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Semiotics

 

Explanations > Critical Theory > Semiotics

Description | Discussion | See also

 

Description

Semiotics (also called Semiology) is the study of signs and their use. Two key elements of a sign are signifier and signified.

Saussure defined Semiotics as 'the science of signs' with the purpose of understand systematic regularities from which meaning is derived (and is hence a Structuralist and Constructionalist approach).

Discussion

The word 'semiotics' was first used by John Locke in the 17th century.

In modern times, groundwork was done by American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce who defined a sign as 'something which stands to somebody for something.' He grouped signs into three main types:

  • Icons, which resemble the referent, such as road signs.
  • Indices, which are related to the referent, such as smoke indicating fire.
  • Symbols, which are related to the referent only by convention. This includes words.

Semiotics often generates different viewpoints, for example in the the way that Lacan defines the subconscious as a 'sliding set of signifiers' and downplays the existence of the signified.

Language creates meaning through a system of differences. Meaning is thus relative and contrastive, needing two things to give one thing meaning.

Like Levi-Strauss' Anthropology, language is consistent with everyday needs, but is not determined by them. Much is a system of symbolism that can be determined by studying societies to determine differential features of relationships.

See also

Signifier and Signified

 

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