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Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign process (semiosis). It includes the study of signs and sign processes, indication, designation, likeness, analogy, allegory, metonymy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. It is not to be confused with the Saussurean tradition called semiology, which is a subset of semiotics.[1][2]

The semiotic tradition explores the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communications.

Different from linguistics, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems.

Semiotics is frequently seen as having important anthropological and sociological dimensions; for example, the Italian semiotician and novelist Umberto Eco proposed that every cultural phenomenon may be studied as communication.[3] Some semioticians focus on the logical dimensions of the science, however. They examine areas belonging also to the life sciences—such as how organisms make predictions about, and adapt to, their semiotic niche in the world (see semiosis). In general, semiotic theories take signs or sign systems as their object of study: the communication of information in living organisms is covered in biosemiotics (including zoosemiotics and phytosemiotics).


The term derives from the Greek σημειωτικός sēmeiōtikos, "observant of signs"[4] (from σημεῖον sēmeion, "a sign, a mark")[5] and it was first used in English prior to 1676 by Henry Stubbe[6] (spelt semeiotics) in a very precise sense to denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs.[7][8] John Locke used the term sem(e)iotike in book four, chapter 21 of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690).[9][10][11] Here he explains how science may be divided into three parts:

All that can fall within the compass of human understanding, being either, first, the nature of things, as they are in themselves, their relations, and their manner of operation: or, secondly, that which man himself ought to do, as a rational and voluntary agent, for the attainment of any end, especially happiness: or, thirdly, the ways and means whereby the knowledge of both the one and the other of these is attained and communicated; I think science may be divided properly into these three sorts.— Locke, 1823/1963, p. 174

Locke then elaborates on the nature of this third category, naming it Σημειωτική (Semeiotike) and explaining it as "the doctrine of signs" in the following terms:

Nor is there any thing to be relied upon in Physick,[12] but an exact knowledge of medicinal physiology (founded on observation, not principles), semiotics, method of curing, and tried (not excogitated,[13] not commanding) medicines.— Locke, 1823/1963, 4.21.4, p. 175

In the nineteenth century, Charles Sanders Peirce defined what he termed "semiotic" (which he sometimes spelled as "semeiotic") as the "quasi-necessary, or formal doctrine of signs", which abstracts "what must be the characters of all signs used by... an intelligence capable of learning by experience",[14] and which is philosophical logic pursued in terms of signs and sign processes.[15][16] The Peirce scholar and editor Max H. Fisch[17] claimed in 1978[18] that "semeiotic" was Peirce's own preferred rendering of Locke's σημιωτική.

Charles W. Morris followed Peirce in using the term "semiotic" and in extending the discipline beyond human communication to animal learning and use of signals.

Ferdinand de Saussure, however, founded his semiotics, which he called semiology, in the social sciences:

It is... possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life.

It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology.

We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, 'sign'). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge.— Cited in Chandler's "Semiotics for Beginners", Introduction.

While the Saussurean semiotic is dyadic (sign/syntax, signal/semantics), the Peircean semiotic is triadic (sign, object, interpretant), being conceived as philosophical logic studied in terms of signs that are not always linguistic or artificial.

The Peircean semiotic addresses not only the external communication mechanism, as per Saussure, but the internal representation machine, investigating not just sign processes, or modes of inference, but the whole inquiry process in general.

Peircean semiotics further subdivides each of the three triadic elements into three sub-types.

For example, signs can be icons, indices, and symbols.

Yuri Lotman introduced Eastern Europe to semiotics and adopted Locke's coinage as the name to subtitle (Σημειωτική) his founding at the University of Tartu in Estonia in 1964 of the first semiotics journal, Sign Systems Studies

Thomas Sebeok assimilated "semiology" to "semiotics" as a part to a whole,[19] and was involved in choosing the name Semiotica for the first international journal devoted to the study of signs.

Saussurean semiotics have been challenged with serious criticism, for example by Jacques Derrida's assertion that signifier and signified are not fixed, coining the expression différance, relating to the endless deferral of meaning, and to the absence of a 'transcendent signified'. For Derrida, 'il n'y a pas de hors-texte' ("there is nothing outside the text"). He was in obvious opposition to materialists and marxists who argued that a sign has to point towards a real meaning, and cannot be controlled by the referent's closed-loop references.


The importance of signs and signification has been recognized throughout much of the history of philosophy, and in psychology as well. Plato and Aristotle both explored the relationship between signs and the world,[20] and Augustine of Hippo considered the nature of the sign within a conventional system. These theories have had a lasting effect in Western philosophy, especially through scholastic philosophy. (More recently, Umberto Eco, in his Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

The general study of signs that began in Latin with Augustine culminated with the 1632 Tractatus de Signis of John Poinsot, and then began anew in late modernity with the attempt in 1867 by Charles Sanders Peirce to draw up a "new list of categories". Peirce aimed to base his new list directly upon experience precisely as constituted by action of signs, in contrast with the list of Aristotle's categories which aimed to articulate within experience the dimension of being that is independent of experience and knowable as such, through human understanding.

