Describe || Semiotics

Hello Netizens,

For today, I would like to introduce you to Semiotics. It is the study of creating symbols that carry meaning, which includes; signs, sign processes, likeness, indication, designation, allegory, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, metonymy, communication and signification.

According to the American pragmatist philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce Semiotics is, "theory of meaning which identifies the content of a proposition with the experienciable difference between it being true or false."


Signs have been used through out history, be it drawn on caves, carved on wood or typed on your keyboard. They are a significant part of our society, and they have been recognised though out the history of psychology and philosophy. 

Cave paintings of cattle, c. 15,000 bce; in the Hall of the Bulls, Lascaux Grotto, near …
Ralph Morse—Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

The idea of Semiotics rose as an interdisciplinary system in the late 19th and earl 20th centuries with the work of Saussure and of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. Peirce's work in semiotic was linked with logic and pragmatism. He established a sign as, "something which stands to somebody for something.” And one of his main contribution in semiotics was categorising signs into three different groups: 
  1. Icon, it resembles what it refers to (e.g: roadsigns). 
  2. Index, it is linked with is referent (smoke means there is a fire). 
  3. Symbol, it is associated to what it refers to by convention (Traffic light). 
Charles Sanders Peirce, 1891.
Public Domain

Saussure handled language as a sign system, and in his work on linguistics he has provided the concepts and methods that semioticians apply to sign-systems excluding language. A main semiotics concept is Sausser's differentiation between the two components of a sign:
  • The signifier, the speech sounds or marks on a page. 
  • The signified, the idea or meaning behind the sign.

Moreover, he distinguished parole from langue, the unexpressed set of conventions that make speech understandable. Langue is what mostly interest semioticians. 

Semiotics is linked with structuralism due to the interest in the structure behind the practise of particular signs. Saussure's theories are considered to be the structure of structuralism too and to post-structuralism.

Ferdinand de Saussure, c. 1900.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Postmodern Semiotics  

Postmodern Semiotics: Material Culture and the Forms of Postmodern Life by Mark Gottdiener is a developed look on postmodernism. It distinguishes the meaning of symbols in postmodern culture, moreover, it helps the reader to analyse contemporary society.

Gottdiener discusses the relationship between semiotics and postmodern culture and rejects the effects of Saussure's semiotics. John Locke's concept of semiotics influences what is refereed to 'postmodern semioyics', which is "the study of sign or sign systems, applied to any type of sign." The three main influencers of postmodern semiotic are, Charles Pierce, Ferdinand de Saussure and Umberto Eco. 

Gottdiener makes three points in his book, on the multiplicity of ideas and arguments of Semiotics. One being that Semiotics that are restricted by the sign can only explain the symbolic meaning. Another point is that, “ Meaning is not produced through the free play of signifier alone”. Finally, the last argument made by him is that “Postmodernism criticism should not be confined to textual analysis alone, or the critique of forms of representation alone… everyday life”.



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