The Info List - Semiotics

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SEMIOTICS (from Greek : σημειωτικός, "simiotikos") (also called SEMIOTIC STUDIES; not to be confused with the Saussurean tradition called SEMIOLOGY which is a subset of semiotics) is the study of meaning-making , the study of sign processes and meaningful communication. This includes the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis ), indication, designation, likeness, analogy , allegory , metonymy , metaphor , symbolism , signification , and communication.

The semiotic tradition explores the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communications. As different from linguistics, however, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems .

is frequently seen as having important anthropological dimensions; for example, the Italian semiotician and novelist Umberto Eco proposed that every cultural phenomenon may be studied as communication. Some semioticians focus on the logical dimensions of the science, however. They examine areas belonging also to the life sciences —such as how organisms make predictions about, and adapt to, their semiotic niche in the world (see semiosis). In general, semiotic theories take signs or sign systems as their object of study: the communication of information in living organisms is covered in biosemiotics (including zoosemiotics ).


* 1 Terminology * 2 History * 3 Formulations * 4 Notable semioticians * 5 Current applications

* 6 Branches

* 6.1 Pictorial semiotics * 6.2 Globalization

* 7 Main institutions * 8 See also * 9 References

* 10 External links

* 10.1 Peircean focus * 10.2 Journals, book series—associations, centers


The term derives from the Greek σημειωτικός sēmeiōtikos, "observant of signs", (from σημεῖον sēmeion, "a sign, a mark", ) and it was first used in English prior to 1676 by Henry Stubbes (spelt semeiotics) in a very precise sense to denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs. John Locke used the term sem(e)iotike in book four, chapter 21 of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Here he explains how science may be divided into three parts:

All that can fall within the compass of human understanding, being either, first, the nature of things, as they are in themselves, their relations, and their manner of operation: or, secondly, that which man himself ought to do, as a rational and voluntary agent, for the attainment of any end, especially happiness: or, thirdly, the ways and means whereby the knowledge of both the one and the other of these is attained and communicated; I think science may be divided properly into these three sorts. — Locke, 1823/1963, p. 174

Locke then elaborates on the nature of this third category, naming it Σημειωτική (Semeiotike) and explaining it as "the doctrine of signs" in the following terms:

Nor is there any thing to be relied upon in Physick, but an exact knowledge of medicinal physiology (founded on observation, not principles), semiotics, method of curing, and tried (not excogitated, not commanding) medicines. — Locke, 1823/1963, 4.21.4, p. 175

In the nineteenth century, Charles Sanders Peirce
Charles Sanders Peirce
defined what he termed "semiotic" (which he sometimes spelled as "semeiotic") as the "quasi-necessary, or formal doctrine of signs", which abstracts "what must be the characters of all signs used by ... an intelligence capable of learning by experience", and which is philosophical logic pursued in terms of signs and sign processes. The Peirce scholar and editor Max H. Fisch claimed in 1978 that "semeiotic" was Peirce's own preferred rendering of Locke's σημιωτική.

Charles W. Morris followed Peirce in using the term "semiotic" and in extending the discipline beyond human communication to animal learning and use of signals.

Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure
, however, founded his semiotics, which he called semiology, in the social sciences:

It is... possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, 'sign'). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge. — Cited in Chandler\'s " Semiotics
for Beginners", Introduction.

While the Saussurean semiotic is dyadic (sign/syntax, signal/semantics), the Peircean semiotic is triadic (sign, object, interpretant), being conceived as philosophical logic studied in terms of signs that are not always linguistic or artificial. The Peircean semiotic addresses not only the external communication mechanism, as per Saussure, but the internal representation machine, investigating not just sign processes, or modes of inference, but the whole inquiry process in general. Peircean semiotics further subdivides each of the three triadic elements into three sub-types. For example, signs can be icons, indices, and symbols.