The estimative powers of animals interpret the environment as sensed to form a "meaningful world" of objects, but the objects of this world (or "Umwelt", in Jakob von Uexküll's term,[21]

In contrast to this, human understanding adds to the animal "Umwelt" a relation of self-identity within objects which transforms objects experienced into things as well as +, –, 0 objects.[22] Thus, the generically animal objective world as "Umwelt", becomes a species-specifically human objective world or "Lebenswelt" (life-world), wherein linguistic communication, rooted in the biologically underdetermined "Innenwelt" (inner-world) of humans, makes possible the further dimension of cultural organization within the otherwise merely social organization of non-human animals whose powers of observation may deal only with directly sensible instances of objectivity. This further point, that human culture depends upon language understood first of all not as communication, but as the biologically underdetermined aspect or feature of the human animal's "Innenwelt", was originally clearly identified by Thomas A. Sebeok.[23] Sebeok also played the central role in bringing Peirce's work to the center of the semiotic stage in the twentieth century,[24] first with his expansion of the human use of signs ("anthroposemiosis") to include also the generically animal sign-usage ("zoösemiosis"),[25] then with his further expansion of semiosis (based initially on the work of Martin Krampen,[26] but taking advantage of Peirce's point that an interpretant, as the third item within a sign relation, "need not be mental"[27]) to include the vegetative world ("phytosemiosis").

Peirce's distinguished between the interpretant and the interpreter.

The interpretant is the internal, mental representation that mediates between the object and its sign.

The interpreter is the human who is creating the interpretant.[28] Peirce's "interpretant" notion opened the way to understanding an action of signs beyond the realm of animal life (study of "phytosemiosis" + "zoösemiosis" + "anthroposemiosis" = biosemiotics), which was his first advance beyond Latin Age semiotics. Other early theorists in the field of semiotics include Charles W. Morris.[29][30]


Semioticians classify signs or sign systems in relation to the way they are transmitted (see modality). This process of carrying meaning depends on the use of codes that may be the individual sounds or letters that humans use to form words, the body movements they make to show attitude or emotion, or even something as general as the clothes they wear. To coin a word to refer to a thing (see lexical words), the community must agree on a simple meaning (a denotative meaning) within their language, but that word can transmit that meaning only within the language's grammatical structures and codes (see syntax and semantics). Codes also represent the values of the culture, and are able to add new shades of connotation to every aspect of life.

To explain the relationship between semiotics and communication studies, communication is defined as the process of transferring data and-or meaning from a source to a receiver. Hence, communication theorists construct models based on codes, media, and contexts to explain the biology, psychology, and mechanics involved. Both disciplines recognize that the technical process cannot be separated from the fact that the receiver must decode the data, i.e., be able to distinguish the data as salient, and make meaning out of it. This implies that there is a necessary overlap between semiotics and communication. Indeed, many of the concepts are shared, although in each field the emphasis is different. In Messages and Meanings: An Introduction to Semiotics, Marcel Danesi (1994) suggested that semioticians' priorities were to study signification first, and communication second. A more extreme view is offered by Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1987; trans. 1990: 16), who, as a musicologist, considered the theoretical study of communication irrelevant to his application of semiotics.

Semiotics differs from linguistics in that it generalizes the definition of a sign to encompass signs in any medium or sensory modality. Thus it broadens the range of sign systems and sign relations, and extends the definition of language in what amounts to its widest analogical or metaphorical sense. The branch of semiotics that deals with such formal relations between signs or expressions in abstraction from their signification and their interpreters,[31] or – more generally – with formal properties of symbol systems[32] (specifically – with reference to linguistic signs – syntax)[33] is referred to as syntactics.

Peirce's definition of the term "semiotic" as the study of necessary features of signs also has the effect of distinguishing the discipline from linguistics as the study of contingent features that the world's languages happen to have acquired in the course of their evolutions.

From a subjective standpoint, perhaps more difficult is the distinction between semiotics and the philosophy of language. In a sense, the difference lies between separate traditions rather than subjects. Different authors have called themselves "philosopher of language" or "semiotician". This difference does not match the separation between analytic and continental philosophy. On a closer look, there may be found some differences regarding subjects. Philosophy of language pays more attention to natural languages or to languages in general, while semiotics is deeply concerned with non-linguistic signification. Philosophy of language also bears connections to linguistics, while semiotics might appear closer to some of the humanities (including literary theory) and to cultural anthropology.

