The importance of signs and significances has been
recognized throughout much of history of philosophy, and
also in psychology, Plato and Aristotle both explored
relationships between signs and the world, these theories
have had a great impact throughout western
philosophy, especially throughout scholastic philosophy, more
recently Umberto Eco, in his book semiotics and the
philosophy of language, has argued that the work of most
semiotic theories are implied in the work of most and all
major thinkers through out the world .
It is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.
Derived from Greek word “semiotikos” meaning “interpreter of signs”.
Based on “semiosis”, it is the relationship between a sign, object and a meaning. The sign represents the
„object‟ or „referent‟ in the mind of an „interpreter‟ „ Interpretant‟ is the effect of a sign on the person who reads
and comprehends it.
„ Interpretant‟ also refers to a sign that serves as the representation of an object. It is the ways in which people
devise means for transmitting that understanding and sharing it with others. Natural and artificial languages are
central to semiotics, though its field covers all non-verbal signalling. Knowledge, meaning, intention and action
are therefore fundamental concepts in the theory of Semiotics.
Sign is a symbol which is
understood to refer to something
other than itself , while Symbol is
an object that represents, stands
for or suggest an idea or visual
Feridinand De Sassure
Ferdinand De Sassure
He was a Swiss linguistic who created the term “semiotics”
Explored signs in relation to language•
Construction of signs and their meaning rather than the structures of specific languages
Signifier – the physical element, the actual spoke nor written word
Signified – the mental concept, the idea of the sign
•Assigned by time, convention and practice
• Relational and depends on its difference from other words
“ the sign is the whole that results from the association of the signifier with
the signified” (Saussure)
Saussure´s model of the sign refers only to a concept and not to a thing .
The signifier is the word „Tree‟
The signified is the image of a tree in a park or forest
Same signifier can stand for different signifieds depending on the context
Saussure was focusing on the linguistic sign (such as a word)
The link between signified and signifier is arbitrary (nothing „treeish‟ about word „tree‟)
No specific signifier is „naturally‟ more suited to a signified than another
Saussure was more concerned about linguistic signs and speech
More examples of signs
Signifier: Brown Cross
Signified:a symbol of religion, or to be more
specific this is a symbol of Christianity
Signified: To stop or danger
Signified:a symbol of love and affection
Semiotics is broken down into three different branches:
Semantics: This is relation between signs and what they
refer to, their dentate, what they mean
Syntactic: relations between signs in formal structure
Pragmatics: relation between sign and their effects.
Semiotics is know for having important anthropological
Language– the system of signifier/signified,or
parole – the practical application of the system
within a specific language, or act of speech
He was a French literary theorist , critic and like Saussure was also interested in semiotics.
His semiotic theory focuses on how signs and photographs represent different cultures and ideologies in
Denotation and Connotation – Denotation is the object that we can see in an image (text). –
Connotation means what the object means and the metaphors of the object
A connotative response is less fixed that a denotative response and the associations „signified‟ may well
depend upon the individual, society or culture.
Roland Barthes argued that some connotations are so widely held that they reach the level of
„myth‟.Barthesian „myths‟ have nothing to do with stories or legends and should not necessarily be seen as
falsehoods. A „myth‟ according to Barthes is where a„socially agreed‟ symbolic association becomes so
widely accepted that it is seen as iconic.
Myth - Refers to the collective , unconscious meaning created as the result of a semiotic process.
Barthes proposed that a myth is a chain of semiotic events which when experienced or seen by members
of society creates a subconscious meaning.
Myths are „powerful chains of concepts‟ by which we understand our world. Myths are constructed but
often appear natural, a part of reality itself
Metonymy refers to the ability of a sign to represent the „whole‟ of something while literally being only a
part of it. The Eiffel Tower is a metonym for Paris, a palm fringed beach is a metonym for Tahiti, a TV news
graphic of a tank passing a village church is a metonym for the war in Bosnia.Film uses metonyms a lot
because as signifiers they are economic users of time in a text.
He was a logician and had a career in Philosophy and Math.
Peirce´s sign definition “ Something which stands to somebody for something in respect or capacity”
Explored the sign within the broader context of:
Ontology – study of pure being and the essence of things
Phenomenology – study of experiencing phenomena in the world
Peirce´s sign definition :
Representamen – form which the sign takes (not necessarily material)
Object – to which the sign refers Interpretant – idea, interpretation in mind
Three classes of
o signifier does not resemble the signified (fundamentally arbitrary or purely conventional)
oThat which indicates without implied meaning .Often has a causal relationship with the message
o signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified
o An object, mark or sound whose relevance is defined by convention
o signifier is directly connected in some way (physically or causally) to the signified
o Communicate through analogy or resemblance to that which they signify
There are no pure icons – there is always an element of cultural convention involved Iconic and
Indexical signs are more likely to be read as „natural‟ than symbolic signs.
WHY ?Semiotics can be a very useful tool in textual analysis in terms of uncovering the meaning of a text
You can use the principles of Semiotics to analyze existing media products
Semioticians look closely at film shots in order to break down their messages into systems of signs
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