The study of Signs and Symbols

Colin Cherry:  syntax (structure), semantics (meaning), pragmatics (environment variables, etc)

Shannon / Weaver:  Three levels of communication problems:  transmission problems (their model), semantic problems (symbols-meaning), effectiveness problems (message have desired reaction?)  [The Mathematical Theory of Communication]

Pierce Model:  Pierce described semiosis as the relationship between a sign, an object and a meaning


Signs represent the meaning of the object
Interpretant:  process of perceiving meaning (in the mind)
  Example:  the word dog is not a dog, it represents a dog (dog = object, the word dog = sign, our understanding of it = interpretant)

Ogden and Richards Model:

Thought or reference- like the interpretant in Pierce's model- the mind's perception
referent- like the object in Pierce's model (the external referent)
symbol- the sign in Pierce's model

Saussure's Model:

A great explanation of Saussure's Model:

Saussure says signs (the fundamental unit of analysis) are composed of the signifier and the signified.  The signifier is the mental concept, and the signified is the actual physical object.  Saussure is interested in the signification that the sign has- which is it's importance to external reality and meaning.  For example, a picture of a cowboy can mean 'manly', and many other things.

The signification that he discusses can be divided into first-order signification (denotation- the literal meaning of a sign) and second-order signification (connotation- the implied meaning of a sign). 

Example:  A Rose

Signifier:  A picture of a rose, or 'rose' as text

Signified:  The flower (rose) being referred to (my mental model)

First order signification:  our signifier of a rose denotes a type of flower (we can list the description of a rose in order to identify one)

Second order signification:  A rose has connotations of love, passion, relationships, friendship, or other culturally connotative meanings


Jean Baudrillard:  The problem that signs have increasingly become separated from the objects they represent

Signs have four levels of detachment from reality:

  1. symbolic order - signs represent the objects
  2. counterfeits - signs are manipulated, no longer represent true objects
  3. production - the signs create the objects out of thin air
  4. simulation - both signs and objects are a mirage, figment of someone's imagination

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