Sign (semiotics)
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semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes (semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves Sign (semiotics), signs, where a sign is defined as anything that commun ...
, a sign is anything that communicates a meaning that is not the sign itself to the interpreter of the sign. The meaning can be intentional, as when a word is uttered with a specific meaning, or unintentional, as when a
symptom Signs and symptoms are the observed or detectable signs, and experienced symptoms of an disease, illness, injury, or condition. A sign for example may be a higher or lower temperature than normal, raised or lowered blood pressure or an abnormali ...
is taken as a sign of a particular medical condition. Signs can communicate through any of the
senses A sense is a biological system A biological system is a complex biological network, network which connects several biologically relevant entities. Biological organization spans several scales and are determined based different structures dep ...
, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or taste. Two major theories describe the way signs acquire the ability to transfer information. Both theories understand the defining property of the sign as a relation between a number of elements. In the tradition of semiotics developed by
Ferdinand de Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (; ; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss Linguistics, linguist, Semiotics, semiotician and philosopher. His ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in both linguistics and semiotics in the 2 ...
(referred to as semiology) the sign relation is dyadic, consisting only of a form of the sign (the signifier) and its meaning (the signified). Saussure saw this relation as being essentially arbitrary (the principle of semiotic arbitrariness), motivated only by
social convention A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated, or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms, or criteria, often taking the form of a custom. In a social context, a convention may retain the character of an "unwritten law" of custom (for ex ...
. Saussure's theory has been particularly influential in the study of linguistic signs. The other major semiotic theory, developed by C. S. Peirce, defines the sign as a triadic relation as "something that stands for something, to someone in some capacity". This means that a sign is a relation between the sign vehicle (the specific physical form of the sign), a sign object (the aspect of the world that the sign carries meaning about) and an interpretant (the meaning of the sign as understood by an interpreter). According to Peirce signs can be divided by the type of relation that holds the sign relation together as either
icon An icon () is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic Church, Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks; "an icon is a sacred image used in religious devo ...
s, indices or
symbols A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different ...
. Icons are those signs that signify by means of similarity between sign vehicle and sign object (e.g. a portrait, or a map), indices are those that signify by means of a direct relation of contiguity or causality between sign vehicle and sign object (e.g. a symptom), and symbols are those that signify through a law or arbitrary social convention.


Dyadic signs

According to Saussure (1857–1913), a sign is composed of the ''signifier'' Mardy S. Ireland defines a signifier as:
A unit of something (i.e., a word, gesture) that can carry ambiguous/multiple meanings (e.g., as U.S. President
Bill Clinton William Jefferson Clinton (Birth name, né Blythe III; born August 19, 1946) is an American politician who served as the 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. He previously served as governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 ...
once said, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is', is")
p. 13.
(''signifiant''), and the ''signified'' (''signifié''). These cannot be conceptualized as separate entities but rather as a mapping from significant differences in sound to potential (correct) differential denotation. The Saussurean sign exists only at the level of the
synchronic Synchronic may refer to: *Synchronic (film), ''Synchronic'' (film), a 2019 American science fiction film starring Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie *Synchronic analysis, the analysis of a language at a specific point of time *Synchronicity, the expe ...
system, in which signs are defined by their relative and hierarchical privileges of co-occurrence. It is thus a common misreading of Saussure to take signifiers to be anything one could speak, and signifieds as things in the world. In fact, the relationship of language to
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(or speech-in-context) is and always has been a theoretical problem for linguistics (cf. Roman Jakobson's famous essay "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics" et al.). A famous thesis by Saussure states that the relationship between a sign and the real-world thing it denotes is an arbitrary one. There is not 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 denotation by the phonological sequence ‘paper’. There is, however, what Saussure called ‘relative motivation’: the possibilities of signification of a signifier are constrained by the
compositionality In semantics Semantics (from grc, wikt:σημαντικός, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, Meaning (philosophy), meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several dist ...
of elements in the linguistic system (cf.
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's paper on the arbitrariness of the sign in the first volume of his papers on general linguistics). In other words, 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.
Structuralism In sociology Sociology is a social science that focuses on society, human social behavior, patterns of Interpersonal ties, social relationships, social interaction, and aspects of culture associated with everyday life. It uses various meth ...
was later based on this idea that it is only within a given system that one can define the distinction between the levels of system and use, or the semantic "value" of a sign.


