Semiotic

DEFINITION

Of or relating to semantics; a linguistic, or literary study of the meaning of forms ? signs and symbols and how they are used to represent. It includes studies of iconography, iconology, and typology. Semiotics is studied by a semiotician (the term favored in the USA) or semiologist (Europe). It is strongly associated with postmodernism.Semiotics originated largely with Ferdinand de Saussure (Swiss linguist, 1857-1913) and Charles Sanders Peirce (American pragmatist, 1839-1914; pr. purse). Independently, they worked to better understand how certain structures were able to produce meaning rather than work on the traditional matter of meaning itself.Saussure's work on semiotics is better known, and he argued that there was no inherent or necessary relationship between that which carries the meaning (the signifier, usually a word or symbol) and the actual meaning which is carried (the signified). For example, the word "dog" is not actually a dog; the meaning of dog could be carried by any random string of letters. It just so happens that, in English, that meaning is carried by the letters d-o-g.Peirce's ideas about semiotics distinguished between three types of signs: icon, index and symbol. Whether a sign belongs in one category or another is dependent upon the nature of its relationship between the sign itself (which he called the referent) and the actual meaning. An icon is a meaning which is based upon similarity or appearance (for example, similarity in shape).According to Pierce, icons are "the only means of directly communicating an idea." An index is a meaning based upon some cause and effect relationship (for example, a thermometer carries certain meaning because of variation in temperature): "Because the indexical sign is understood to be connected to the real object, it is capable of making that object conceptually present."A symbol carries meaning in a purely arbitrary way, although there are often natural and cultural influences on their making of meaning. Saussure's system is appropriate to language and texts, for the most part, but Pierce's has a wider application, including not just language but imagery as well.An important concept in semiotics is that signs and meaning are unlimited. Called "unlimited semiosis," this principle makes it clear that one sign or set of signs can take the place of some other sign or set of signs in a theoretically infinite process. If this were not possible, then artists would eventually run out of signs with which to carry meaning, and that would be the end of art itself.Quote: "Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign." Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), American pragmatist. "Art is no longer anything more than a kind of meta-language for banality." Jean Baudrillard (1929-), French art critic and semiologist. See banal. Semiotics is "coextensive with the whole range of cultural phenomena, however pretentious that approach may seem." Umberto Eco (contemporary), Italian semilologist Semiotics is "the doctrine that our knowledge of the things in the world is mediated by signs, that we build up structures of signs through experience and these structures define what we take as reality." Donald Cunningham (contemporary), American.Other resources about semiotics: Semiotics for Beginners is Daniel Chandler's explanation of semiotics. Dr. Chandler is a lecturer in media and communication at the U of Wales, Aberystwyth. Also see analogy, appropriation, commodification, knowledge, likeness, metaphor, simile, simulacrum, simulation, and theory.

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