Semiosis or semeiosis is the process that forms meaning from any organism's apprehension of the world through signs. Scholars who have talked about semiosis in their subtheories of semiotics include C. S. Peirce, John Deely, and Umberto Eco. Cognitive semiotics is combining methods and theories developed in the disciplines of cognitive methods and theories developed in semiotics and the humanities, with providing new information into human signification and its manifestation in cultural practices. The research on cognitive semiotics brings together semiotics from linguistics, cognitive science, and related disciplines on a common meta-theoretical platform of concepts, methods, and shared data.

Cognitive semiotics may also be seen as the study of meaning-making by employing and integrating methods and theories developed in the cognitive sciences. This involves conceptual and textual analysis as well as experimental investigations. Cognitive semiotics initially was developed at the Center for Semiotics at Aarhus University (Denmark), with an important connection with the Center of Functionally Integrated Neuroscience (CFIN) at Aarhus Hospital. Amongst the prominent cognitive semioticians are Per Aage Brandt, Svend Østergaard, Peer Bundgård, Frederik Stjernfelt, Mikkel Wallentin, Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli, and Jordan Zlatev. Zlatev later in co-operation with Göran Sonesson established CCS (Center for Cognitive Semiotics) at Lund University, Sweden.

Notable semioticians

  • Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), a noted logician who founded philosophical pragmatism, defined semiosis as an irreducibly triadic process wherein something, as an object, logically determines or influences something as a sign to determine or influence something as an interpretation or interpretant, itself a sign, thus leading to further interpretants.[34] Semiosis is logically structured to perpetuate itself. The object may be quality, fact, rule, or even fictional (Hamlet), and may be "immediate" to the sign, the object as represented in the sign, or "dynamic", the object as it really is, on which the immediate object is founded. The interpretant may be "immediate" to the sign, all that the sign immediately expresses, such as a word's usual meaning; or "dynamic", such as a state of agitation; or "final" or "normal", the ultimate ramifications of the sign about its object, to which inquiry taken far enough would be destined and with which any interpretant, at most, may coincide.[35] His semiotic [36] covered not only artificial, linguistic, and symbolic signs, but also semblances such as kindred sensible qualities, and indices such as reactions. He came c. 1903[37] to classify any sign by three interdependent trichotomies, intersecting to form ten (rather than 27) classes of sign.[38] Signs also enter into various kinds of meaningful combinations; Peirce covered both semantic and syntactical issues in his speculative grammar. He regarded formal semiotic as logic per se and part of philosophy; as also encompassing study of arguments (hypothetical, deductive, and inductive) and inquiry's methods including pragmatism; and as allied to, but distinct from logic's pure mathematics. In addition to pragmatism, Peirce provided a definition of the term "sign" as:

  • Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), the "father" of modern linguistics, proposed a dualistic notion of signs, relating the signifier as the form of the word or phrase uttered, to the signified as the mental concept. According to Saussure, the sign is completely arbitrary—i.e., there is no necessary connection between the sign and its meaning. This sets him apart from previous philosophers, such as Plato or the scholastics, who thought that there must be some connection between a signifier and the object it signifies. In his Course in General Linguistics, Saussure credits the American linguist William Dwight Whitney (1827–1894) with insisting on the arbitrary nature of the sign. Saussure's insistence on the arbitrariness of the sign also has influenced later philosophers and theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and Jean Baudrillard. Ferdinand de Saussure coined the term sémiologie while teaching his landmark "Course on General Linguistics" at the University of Geneva from 1906 to 1911. Saussure posited that no word is inherently meaningful. Rather a word is only a "signifier", i.e., the representation of something, and it must be combined in the brain with the "signified", or the thing itself, in order to form a meaning-imbued "sign". Saussure believed that dismantling signs was a real science, for in doing so we come to an empirical understanding of how humans synthesize physical stimuli into words and other abstract concepts.

  • Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944) studied the sign processes in animals. He used the German word for "environment", umwelt, to describe the individual's subjective world, and he invented the concept of functional circle (funktionskreis) as a general model of sign processes. In his Theory of Meaning (Bedeutungslehre, 1940), he described the semiotic approach to biology, thus establishing the field that now is called biosemiotics.

  • Valentin Voloshinov (1895–1936) was a Soviet-Russian linguist, whose work has been influential in the field of literary theory and Marxist theory of ideology. Written in the late 1920s in the USSR, Voloshinov's Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (tr.: Marksizm i Filosofiya Yazyka) developed a counter-Saussurean linguistics, which situated language use in social process rather than in an entirely decontexualized Saussurean langue.

  • Louis Hjelmslev (1899–1965) developed a formalist approach to Saussure's structuralist theories. His best known work is Prolegomena to a Theory of Language, which was expanded in Résumé of the Theory of Language, a formal development of glossematics, his scientific calculus of language.