Triadic signs

Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Peirce ( ; September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". Educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for t ...
(1839–1914) proposed a different theory. Unlike Saussure who approached the conceptual question from a study of
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
and
phonology Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds or, for sign languages, their constituent parts of signs. The term can also refer specifically to the sound or sign system of a ...
, Peirce, the so-called father of the Pragmatist school of philosophy, extended the concept of sign to embrace many other forms. He considered "word" to be only one particular kind of sign, and characterized sign as any mediational means to
understanding Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to use concepts to model that object. Understanding is a relation between the knower and an obje ...
. He covered not only artificial, linguistic, and symbolic signs, but also all semblances (such as kindred sensible qualities), and all indicators (such as mechanical reactions). He counted as symbols all terms, propositions, and arguments whose interpretation is based upon convention or habit, even apart from their expression in particular languages. He held that "all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs". The setting of Peirce's study of signs is philosophical logic, which he defined as formal semiotic, and characterized as a normative field following esthetics and ethics, as more basic than metaphysics, and as the art of devising methods of research. He argued that, since all thought takes time, all thought is in signs,Peirce, C.S. (1868), "Questions concerning certain Faculties claimed for Man" (''Arisbe'
Eprint
, ''Journal of Speculative Philosophy'' vol. 2, pp. 103–114. Reprinted in ''Collected Papers'' v. 5, paragraphs 213–63.
that all thought has the form of inference (even when not conscious and deliberate), and that, as inference, "logic is rooted in the social principle", since inference depends on a standpoint that, in a sense, is unlimited. The result is a theory not of language in particular, but rather of the production of meaning, and it rejects the idea of a static relationship between a sign and what it represents: its ''object''. Peirce believed that signs are meaningful through recursive relationships that arise in sets of three. Even when a sign represents by a resemblance or factual connection independent of interpretation, the sign is a sign only insofar as it is at least potentially interpretable by a mind and insofar as the sign is a determination of a mind or at least a ''quasi-mind'', that functions as if it were a mind, for example in crystals and the work of bees—the focus here is on sign action in general, not on psychology, linguistics, or social studies (fields Peirce also pursued). A sign depends on an object in a way that enables (and, in a sense, determines) an interpretation, an ''interpretant'', to depend on the object ''as the sign depends on the object''. The interpretant, then, is a further sign of the object, and thus enables and determines still further interpretations, further interpretant signs. The process, called ''
semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of Action (philosophy), activity, conduct, or process that involves sign (semiotics), signs, including the production of meaning (semiotics), meaning. A sign is anything that communicates a meaning, th ...
'', is irreducibly triadic, Peirce held, and is logically structured to perpetuate itself. It is what defines sign, object, and interpretant in general. As
Jean-Jacques Nattiez Jean-Jacques Nattiez (; born December 30, 1945 in Amiens Amiens (English: or ; ; pcd, Anmien, or ) is a city and commune in northern France, located north of Paris Paris () is the Capital city, capital and List of communes in Fr ...
(1990: 7) put it, "the process of referring effected by the sign is ''infinite''." (Peirce used the word "determine" in the sense not of strict determinism, but of effectiveness that can vary like an influence.) Peirce further characterized the three semiotic elements as follows: # ''Sign'' (or ''representamen''): that which represents the denoted object (cf. Saussure's "signifier"). # ''Object'' (or ''semiotic object''): that which the sign represents (or as some put it, encodes). It can be anything thinkable, a law, a fact, or even a possibility (a semiotic object could even be fictional, such as
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, wiktionary:τραγῳδία, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama based on human ...
); those are partial objects; the total object is the
universe of discourse In the formal science Formal science is a Branches of science, branch of science studying disciplines concerned with abstract structures described by formal systems, such as logic, mathematics, statistics, theoretical computer science, artifi ...
, the totality of objects in that world to which one attributes the partial object. For example, perturbation of Pluto's orbit is a sign about Pluto, but not only about Pluto. The object 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. # ''Interpretant'' (or ''interpretant sign''): a sign's meaning or ramification as formed into a further sign by interpreting (or, as some put it, decoding) the sign. The interpretant may be: ##''immediate'' to the sign, a kind of possibility, all that the sign is suited to immediately express, for instance a word's usual meaning; ##''dynamic'', that is, the meaning as formed into an actual effect, for example an individual translation or a state of agitation, or ##''final'' or ''normal'', that is, the ultimate meaning that inquiry taken far enough would be destined to reach. It is a kind of norm or ideal end, with which an actual interpretant may, at most, coincide. Peirce explained that signs mediate between their objects and their interpretants in semiosis, the triadic process of determination. In semiosis a ''first'' is determined or influenced to be a sign by a ''second'', as its object. The object determines the sign to determine a ''third'' as an interpretant. ''Firstness'' itself is one of Peirce's three categories of all phenomena, and is quality of feeling. Firstness is associated with a vague state of mind as feeling and a sense of the possibilities, with neither compulsion nor reflection. In semiosis the mind discerns an appearance or phenomenon, a potential sign. ''Secondness'' is reaction or resistance, a category associated with moving from possibility to determinate actuality. Here, through experience outside of and collateral to the given sign or sign system, one recalls or discovers the object the sign refers to, for example when a sign consists in a chance semblance of an absent but remembered object. It is through one's collateral experience that the object determines the sign to determine an interpretant. ''Thirdness'' is representation or mediation, the category associated with signs, generality, rule, continuity, habit-taking, and purpose. Here one forms an interpretant expressing a meaning or ramification of the sign about the object. When a 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, themselves signs, emerge. It can involve a mind's reading of nature, people, mathematics, anything. Peirce generalized the communicational idea of utterance and interpretation of a sign, to cover all signs: According to Nattiez, writing with Jean Molino, the tripartite definition of sign, object, and interpretant is based on the "
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" or neutral level, Saussure's "sound-image" (or "signified", thus Peirce'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) Molino's and Nattiez's diagram: : :::(Nattiez 1990, p. 17) Peirce's theory of the sign therefore offered a powerful analysis of the signification system, its codes, and its processes of inference and learning—because the focus was often on natural or cultural context rather than linguistics, which only analyses usage in slow-time whereas human semiotic interaction in the real world often has a chaotic blur of language and signal exchange. Nevertheless, the implication that triadic relations are structured to perpetuate themselves 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 developed.


