(9 letters | 4 syllables)
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–semiotics refers to a philosophical theory of the functions of signs and symbols.
- the study of signs and symbols as elements of communicative behavior; the analysis of systems of communication, as language, gestures, or clothing
general theory of signs and symbolism, usually divided into the branches of pragmatics, semantics, and syntactics
1615-20; (def 3) < Greek sēmeiōtikós significant, equivalent to sēmeiō-, verbid stem of sēmeioûn to interpret as a sign (derivative of Greek sēmeîon sign) + -tikos -tic; (def 4) < Greek sēmeiōtikḗ, noun use of feminine of sēmeiōtikós, adapted by John Locke (on the model of Greek logikḗ logic, etc.; see -ic ) to mean “the doctrine of signs”; (defs 1, 2) based on Locke's coinage or a reanalysis of the Gk word
Semiotics, also called Semiology, the study of signs and sign-using behaviour. It was defined by one of its founders, the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, as the study of “the life of signs within society.” Although the word was used in this sense in the 17th century by the English philosopher John Locke, the idea of semiotics as an interdisciplinary mode for examining phenomena in different fields emerged only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the independent work of Saussure and of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.
Peirce’s seminal work in the field was anchored in pragmatism and logic. He defined a sign as “something which stands to somebody for something,” and one of his major contributions to semiotics was the categorization of signs into three main types: (1) an icon, which resembles its referent (such as a road sign for falling rocks); (2) an index, which is associated with its referent (as smoke is a sign of fire); and (3) a symbol, which is related to its referent only by convention (as with words or traffic signals). Peirce also demonstrated that a sign can never have a definite meaning, for the meaning must be continuously qualified.
1690s, “sign language,” from Greek semeion “a sign, mark, token,” from sema (compare semiotic) + -ology. As “branch of medical science concerned with symptoms,” 1839; as “logical theory of signs” from 1923. Related: Semiological.
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