Semiotics For Dummies: The Intersection of Nature and Culture

Topics: Semiotics, Linguistics, Charles Sanders Peirce Pages: 5 (1493 words) Published: March 22, 2006
Semiotics is a discipline which stems from the work and theories of American logician C. S. Peirce and the French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. The idiom originates from the Greek word seemeiootikee, which denotes the study of signs, what they represent and signify, and how human beings act, interact and think in their universe. This branch of learning and understanding can be best described as a system of many communication theories and techniques which can be viewed as pieces of a puzzle. When these fragments are connected and pieced together, they make visible, the intricate design of human interaction and interpersonal communication.

Semiotics lies intermediary between philosophy and philology and is nothing less than an objectification, or self-expression, or interpretation and the formation and comprehension of meaning. This area of study is a combination between scientific discipline and a world-view. Semiotics is an enormously broad approach to understanding such matters as meaning, cognition, culture, behavior, even life itself.

At the heart of this discipline lies the notion of sign. A sign, according to Charles S. Peirce, widely acknowledged to be one of the seminal thinkers about semiotics, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It is the study of signs and symbols as elements of communicative behavior and the analysis of systems of communication. These signs take the form of words, images, sounds, acts or objects, but have no genuine meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning- nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted and brings about some form of meaning.

Understanding semiology assists in the true understanding of one's self, others, and how we view the world around us. Inherently, humans are reactors. Because it is human nature to act, or react toward people, items, and instances on the basis of preconceived meanings that have been assigned, it is beneficial to understand that each sign or symbol will have a different meaning to each individual it is presented to. Because of communication filters and barriers (which can also be signs and symbols) no message is ever received the exact way it is sent. (See Appendix A) Similarly, every sign encountered can be decoded and interpreted differently depending on preconceived notions, culture and personal experience. A signifier may induce many different interpretations of the signified (See Appendix B and D).

This theory of signs and symbolism is divided into branches including pragmatics, semantics, and syntactics. Pragmatics is the branch of semiotics which deals with the causal and other relations between words, expressions, or symbols and their users. It can be an analysis of language in terms of the situational context within which utterances are made, including the knowledge and beliefs of the speaker and the relation between speaker and listener. Semantics is the study of the relationship between words and meanings. The field of semantics has three fundamental concerns: the relations of words to the objects denoted by them, the relations of words to the interpreters of them, and, in symbolic logic, the formal relations of signs to one another semantics is concerned with such issues as meaning and truth, meaning and thought, and the relation between signs and what they mean. Syntactics is the branch of semiotics dealing with the formal properties of language and systems of symbols. Innis proposes that, fundamentally these areas of thought deal with meanings and messages in all their forms and in all their contexts.

There are three ways in which the sign can stand for its object: as icon, index or symbol. An icon is a sign that stands for an object by resembling it, not merely visually, but by any means. An icon makes a connection by similitude. Included in this category of sign are obvious examples like pictures, maps and diagrams and some not so obvious ones like algebraic...

References: Barthes, Elements of Semiology (1967); A. A. Berger, Signs in Contemporary
Culture: An Introduction to Semiotics (1988).
Buchler, J. (Ed.). (1955). Philosophical Writings of Peirce. New York: Dover
Innis, R. (Ed.). Semiotics: An Introductory Anthology. Bloomington, IN: Indiana
University Press.1983
Sebeok, T. Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs.Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press.1976.
Unknown, Steps towards Evolutionary Semiotics. Semiotica 132, 3/4 (317-342).2000
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