Classes of triadic signs

By 1903 Peirce came to classify signs by three universal trichotomies dependent on his three categories (quality, fact, habit). He classified any sign: # by what stands as the sign — either (''qualisign'', also called a ''tone'') a quality — or (''sinsign'', also called ''token'') an individual fact — or (''legisign'', also called ''type'') a rule, a habit; # by how the sign stands for its object — either (''icon'') by its own quality, such that it resembles the object, regardless of factual connection and of interpretive rule of reference — or (''index'') by factual connection to its object, regardless of resemblance and of interpretive rule of reference — or (''symbol'') by rule or habit of interpreted reference to its object, regardless of resemblance and of factual connection; and # by how the sign stands for its object to its interpretant — either (''rheme'', also called ''seme'', such as a term) as regards quality or possibility, as if the sign were a qualisign, though it can be qualisign, sinsign, or legisign — or (''dicisign'', also called ''pheme'', such as a proposition) as regards fact, as if the sign were an index, though it can be index or symbol — or (''argument'', also called ''delome'') as regards rule or habit. This is the trichotomy of all signs as building blocks in an inference process. * Any qualisign is an icon. Sinsigns include some icons and some indices. Legisigns include some icons, some indices, and all symbols. * Any icon is a rheme. Indices (be they sinsigns or legisigns) include some rhemes and some dicisigns. Symbols include some rhemes, some dicisigns, and all arguments. Because of those classificatory interdependences, the three trichotomies intersect to form ten (rather than 27) classes of signs. There are also various kinds of meaningful combination. Signs can be attached to one another. A photograph is an index with a meaningfully attached icon. Arguments are composed of dicisigns, and dicisigns are composed of rhemes. In order to be embodied, legisigns (types) need sinsigns (tokens) as their individual replicas or instances. A symbol depends as a sign on how it ''will'' be interpreted, regardless of resemblance or factual connection to its object; but the symbol's individual embodiment is an index to your experience of the object. A symbol is instanced by a specialized indexical sinsign. A symbol such as a sentence in a language prescribes qualities of appearance for its instances, and is itself a replica of a symbol such as a proposition apart from expression in a particular language. Peirce covered both semantic and syntactical issues in his theoretical grammar, as he sometimes called it. He regarded formal semiotic, as logic, as furthermore encompassing study of arguments ( hypothetical,
deductive Deductive reasoning is the mental process of drawing deductive inferences. An inference is deductively valid if its conclusion follows logically from its premises, i.e. if it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion to be fal ...
, and inductive) and inquiry's methods including
pragmatism Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving, and action (philosophy), action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, ...
; and as allied to but distinct from logic's pure mathematics. Peirce sometimes referred to the “ground” of a sign. The ground is the pure abstraction of a quality. A sign's ground is the ''respect'' in which the sign represents its object, e.g. as in
literal and figurative language Literal and figurative language is a distinction within some fields of language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the prima ...
. For example, an icon ''presents'' a characteristic or quality attributed to an object, while a symbol ''imputes'' to an object a quality either presented by an icon or symbolized so as to evoke a mental icon. Peirce called an icon apart from a label, legend, or other index attached to it, a "hypoicon", and divided the hypoicon into three classes: (a) the ''image'', which depends on a simple quality; (b) the ''diagram'', whose internal relations, mainly dyadic or so taken, represent by analogy the relations in something; and (c) the ''metaphor'', which represents the representative character of a sign by representing a parallelism in something else. A diagram can be geometric, or can consist in an array of algebraic expressions, or even in the common form "All __ is ___" which is subjectable, like any diagram, to logical or mathematical transformations. Peirce held that mathematics is done by diagrammatic thinking — observation of, and experimentation on, diagrams. Peirce developed for deductive logic a system of visual existential graphs, which continue to be researched today.