Yuri Lotman introduced Eastern Europe to semiotics and adopted Locke's coinage as the name to subtitle (Σημειωτική) his founding at the University of Tartu in Estonia
in 1964 of the first semiotics journal, Sign Systems Studies .

Thomas Sebeok assimilated "semiology" to "semiotics" as a part to a whole, and was involved in choosing the name Semiotica for the first international journal devoted to the study of signs.

Saussurean semiotics have been challenged with serious criticism, for example by Jacques Derrida 's assertion that signifier and signified are not fixed, coining the expression différance, relating to the endless deferral of meaning, and to the absence of a 'transcendent signified'. For Derrida, 'il n'y a pas de hors-texte' ("there is nothing outside the text"). He was in obvious opposition to materialists and marxists who argued that a sign has to point towards a real meaning, and cannot be controlled by the referent's closed-loop references.


The importance of signs and signification has been recognized throughout much of the history of philosophy , and in psychology as well. Plato
and Aristotle
both explored the relationship between signs and the world, and Augustine considered the nature of the sign within a conventional system. These theories have had a lasting effect in Western philosophy , especially through scholastic philosophy. (More recently, Umberto Eco, in his Semiotics
and the Philosophy
of Language , has argued that semiotic theories are implicit in the work of most, perhaps all, major thinkers.)

The general study of signs that began in Latin with Augustine culminated in Latin with the 1632 Tractatus de Signis of John Poinsot , and then began anew in late modernity with the attempt in 1867 by Charles Sanders Peirce
Charles Sanders Peirce
to draw up a "new list of categories". Peirce aimed to base his new list directly upon experience precisely as constituted by action of signs, in contrast with the list of Aristotle's categories which aimed to articulate within experience the dimension of being that is independent of experience and knowable as such, through human understanding.

The estimative powers of animals interpret the environment as sensed to form a "meaningful world" of objects, but the objects of this world (or "Umwelt", in Jakob von Uexküll
Jakob von Uexküll
's term, ) consist exclusively of objects related to the animal as desirable (+), undesirable (–), or "safe to ignore" (0).

In contrast to this, human understanding adds to the animal "Umwelt" a relation of self-identity within objects which transforms objects experienced into things as well as +, –, 0 objects. Thus, the generically animal objective world as "Umwelt", becomes a species-specifically human objective world or "Lebenswelt" (life-world), wherein linguistic communication, rooted in the biologically underdetermined "Innenwelt" (inner-world) of humans, makes possible the further dimension of cultural organization within the otherwise merely social organization of non-human animals whose powers of observation may deal only with directly sensible instances of objectivity. This further point, that human culture depends upon language understood first of all not as communication, but as the biologically underdetermined aspect or feature of the human animal's "Innenwelt", was originally clearly identified by Thomas A. Sebeok. Sebeok also played the central role in bringing Peirce's work to the center of the semiotic stage in the twentieth century, first with his expansion of the human use of signs ("anthroposemiosis") to include also the generically animal sign-usage ("zoösemiosis"), then with his further expansion of semiosis (based initially on the work of Martin Krampen, but taking advantage of Peirce's point that an interpretant, as the third item within a sign relation, "need not be mental" ) to include the vegetative world ("phytosemiosis").

Peirce's distinguished between the interpretant and the interpreter. The interpretant is the internal, mental representation that mediates between the object and its sign. The interpreter is the human who is creating the interpretant. Peirce's "interpretant" notion opened the way to understanding an action of signs beyond the realm of animal life (study of "phytosemiosis" + "zoösemiosis" + "anthroposemiosis" = biosemiotics), which was his first advance beyond Latin Age semiotics. Other early theorists in the field of semiotics include Charles W. Morris . Max Black argued that the work of Bertrand Russell was seminal in the field.


Color-coding hot- and cold-water faucets (taps) is common in many cultures but, as this example shows, the coding may be rendered meaningless because of context. The two faucets (taps) probably were sold as a coded set, but the code is unusable (and ignored), as there is a single water supply.

