a mental property, is a state of mind of a person. Mental states comprise a diverse class including perception, pain experience, belief, desire, intention, emotion, and memory. There is controversy co ...
.


Historical meaning

The history of a symbol is one of many factors in determining a particular symbol's apparent meaning. Consequently, symbols with emotive power carry problems analogous to false etymologies.


Context

The context of a symbol may change its meaning. Similar five-pointed stars might signify a
law enforcement File:CBP female officers going aboard a ship.jpg, upU.S. Customs and Border Protection officers boarding a ship 'Law enforcement'' is the activity of some members of government who act in an organized manner to enforce the law by discovering, dete ...
officer or a member of the
armed services A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare War is an intense armed conflict between states, government A government is the system or gro ...
, depending upon the
uniform A uniform is a variety of clothing A kanga, worn throughout the African Great Lakes region Clothing (also known as clothes, apparel, and attire) are items worn on the body. Typically, clothing is made of fabrics or textiles, but over ti ...

uniform
.


Symbols in cartography

Symbols are used in cartography to communicate geographical information (generally as point, line, or area features). As with other symbols, visual variables such as size, shape, orientation, texture, and pattern provide meaning to the symbol. According to
semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavior, in sociology ...

semiotics
, map symbols are "read" by map users when they make a connection between the graphic mark on the map (the ''sign''), a general concept (the ''interpretant''), and a particular feature of the real world (the ''referent''). Map symbols can thus be categorized by how they suggest this connection: * Pictorial symbols (also "image", "iconic", or "replicative") appear as the real-world feature, although it is often in a generalized manner; e.g. a tree icon to represent a forest, or green denoting vegetation. * Functional symbols (also "representational") directly represent the activity that takes place at the represented feature; e.g. a picture of a skier to represent a ski resort or a tent to represent a campground. * Conceptual symbols directly represent a concept related to the represented feature; e.g. a dollar sign to represent an ATM, or a
Star of David The Star of David, known in as Magen David (, "Shield of David"),. is a generally-recognized symbol of and . Its shape is that of a , the compound of two s. A derivation of the Medieval "", which was used for decorative and mystic purpose ...

Star of David
to represent a Jewish synagogue. * Conventional symbols (also "associative") do not have any intuitive relationship but are so commonly used that map readers eventually learn to recognize them; e.g. a red line to represent a highway or a cross to represent a hospital. *Abstract/geometric symbols (also "adhHoc") are arbitrary shapes chosen by the cartographer to represent a certain feature.


Related terms

A symbolic action is an action that symbolizes or signals what the actor wants or believes. The action conveys meaning to the viewers. Symbolic action may overlap with
symbolic speechSymbolic speech is a legal term in United States law The law of the United States comprises many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United States Constitution, which prescribes the foundation of the fe ...
, such as the use of
flag burning Flag desecration is the desecration of a flag A flag is a piece of textile, fabric (most often rectangular or quadrilateral) with a distinctive design and colours. It is used as a symbol, a signalling device, or for decoration. The term ''f ...

flag burning
to express hostility or saluting the flag to express patriotism.Bagossy, Renate.
The Difficulty of the Amendment Process of the Constitution of the United States of America and Freedom of Speech and its limits
'. GRIN Verlag; 2008-08-11 ited 5 November 2012 . p. 16–17.
In response to intense public criticism, businesses, organizations, and governments may take symbolic actions rather than, or in addition to, directly addressing the identified problems.Bednar, Michael Kay.
How Symbolic Action Affects the Media as a Governance Mechanism
'. ProQuest; 2008. . p. 17.


See also

*
Alchemical symbol 's 1775 ''Dissertation on Elective Affinities'' Alchemical symbols, originally devised as part of alchemy, were used to denote some elements and some compounds until the 18th century. Although notation like this was mostly standardized, style and ...
*
Astrological symbols Symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, Object (philosophy), object, or wikt:relationship, relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating ...
*
Astronomical symbols Astronomical symbols are abstract pictorial symbols used to represent astronomical objects, theoretical constructs and observational events in Western culture, European astronomy. The earliest forms of these symbols appear in Greek papyrus text ...
*
Emblem An emblem is an abstract art, abstract or representational pictorial image that represents a concept, like a moral truth, or an allegory, or a person, like a king or saint. Emblems vs. symbols Although the words ''emblem'' and ''symbol'' are ...

Emblem
*
Icon An icon (from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appr ...

Icon
(religious) and
secular icon Image:Motherhood and apple pie.jpg, 300px, Apple pie, baseball, and the flag of the United States are three Culture of the United States, American cultural icons. A cultural icon is an cultural artifact, artifact that is identified by members of a ...
*
List of symbols Many (but not all) grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of ...
*
Logo A logo (abbreviation of logotype; ) is a graphic Graphics () are visual The visual system comprises the sensory organ A sense is a biological system A biological system is a complex network which connects several biologically rel ...

Logo
*
National symbol A national symbol is a symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an , , or . Symbols allow people to go beyond what is n or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different s ...

National symbol
*
National treasure The idea of national treasure, like national epic A national epic is an epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem Narrative poetry is a form of poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making" ...
*
Pictogram A pictogram, also called a pictogramme, pictograph, or simply picto, and in computer usage an icon An icon (from the Greek language, Greek 'image, resemblance') is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the ...

Pictogram
*
Proto-writing Proto-writing consists of visible marks Communication, communicating limited information. Such systems emerged from earlier traditions of symbol systems in the early Neolithic, as early as the 7th millennium BC in Ancient China, China. They used ...
*
Sign A sign is an object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Entity, something that is tangible and within the grasp of the senses ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at ...

Sign
*
Symbolic interactionism Symbolic interactionism is a sociological Sociology is the study of society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial ...
*
Symbolism (arts) Symbolism was a late 19th-century art movement An art movement is a tendency or style in art with a specific common philosophy or goal, followed by a group of artists during a specific period of time, (usually a few months, years or decades) o ...
*
Table of mathematical symbols A mathematical symbol is a figure or a combination of figures that is used to represent a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that ...
*
Traffic sign s and other road signage in the English village of Sturminster Marshall, near Poole Traffic signs or road signs are signs erected at the side of or above road A road is a thoroughfare, route, or way on land between two Location (geography), ...

Traffic sign
s *
Unicode symbols In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and software ...
*
Universal language Universal language may refer to a hypothetical or historical language spoken and understood by all or most of the world's population. In some contexts, it refers to a means of communication said to be understood by all humans. It may be the idea ...


References


External links

{{Authority control Concepts Notation
Semiotics Semiotics is the study of sign (semiotics), signs (symbols) and signification systems, or rather semiotics are general theories of signs. Branches of linguistics Branches of philosophy {{CatAutoTOC ...
Syntactic entities