Semiotic Elements and Classes of Signs - Semiotic Elements

Semiotic Elements

General concepts

Biosemiotics · Code
Computational semiotics
Connotation · Decode
Denotation · Encode · Lexical
Literary semiotics · Modality
Representation (arts) · Salience
Semeiotic · Semiosis · Semiosphere
Semiotic elements & sign classes
Semiotics of culture
Sign · Sign relational complex
Sign relation · Umwelt · Value


Commutation test
Paradigmatic analysis
Syntagmatic analysis


Mikhail Bakhtin · Roland Barthes
Marcel Danesi · John Deely
Umberto Eco · Algirdas Julien Greimas
Félix Guattari · Louis Hjelmslev
Roman Jakobson · Roberta Kevelson
Kalevi Kull · Juri Lotman
Charles S. Peirce · Augusto Ponzio
Ferdinand de Saussure
Thomas Sebeok · Michael Silverstein
Eero Tarasti · Jakob von Uexküll
Vyacheslav Ivanov · Vladimir Toporov

Related topics

Tartu–Moscow Semiotic School

Here is Peirce's definition of the triadic sign relation that formed the core of his definition of logic.

Namely, a sign is something, A, which brings something, B, its interpretant sign determined or created by it, into the same sort of correspondence with something, C, its object, as that in which itself stands to C. (Peirce 1902, NEM 4, 20–21).

This definition, together with Peirce's definitions of correspondence and determination, is sufficient to derive all of the statements that are necessarily true for all sign relations. Yet, there is much more to the theory of signs than simply proving universal theorems about generic sign relations. There is also the task of classifying the various species and subspecies of sign relations. As a practical matter, of course, familiarity with the full range of concrete examples is indispensable to theory and application both.

In Peirce's theory of signs, a sign is something that stands in a well-defined kind of relation to two other things, its object and its interpretant sign. Although Peirce's definition of a sign is independent of psychological subject matter and his theory of signs covers more ground than linguistics alone, it is nevertheless the case that many of the more familiar examples and illustrations of sign relations will naturally be drawn from linguistics and psychology, along with our ordinary experience of their subject matters.

For example, one way to approach the concept of an interpretant is to think of a psycholinguistic process. In this context, an interpretant can be understood as a sign's effect on the mind, or on anything that acts like a mind, what Peirce calls a quasi-mind. An interpretant is what results from a process of interpretation, one of the types of activity that falls under the heading of semiosis. One usually says that a sign stands for an object to an agent, an interpreter. In the upshot, however, it is the sign's effect on the agent that is paramount. This effect is what Peirce called the interpretant sign, or the interpretant for short. An interpretant in its barest form is a sign's meaning, implication, or ramification, and especial interest attaches to the types of semiosis that proceed from obscure signs to relatively clear interpretants. In logic and mathematics the most clarified and most succinct signs for an object are called canonical forms or normal forms.

Peirce argued that logic is the formal study of signs in the broadest sense, not only signs that are artificial, linguistic, or symbolic, but also signs that are semblances or are indexical such as reactions. Peirce held that "all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs", along with their representational and inferential relations. He argued that, since all thought takes time, all thought is in signs:

To say, therefore, that thought cannot happen in an instant, but requires a time, is but another way of saying that every thought must be interpreted in another, or that all thought is in signs. (Peirce, 1868)

Thought is not necessarily connected with a brain. It appears in the work of bees, of crystals, and throughout the purely physical world; and one can no more deny that it is really there, than that the colors, the shapes, etc., of objects are really there. Consistently adhere to that unwarrantable denial, and you will be driven to some form of idealistic nominalism akin to Fichte's. Not only is thought in the organic world, but it develops there. But as there cannot be a General without Instances embodying it, so there cannot be thought without Signs. We must here give "Sign" a very wide sense, no doubt, but not too wide a sense to come within our definition. Admitting that connected Signs must have a Quasi-mind, it may further be declared that there can be no isolated sign. Moreover, signs require at least two Quasi-minds; a Quasi-utterer and a Quasi-interpreter; and although these two are at one (i.e., are one mind) in the sign itself, they must nevertheless be distinct. In the Sign they are, so to say, welded. Accordingly, it is not merely a fact of human Psychology, but a necessity of Logic, that every logical evolution of thought should be dialogic. (Peirce, 1906 )

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