Semioticians classify signs or sign systems in relation to the way they are transmitted (see modality ). This process of carrying meaning depends on the use of codes that may be the individual sounds or letters that humans use to form words, the body movements they make to show attitude or emotion, or even something as general as the clothes they wear. To coin a word to refer to a thing (see lexical words), the community must agree on a simple meaning (a denotative meaning) within their language, but that word can transmit that meaning only within the language's grammatical structures and codes (see syntax and semantics ). Codes also represent the values of the culture , and are able to add new shades of connotation to every aspect of life.

To explain the relationship between semiotics and communication studies , communication is defined as the process of transferring data and-or meaning from a source to a receiver. Hence, communication theorists construct models based on codes, media, and contexts to explain the biology , psychology , and mechanics involved. Both disciplines recognize that the technical process cannot be separated from the fact that the receiver must decode the data, i.e., be able to distinguish the data as salient , and make meaning out of it. This implies that there is a necessary overlap between semiotics and communication. Indeed, many of the concepts are shared, although in each field the emphasis is different. In Messages and Meanings: An Introduction to Semiotics, Marcel Danesi (1994) suggested that semioticians' priorities were to study signification first, and communication second. A more extreme view is offered by Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1987; trans. 1990: 16), who, as a musicologist , considered the theoretical study of communication irrelevant to his application of semiotics.

differs from linguistics in that it generalizes the definition of a sign to encompass signs in any medium or sensory modality. Thus it broadens the range of sign systems and sign relations, and extends the definition of language in what amounts to its widest analogical or metaphorical sense. Peirce's definition of the term "semiotic" as the study of necessary features of signs also has the effect of distinguishing the discipline from linguistics as the study of contingent features that the world's languages happen to have acquired in the course of their evolutions. From a subjective standpoint, perhaps more difficult is the distinction between semiotics and the philosophy of language . In a sense, the difference lies between separate traditions rather than subjects. Different authors have called themselves "philosopher of language" or "semiotician". This difference does not match the separation between analytic and continental philosophy . On a closer look, there may be found some differences regarding subjects. Philosophy
of language pays more attention to natural languages or to languages in general, while semiotics is deeply concerned with non-linguistic signification. Philosophy
of language also bears connections to linguistics, while semiotics might appear closer to some of the humanities (including literary theory ) and to cultural anthropology .

Semiosis or semeiosis is the process that forms meaning from any organism's apprehension of the world through signs. Scholars who have talked about semiosis in their subtheories of semiotics include C. S. Peirce , John Deely , and Umberto Eco . Cognitive semiotics is combining methods and theories developed in the disciplines of cognitive methods and theories developed in semiotics and the humanities, with providing new information into human signification and its manifestation in cultural practices. The research on cognitive semiotics brings together semiotics from linguistics, cognitive science, and related disciplines on a common meta-theoretical platform of concepts, methods, and shared data.

Cognitive semiotics may also be seen as the study of meaning-making by employing and integrating methods and theories developed in the cognitive sciences. This involves conceptual and textual analysis as well as experimental investigations. Cognitive semiotics initially was developed at the Center for Semiotics
at Aarhus University
Aarhus University
( Denmark
), with an important connection with the Center of Functionally Integrated Neuroscience (CFIN) at Aarhus Hospital. Amongst the prominent cognitive semioticians are Per Aage Brandt , Svend Østergaard, Peer Bundgård, Frederik Stjernfelt, Mikkel Wallentin, Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli, and Jordan Zlatev. Zlatev later in co-operation with Göran Sonesson established CCS (Center for Cognitive Semiotics) at Lund University , Sweden.


