From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Semiotics, also called semiotic studies and including (in the Saussurean tradition) semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. Semiotics is closely related to the field of linguistics, which, for its part, studies the structure and meaning of language more specifically. However, as different from linguistics, semiotics studies also non-linguistic sign systems. Semiotics is often divided into three branches:
- Semantics: Relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their denotata, or meaning
- Syntactics: Relations among signs in formal structures
- Pragmatics: Relation between signs and the effects they have on the people who use them
Semiotics is frequently seen as having important anthropological dimensions; for example, Umberto Eco proposes that every cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication. However, some semioticians focus on the logical dimensions of the science. They examine areas belonging also to the natural sciences – such as how organisms make predictions about, and adapt to, their semiotic niche in the world (see semiosis). In general, semiotic theories take signs or sign systems as their object of study: the communication of information in living organisms is covered in biosemiotics (including zoosemiotics).
Syntactics is the branch of semiotics that deals with the formal properties of signs and symbols. More precisely, syntactics deals with the rules that govern how words are combined to form phrases and sentences. Charles Morris adds that semantics deals with the relation of signs to their designata and the objects which they may or do denote; and, pragmatics deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, that is, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena which occur in the functioning of signs.
Coined by John Locke from Ancient Greek σημειωτικός (sēmeiōtikós, “fitted for marking, portending”), from σημειοῦν (semeioun, “to mark, interpret as a portend”), from σημεῖον (semeion, “a mark, sign, token”), from σῆμα (sema, “mark, sign”).
The importance of signs and signification has been recognized throughout much of the history of philosophy, and in psychology as well. Plato and Aristotle both explored the relationship between signs and the world, and Augustine considered the nature of the sign within a conventional system. These theories have had a lasting effect in Western philosophy, especially through Scholastic philosophy. More recently, Umberto Eco, in his Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, has argued that semiotic theories are implicit in the work of most, perhaps all, major thinkers.
Semiotics is usually defined as the study of signs, or more generally meaning, the polysemy and popularity of the term “cognitive”, just about any semiotic theory from those of Peirce and Saussure to those of Eco (1999) and Hoffmeyer (1996) – could qualify as a cognitive semiotics. In the last two decades of the century, researchers from developmental and cognitive psychology (Bates, Bruner, Tomasello) and linguistics (Langacker, Talmy, Lakoff) turned increasingly to “experiential” notions such as joint attention, metaphor, and narrative.
- Outline of semiotics
- Index of semiotics articles
- Semiotic literary criticism
- Visual semiotics
- Literal and figurative language
- Archetypal literary criticism
- Meaning (linguistics)
- Representation (arts)
- Fact and fiction
- Semiotics of ideal beauty
- Figurative system of human knowledge
- Faith in Fakes
- Elements of culture
- Theories of humor
- De Interpretatione
- Text (disambiguation)