20th-century theories

It is now agreed that the effectiveness of the acts that may convert the message into text (including speaking, writing, drawing, music 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 Aphasia is an inability to comprehend or formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions. The major causes are stroke and head trauma; prevalence is hard to determine but aphasia due to stroke is estimated to be 0.1–0.4% in th ...
(see
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,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, constitute all life's experiences (see
Louis Hjelmslev Louis Trolle Hjelmslev (; 3 October 189930 May 1965) was a Denmark, Danish linguistics, linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the The Copenhagen school (Linguistics), Copenhagen School of linguistics. Born into an academic family (his father was ...
). Hjelmslev did not consider the sign to be the smallest
semiotic Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes (semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves Sign (semiotics), signs, where a sign is defined as anything that commun ...
unit, as he believed it possible to decompose it further; instead, he considered the "internal structure of language" to be a system of '' figurae'', a concept somewhat related to that of
figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are traditionally classified into ''scheme (linguistics), schemes,'' whi ...
, which he considered to be the ultimate semiotic unit.Hjelmslev
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'' Prolegomena to a Theory of Language'', pp.47, 65, 67, and cf. 6.26, 30
Robert de Beaugrande (1991) '' inguistic Theory: The Discourse of Fundamental Works', section o
Louis Hjelmslev
Nöth, Winfried (1990)
Handbook of semiotics
', pp.66, 70-1 section 3
This position 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 from those intended by the senders. But, 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 An audience is a group of people who participate in a show or encounter a work of art, literature (in which they are called "readers"), theatre, music (in which they are called "listeners"), video games (in which they are called "players"), or ...
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 Cognition refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses all aspects of intellectual functions and processes such as: perception Perceptio ...
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 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 Gestalt-psychology, gestaltism, or configurationism is a school of psychology that emerged in the early twentieth century in Austria and Germany as a theory of perception Perception () is the organization, identification, and interp ...
) leads to simple meanings being attributed out of prejudices and without reference to the sender's intentions.


Postmodern theory

In
critical theory A critical theory is any approach to social philosophy that focuses on society and culture to reveal, critique and challenge power structures. With roots in sociology and literary criticism, it argues that social problems stem more from socia ...
, the notion of sign is used variously.


Semiotic black hole

A semiotic
black hole A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravitation, gravity is so strong that nothing, including light or other Electromagnetic radiation, electromagnetic waves, has enough energy to escape it. The theory of general relativity predicts t ...
is the a-temporal destruction of a ''sign''.


See also

*
Grapheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature a ...
*
Semantics Semantics (from grc, wikt:σημαντικός, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, Meaning (philosophy), meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct discipline ...
*
Semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes (semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves Sign (semiotics), signs, where a sign is defined as anything that commun ...
* Semiotic triangle *
Sign relation A sign relation is the basic construct in the theory of signs, also known as semiotics, as developed by Charles Sanders Peirce. Anthesis Thus, if a sunflower, in turning towards the sun, becomes by that very act fully capable, without further ...
* Triadic relation *
Freudian slip In psychoanalysis PsychoanalysisFrom Greek: + . is a set of theories and therapeutic techniques"What is psychoanalysis? Of course, one is supposed to answer that it is many things — a theory, a research method, a therapy, a body of kn ...


Notes


External links


Signo — www.signosemio.com — Presents semiotic theories and theories closely related to semiotics
{{DEFAULTSORT:Sign (Semiotics) Semiotics Charles Sanders Peirce de:Zeichen