* Charles Sanders Peirce
Charles Sanders Peirce
(1839–1914), a noted logician who founded philosophical pragmatism , defined semiosis as an irreducibly triadic process wherein something, as an object, logically determines or influences something as a sign to determine or influence something as an interpretation or interpretant, itself a sign, thus leading to further interpretants. Semiosis is logically structured to perpetuate itself. The object may be quality, fact, rule, or even fictional (Hamlet ), and may be "immediate" to the sign, the object as represented in the sign, or "dynamic", the object as it really is, on which the immediate object is founded. The interpretant may be "immediate" to the sign, all that the sign immediately expresses, such as a word's usual meaning; or "dynamic", such as a state of agitation; or "final" or "normal", the ultimate ramifications of the sign about its object, to which inquiry taken far enough would be destined and with which any interpretant, at most, may coincide. His semiotic covered not only artificial, linguistic, and symbolic signs, but also semblances such as kindred sensible qualities, and indices such as reactions. He came c. 1903 to classify any sign by three interdependent trichotomies, intersecting to form ten (rather than 27) classes of sign. Signs also enter into various kinds of meaningful combinations; Peirce covered both semantic and syntactical issues in his speculative grammar. He regarded formal semiotic as logic per se and part of philosophy; as also encompassing study of arguments (hypothetical , deductive , and inductive ) and inquiry's methods including pragmatism; and as allied to, but distinct from logic's pure mathematics. In addition to pragmatism, Peirce provided a definition of the term "sign" as:

"A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea." Peirce called the sign a representamen, in order to bring out the fact that a sign is something that "represents" something else in order to suggest it (that is, "re-present" it) in some way. For a summary of Peirce's contributions to semiotics, see Liszka (1996) or Atkin (2006).

* Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure
(1857–1913), the "father" of modern linguistics , proposed a dualistic notion of signs, relating the signifier as the form of the word or phrase uttered, to the signified as the mental concept. According to Saussure, the sign is completely arbitrary—i.e., there is no necessary connection between the sign and its meaning. This sets him apart from previous philosophers, such as Plato
or the scholastics , who thought that there must be some connection between a signifier and the object it signifies. In his Course in General Linguistics , Saussure credits the American linguist William Dwight Whitney (1827–1894) with insisting on the arbitrary nature of the sign. Saussure's insistence on the arbitrariness of the sign also has influenced later philosophers and theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes , and Jean Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard
. Ferdinand de Saussure coined the term sémiologie while teaching his landmark "Course on General Linguistics" at the University of Geneva from 1906 to 1911. Saussure posited that no word is inherently meaningful. Rather a word is only a "signifier", i.e., the representation of something, and it must be combined in the brain with the "signified", or the thing itself, in order to form a meaning-imbued "sign". Saussure believed that dismantling signs was a real science, for in doing so we come to an empirical understanding of how humans synthesize physical stimuli into words and other abstract concepts. * Jakob von Uexküll
Jakob von Uexküll
(1864–1944) studied the sign processes in animals. He used the German word for "environment", umwelt , to describe the individual's subjective world, and he invented the concept of functional circle (funktionskreis) as a general model of sign processes. In his Theory of Meaning (Bedeutungslehre, 1940), he described the semiotic approach to biology , thus establishing the field that now is called biosemiotics . * Valentin Voloshinov (1895–1936) was a Soviet -Russian linguist, whose work has been influential in the field of literary theory and Marxist theory of ideology . Written in the late 1920s in the USSR, Voloshinov's Marxism
and the Philosophy
of Language (tr.: Marksizm i Filosofiya Yazyka) developed a counter-Saussurean linguistics, which situated language use in social process rather than in an entirely decontexualized Saussurean langue. * Louis Hjelmslev (1899–1965) developed a formalist approach to Saussure's structuralist theories. His best known work is Prolegomena to a Theory of Language, which was expanded in Résumé of the Theory of Language, a formal development of glossematics, his scientific calculus of language.

