Signs, Symbols & Meanings

What’s up everyone! 🙂  Today I will be talking about the Semiotic Tradition. The Semiotic Tradition speaks about communication as the process of sharing meaning through signs. The meaning is in the process. It intends to understand how the sign comes to have the meaning that it has. According to Griffin, “semiotics is the study of verbal and nonverbal signs that can stand for something else and how their interpretation impacts society.” He also defines symbols as “arbitrary words and nonverbal signs that bear no natural connection with the things they describe; their meaning is learned within a given culture.”

The assumptions of this tradition are:
1) Words are a special kind of sign known as symbols
2) Meaning does not reside in signs, it resides in people

This picture perfectly describes the semiotic relationship among the sign, signifier and the signified.

Interestingly enough, signs are categorized into three basic types:


Iconic Signs – icons are signs where meaning is based on the resemblance of the object in some way. If you look at the diagram above you’ll be able to realize that something common connects the signifier and signified. If you guessed resemblance then… ding ding ding… you’re right! This common connection is definitely resemblance. In semiotics, an icon is meant to be a direct reflection of the object or concept. For example, iconic signs are reflected through art – a portrait of a person or a map of an area.

This map of Barbados is an iconic sign of the geographical location is represents.

Image result for traffic lights meaning

2)  Symbolic Signs – these are quite opposite from icons. When it comes to symbols, the relationship between the signifier and signified is completely arbitrary and must be culturally learned. Have you ever heard about the saying “meanings are in people, not words?” Well this quote by I.A Richards simply means that people all over the world, have different meanings for everything, based on their cultural backgrounds and geographical locations. Take the letters of the alphabet for instance, the shape of each letter has no physical connection to the sound it represents. Another great example are traffic lights – there is no logical connection between a symbol and what it represents. It is only when what is communicated is learned over time that the symbolic relationship to the specific object would begin to make sense.

3)   Indexical Signs – these signs signify by means of a direct relation or causality between a sign vehicle and the sign object. Relating to semiotics, an indexical sign shows evidence of the concept or object being represented, unlike iconic signs, indexical signs do not resemble the object or concept being represented. What it does is, it resembles something that signifies the particular object of concept… Does that make sense? If you’re still not getting it, here’s a very simple example below.

Wine is an indexical sign of grapes, there is a clear relationship between the object and the vehicle that produces the object.

Finally, variations in the Semiotic Tradition bring me to the ending of my post. There are three variations in this traditions. If you are a linguist or a student studying Linguistics then you’ll see what I am talking about.

The variations are:

  • Semantics – Deals with how signs relate to their reference or what do signs stand for.
  • Syntactics – Consists of the rules people use to combine signs in complex ways.
  • Pragmatics – Deals with the practical use and effects of signs and their impact on social life.

That’s a wrap peeps, until next time!


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