What Is the Meaning of Semiotics?

Glossary

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Semiotics is the theory and study of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language or other systems of communication. Also known as semiology, semasiology, and semeiology.

A person who studies or practices semiotics is known as a semiotician. Many of the terms and concepts used by contemporary semioticians were introduced by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). See, for instance, sign, langue, and parole.

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

Etymology

From the Greek, "sign"

Observations

  • "Semiotics involves the study not only of what we refer to as 'signs' in everyday speech but of anything which 'stands for' something else. In a semiotic sense, signs take the forms of words, images, sounds, gestures and objects. Contemporary semioticians study signs not only in isolation but as part of semiotic 'sign systems' (such as a medium or genre). They study how meanings are made and how reality is represented. . . .
  • Nonlinguistic Sign Systems
    "Semiotic methods of analysis which originated in literary criticism have been applied in anthropology, the study of popular culture (e.g., advertisements), geography, architecture, film, and art history. The majority of these approaches emphasize the systemic character of the object under analysis. Buildings, myths, or pictures are regarded as systems of signs in which elements interact in ways analogous to letters, words, and sentences. For this reason, these divergent disciplines are often subsumed under the umbrella-term semiotics (the science of signs)."
  • Signs of the Wall Street People
    "To the untrained eye, the Wall Street people who rode from the Connecticut suburbs to Grand Central were an undifferentiated mass, but within that mass, Danny noted many small and important distinctions. If they were on their BlackBerrys, they were probably hedge fund guys, checking their profits and losses in the Asian markets. If they slept on the train they were probably sell-side people--brokers, who had no skin in the game. Anyone carrying a briefcase or a bag was probably not employed on the sell side, as the only reason you'd carry a bag was to haul around brokerage research, and the brokers didn't read their own reports--at least not in their spare time. Anyone carrying a copy of the New York Times was probably a lawyer or a back-office person or someone who worked in the financial markets without actually being in the markets.
  • Semiotics and Rhetoric
    "As distinct traditions within the field of communication theory, rhetoric and semiotics are closely akin in some ways and hybrids of the two are not uncommon (e.g. Burke, 1966; Kaufer & Carley, 1993a, 1993b). Rhetoric can be thought of as the branch of semiotics that studies the structure of language and argument that mediate between communicators and audiences. Semiotics can also be thought of as a particular theory of rhetoric that studies the resources that are available for conveying meanings in rhetorical messages..."

Pronunciation

se-me-OT-iks

Sources

Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. Routledge, 2006

Mario Klarer, An Introduction to Literary Studies, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2004

Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. W.W. Norton, 2010

Robert T. Craig, "Communication Theory as a Field." Theorizing Communication: Readings Across Traditions, ed by Robert T. Craig and Heidi L. Muller. Sage, 2007