* Charles W. Morris (1901–1979). In his 1938 Foundations of the Theory of Signs, he defined semiotics as grouped into three branches:

* Semantics: relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their signified denotata, or meaning * Syntactics/Syntax: relations among or between signs in formal structures * Pragmatics: relation between signs and sign-using agents or interpreters

Syntactics is the Morris'ean branch of semiotics that deals with the formal properties of signs and symbols; the interrelation of the signs, without regard to meaning. Semantics deals with the relation of signs to their designata and the objects that they may or do denote; the relation between the signs and the objects to which they apply. Finally, pragmatics deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena that occur in the functioning of signs; the relation between the sign system and its human (or animal) user. Unlike his mentor George Herbert Mead , Morris was a behaviorist and sympathetic to the Vienna Circle positivism of his colleague, Rudolf Carnap . Morris was accused by John Dewey
John Dewey
of misreading Peirce.

* Thure von Uexküll (1908–2004), the "father" of modern psychosomatic medicine , developed a diagnostic method based on semiotic and biosemiotic analyses. * Roland Barthes (1915–1980) was a French literary theorist and semiotician. He often would critique pieces of cultural material to expose how bourgeois society used them to impose its values upon others. For instance, the portrayal of wine drinking in French society as a robust and healthy habit would be a bourgeois ideal perception contradicted by certain realities (i.e. that wine can be unhealthy and inebriating). He found semiotics useful in conducting these critiques. Barthes explained that these bourgeois cultural myths were second-order signs, or connotations. A picture of a full, dark bottle is a sign, a signifier relating to a signified: a fermented, alcoholic beverage—wine. However, the bourgeois take this signified and apply their own emphasis to it, making "wine" a new signifier, this time relating to a new signified: the idea of healthy, robust, relaxing wine. Motivations for such manipulations vary from a desire to sell products to a simple desire to maintain the status quo. These insights brought Barthes very much in line with similar Marxist theory.

Signaling and communication between the Astatotilapia burtoni

* Algirdas Julien Greimas
Algirdas Julien Greimas
(1917–1992) developed a structural version of semiotics named, "generative semiotics", trying to shift the focus of discipline from signs to systems of signification. His theories develop the ideas of Saussure, Hjelmslev, Claude Lévi-Strauss , and Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Maurice Merleau-Ponty
. * Thomas A. Sebeok (1920–2001), a student of Charles W. Morris, was a prolific and wide-ranging American semiotician. Although he insisted that animals are not capable of language, he expanded the purview of semiotics to include non-human signaling and communication systems, thus raising some of the issues addressed by philosophy of mind and coining the term zoosemiotics . Sebeok insisted that all communication was made possible by the relationship between an organism and the environment in which it lives. He also posed the equation between semiosis (the activity of interpreting signs) and life—a view that the Copenhagen-Tartu biosemiotic school has further developed. * Yuri Lotman (1922–1993) was the founding member of the Tartu
(or Tartu-Moscow) Semiotic School . He developed a semiotic approach to the study of culture—semiotics of culture —and established a communication model for the study of text semiotics. He also introduced the concept of the semiosphere . Among his Moscow colleagues were Vladimir Toporov , Vyacheslav Ivanov and Boris Uspensky . * Christian Metz (1931–1993) pioneered the application of Saussurean semiotics to film theory , applying syntagmatic analysis to scenes of films and grounding film semiotics in greater context. * Umberto Eco (1932–2016) made a wider audience aware of semiotics by various publications, most notably A Theory of Semiotics
and his novel, The Name of the Rose , which includes (second to its plot) applied semiotic operations. His most important contributions to the field bear on interpretation, encyclopedia, and model reader. He also criticized in several works (A theory of semiotics, La struttura assente, Le signe, La production de signes) the "iconism" or "iconic signs" (taken from Peirce's most famous triadic relation, based on indexes, icons, and symbols), to which he proposed four modes of sign production: recognition, ostension, replica, and invention. * Eliseo Verón (1935–2014) developed his "Social Discourse Theory" inspired in the Peircian conception of "Semiosis". * The Mu Group ( Groupe µ ) (founded 1967) developed a structural version of rhetorics , and the visual semiotics .


