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Semiotics

Semiotics

Author: Mario Fierro-Hernandez
Description:

Identify the different semiotic signs through the use of images.

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Hi, and welcome everyone. My name is Mario, and today's lesson is going to be on semiotics. So we'll touch on the study of semiotics and how it plays a role in our daily lives. So feel free-- as always-- to stop, fast-forward, and rewind at your own pace. And when you're ready to go, then let's begin.

So semiotics-- or the semiotic theory-- is a study of how signs and symbols make meaning. And this plays a huge role in a variety of things-- including linguistics, art, literature, cinema, politics, religion, and more. And there are two key figures in the history of semiotics that I'll briefly mention. Charles Sanders Peirce and Roland Barthes.

Now, Roland Barthes was a French literary critic who extended early semiotic theory to mass media and popular culture. So he's considered to be the founder of contemporary semiotics. Charles Sanders Peirce was an American philosopher and developer of the formal theory of semiotics, and he developed a precise system for describing signs-- including terms like symbol, icon, and index.

So we'll go through and discuss each one of these terms individually. Let's start off with sign. A sign is something that stands for something other than itself. So it's going to be a representation. For example, a stop sign tells you to stop, and a caution sign tells you to be careful-- but neither one is the actual action of stopping or being cautious.

Now, ads can be signs in this case as well. Here is an ad. This doesn't mean headlamp. It doesn't mean go turn the light on. It stands for something other than itself, so it's advertising a product. It stands for-- look how cool this thing is, or come buy it or something like that.

Next, we have a symbol. A symbol is a sign which has no logical connection to what it signifies. The viewer has to learn the connection between the sign and its meaning. So a great example and something I run to quite often is this logo of Chrome. Now, if I was to show this to my mom, she would have no idea what it is. She might say, was it a tire or planet or something? And I'd say-- well no, it's Chrome.

And then she'd say something like, but it's not even Chrome-colored. And I would say-- yeah Mom, but it's the Chrome browser. You know, the browser. So the viewer has to learn that this logo is associated to Chrome as a brand or product, and that's tied to a service or application-- in this case, the browser. So again, the viewer has to learn that connection.

Now, another simple example would be something like a flag. It may symbolize a country or nation, but it's not the country and it's not the nation, it's just an abstract symbol. And it looks nothing like the US, so an outsider has to learn the connection to the country from the symbol.

Next, we have index. Now, index is a sign that can be understood because it's logically linked to or affected by what it stands for. So to put it simply, an index sign has a direct link between the sign and the object. The sign shows a curvy road, and it's logically linked to its location. So there's a curvy sign there because there's a curvy road. Again, it's logically linked. There's a logical reason why it's there.

Last, we have icon. An icon is a sign that physically resembles what it signifies. So this one is pretty straightforward. Let's say a crosswalk sign. It pretty clearly resembles what it's trying to depict, which is of course the crosswalk. Likewise, this icon of an escalator also very clearly resembles what it signifies.

Now sometimes, an image can be described by more than one of these terms, as I'm sure you've noticed by now. So here's a sign with symbols of the highways and exits. And they'll take many forms beyond this as well, so think of a wedding ring. It's both a sign and symbol. It a sign that the wearer is married, and also a symbol for anything they choose to associate it with-- commonly, love. Therefore, it functions as both a sign and symbol.

Well, That wraps up today's lesson on semiotics. We'll revisit our key terms for today, and be on the lookout for all these things next time you're out and about. I hope you've enjoyed today's lesson. My name is Mario, and I'll see you next lesson.

Attributions
Terms to Know
Charles Sanders Peirce

American philosopher and developer of the formal theory of semiotics; developed a precise system for describing signs, including the terms symbol, icon, and index.

Icon

A sign that physically resembles what it signifies.

Index

A sign that can be understood because it is logically linked to or affected by what it stands for.

Roland Barthes

French literary critic who extended early semiotic theory to mass media and popular culture; considered the founder of contemporary semiotics.

Semiotics

The study of how signs and symbols make meaning.

Sign

Something that stands for something other than itself.

Symbol

A sign which has no logical connection to what it signifies; the viewer must learn the connection between the sign and its meaning.