From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The present age [...] prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence [...]." -- The Essence of Christianity (1841) by Ludwig Feuerbach
A sign is a representation of an object that implies a connection between itself and its object. A natural sign bears a causal relation to its object—for instance, thunder is a sign of storm. A conventional sign signifies by agreement, as a full stop signifies the end of a sentence. (This is in contrast to a symbol which stands for another thing, as a flag may be a symbol of a nation).
How a sign is perceived depends upon what is intended or expressed in the semiotic relationship of:
- Significance (i.e. meaning)
Thus, for example, people may speak of the significance of events, the signification of characters, the meaning of sentences, or the import of a communication. Different ways of relating signs to their objects are called modes of signification.
Uses of conventional signs are varied. Usually the goal is to elicit a response or simply inform. That can be achieved by marking something, displaying a message (i.e. a notice), drawing attention or presenting evidence of an underlying cause (for instance, medical symptoms signify a disease), performing a bodily gesture, etc.
Semiotics, epistemology, logic, and philosophy of language are concerned about the nature of signs, what they are and how they signify. The nature of signs and symbols and significations, their definition, elements, and types, is mainly established by Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. According to these classic sources, significance is a relationship between two sorts of things: signs and the kinds of things they signify (intend, express or mean), where one term necessarily causes something else to come to the mind. Distinguishing natural signs and conventional signs, the traditional theory of signs sets the following threefold partition of things:
- There are things that are just things, not any sign at all;
- There are things that are also signs of other things (as natural signs of the physical world and mental signs of the mind);
- There are things that are always signs, as languages (natural and artificial) and other cultural nonverbal symbols, as documents, money, ceremonies, and rites.
Thus there are things which may act as signs without any respect to the human agent (the things of the external world, all sorts of indications, evidences, symptoms, and physical signals), there are signs which are always signs (the entities of the mind as ideas and images, thoughts and feelings, constructs and intentions); and there are signs that have to get their signification (as linguistic entities and cultural symbols). So, while natural signs serve as the source of signification, the human mind is the agency through which signs signify naturally occurring things, such as objects, states, qualities, quantities, events, processes, or relationships. Human language and discourse, communication, philosophy, science, logic, mathematics, poetry, theology, and religion are only some of fields of human study and activity where grasping the nature of signs and symbols and patterns of signification may have a decisive value. ...
A sign can denote any of the following:
- Sign, in astrology: often used to mean the Sun sign
- Sign or signing, in communication: communicating via hand gestures, such as in sign language.
- Gang signal
- Sign, in Tracking (hunting): also known as Spoor (animal); trace evidence left on the ground after passage.
- A signboard.
- A sign, in common use, is an indication that a previously observed event is about to occur again
- Sign, in divination and religion: an omen, an event or occurrence believed to foretell the future
- Sign, in ontology and spirituality: a coincidence; see synchronicity
- Sign (linguistics): a combination of a concept and a sound-image described by Ferdinand de Saussure
- In mathematics, the sign of a number tells whether it is positive or negative. Also, the sign of a permutation tells whether it is the product of an even or odd number of transpositions.
- Signedness, in computing, is the property that a representation of a number has one bit, the sign bit, which denotes whether the number is non-negative or negative. A number is called signed if it contains a sign bit, otherwise unsigned. See also signed number representation
- Sign, in biology: an indication of some living thing's presence
- Medical sign, in medicine: objective evidence of the presence of a disease or disorder, as opposed to a symptom, which is subjective
- Sign (semiotics): the basic unit of meaning
- Information sign: a notice that instructs, advises, informs or warns people
- Traffic sign: a sign that instructs drivers; see also stop sign, speed limit sign, cross walk sign
- Sign, in a writing system: a basic unit. Similar terms which are more specific are character, letter or grapheme
- Commercial signage, including flashing signs, such as on a retail store, factory, or theatre
- Signature, in history: a handwritten depiction observed on a document to show authorship and will
- Asemic writing
- Roland Barthes
- Commercial signage
- Mary Douglas
- Icon (computing)
- Interpretation of dreams
- Edmund Leach
- Claude Lévi-Strauss
- List of symbols
- Map-territory relation – view that an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself.
- National symbol
- Neon sign
- Religious symbolism
- Ferdinand de Saussure
- Traffic sign