Chart semiotics of social networking

Applications of semiotics include:

* It represents a methodology for the analysis of "texts" regardless of the medium in which it is presented . For these purposes, "text" is any message preserved in a form whose existence is independent of both sender and receiver; * It may improve ergonomic design in situations where it is important to ensure that human beings are able to interact more effectively with their environments, whether it be on a large scale, as in architecture , or on a small scale, such as the configuration of instrumentation for human use.

In some countries, its role is limited to literary criticism and an appreciation of audio and visual media. This narrow focus may inhibit a more general study of the social and political forces shaping how different media are used and their dynamic status within modern culture. Issues of technological determinism in the choice of media and the design of communication strategies assume new importance in this age of mass media.

Publication of research is both in dedicated journals such as Sign Systems Studies , established by Yuri Lotman and published by Tartu University Press ; Semiotica , founded by Thomas A. Sebeok and published by Mouton de Gruyter ; Zeitschrift für Semiotik; European Journal of Semiotics; Versus (founded and directed by Umberto Eco ), et al.; The American Journal of Semiotics ; and as articles accepted in periodicals of other disciplines, especially journals oriented toward philosophy and cultural criticism.

The major semiotic book series "Semiotics, Communication, Cognition", published by De Gruyter Mouton (series editors Paul Cobley and Kalevi Kull ) replaces the former "Approaches to Semiotics" (more than 120 volumes) and "Approaches to Applied Semiotics" (series editor Thomas A. Sebeok ). Since 1980 the Semiotic Society of America has produced an annual conference series: Semiotics: The Proceedings of the Semiotic Society of America .

Marketing is another application of semiotics. Epure, Eisenstat and Dinu (2014) said, "semiotics allows for the practical distinction of persuasion from manipulation in marketing communication" (p. 592). Semiotics
are used in marketing as a persuasive device to influence buyers to change their attitudes and behaviors in the market place. Two ways that Epure, Eisenstat and Dinu (2014) state that semiotics are used are:

* Surface: signs are used to create personality for the product; creativity plays its foremost role at this level. * Underlying: the concealed meaning of the text, imagery, sounds, etc.

analysis is used by scholars and professional researchers as a method to interpret meanings behind symbols and how the meanings are created. Below is an example of how semiotic analysis is utilized in a research paper published in an academic journal: Educational Research and Reviews.

In 2016 Kibar Aktin (Sinop Üniversitesi, Turkey) presented a research study on "how children fictionalize the past by using their imagination skills in the process of historical thinking" (Aktin, 2016). The data collected as part of this project included pictures drawn by pre-school age children depicting their recollection of a field trip to a historical museum. Aktin used semiotics to analyze these drawings through attempting to understand the different aspects of the drawings and the meaning behind the drawings. In doing this, the researcher and the two experts assisting him were seeking the connotative meaning behind the symbols presented by the young students. Their analysis was divided into three sections:

* Definitional meaning analysis * Personal meaning analysis * Contextual meaning analysis

Definitional meaning analysis consists of the researcher's own interpretation and definition of the children's drawings. The images in the drawing are related to what the researcher believes they represent in the literal world.

Personal meaning analysis involves the researcher sitting with the artist and discussing their interpretation of their drawing. By doing this the researcher can get an understanding as to what the students were trying to express through their drawings.

Lastly, Aktin used contextual meaning analysis to perceive the context behind the facets of the drawings to decipher what was derived from the children's memory and what was purely imaginative. This enables the researcher to achieve their goal of understanding how children fictionalize the past by using their imaginative skills.

Marketing Semiotics
research, based on Connotations has been stated in the research conducted by Pathak Gauri and Kazi Roshan in 2016.The research studied whether connotations/context as semiotic elements affect brand building parameters like Brand
awareness, Brand
feelings, Brand
image, Brand
reliability, Brand
association, Brand preference/bonding and Brand
trust.They have concluded that, the type of Brand
influences the