  • Charles W. Morris (1901–1979). In his 1938 Foundations of the Theory of Signs, he defined semiotics as grouped into three branches: Semantics: relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their signified denotata, or meaning Syntactics/Syntax: relations among or between signs in formal structures Pragmatics: relation between signs and sign-using agents or interpreters

Syntactics is the Morris'ean branch of semiotics that deals with the formal properties of signs and symbols; the interrelation of the signs, without regard to meaning.

Semantics deals with the relation of signs to their designata and the objects that they may or do denote; the relation between the signs and the objects to which they apply.

Finally, pragmatics deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena that occur in the functioning of signs; the relation between the sign system and its human (or animal) user.

Unlike his mentor George Herbert Mead, Morris was a behaviorist and sympathetic to the Vienna Circle positivism of his colleague, Rudolf Carnap. Morris was accused by John Dewey of misreading Peirce.[40]

  • Thure von Uexküll (1908–2004), the "father" of modern psychosomatic medicine, developed a diagnostic method based on semiotic and biosemiotic analyses.

  • Roland Barthes (1915–1980) was a French literary theorist and semiotician. He often would critique pieces of cultural material to expose how bourgeois society used them to impose its values upon others. For instance, the portrayal of wine drinking in French society as a robust and healthy habit would be a bourgeois ideal perception contradicted by certain realities (i.e. that wine can be unhealthy and inebriating). He found semiotics useful in conducting these critiques. Barthes explained that these bourgeois cultural myths were second-order signs, or connotations. A picture of a full, dark bottle is a sign, a signifier relating to a signified: a fermented, alcoholic beverage—wine. However, the bourgeois take this signified and apply their own emphasis to it, making "wine" a new signifier, this time relating to a new signified: the idea of healthy, robust, relaxing wine. Motivations for such manipulations vary from a desire to sell products to a simple desire to maintain the status quo. These insights brought Barthes very much in line with similar Marxist theory.

  • Algirdas Julien Greimas (1917–1992) developed a structural version of semiotics named, "generative semiotics", trying to shift the focus of discipline from signs to systems of signification. His theories develop the ideas of Saussure, Hjelmslev, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

  • Thomas A. Sebeok (1920–2001), a student of Charles W. Morris, was a prolific and wide-ranging American semiotician. Although he insisted that animals are not capable of language, he expanded the purview of semiotics to include non-human signaling and communication systems, thus raising some of the issues addressed by philosophy of mind and coining the term zoosemiotics. Sebeok insisted that all communication was made possible by the relationship between an organism and the environment in which it lives. He also posed the equation between semiosis (the activity of interpreting signs) and life—a view that the Copenhagen-Tartu biosemiotic school has further developed.

  • Yuri Lotman (1922–1993) was the founding member of the Tartu (or Tartu-Moscow) Semiotic School. He developed a semiotic approach to the study of culture—semiotics of culture—and established a communication model for the study of text semiotics. He also introduced the concept of the semiosphere. Among his Moscow colleagues were Vladimir Toporov, Vyacheslav Ivanov and Boris Uspensky.

  • Christian Metz (1931–1993) pioneered the application of Saussurean semiotics to film theory, applying syntagmatic analysis to scenes of films and grounding film semiotics in greater context.

  • Eliseo Verón (1935–2014) developed his "Social Discourse Theory" inspired in the Peircian conception of "Semiosis".

  • The Mu Group (Groupe µ) (founded 1967) developed a structural version of rhetorics, and the visual semiotics.

  • Umberto Eco (1932–2016) was an Italian novelist, semiotician and academic. He made a wider audience aware of semiotics by various publications, most notably A Theory of Semiotics and his novel, The Name of the Rose, which includes (second to its plot) applied semiotic operations. His most important contributions to the field bear on interpretation, encyclopedia, and model reader. He also criticized in several works (A theory of semiotics, La struttura assente, Le signe, La production de signes) the "iconism" or "iconic signs" (taken from Peirce's most famous triadic relation, based on indexes, icons, and symbols), to which he proposed four modes of sign production: recognition, ostension, replica, and invention.

  • Paul Bouissac (1934–) A world renowned expert of circus studies, Bouissac is known for developing a range of semiotic interpretations of circus performances.

  • This includes the multimodal dimensions of clowns and clowning, jugglers, and trapeze acts.

  • He is the author of several books relating to the semiotics of the circus.

  • Bouissac is the Series Editor for the Advances in Semiotics Series for Bloomsbury Academic.

  • He runs the SemiotiX Bulletin which has a global readership, is a founding editor of the Public Journal of Semiotics, and was a central founding figure in the Toronto Semiotic Circle.

  • He is Professor Emeritus of Victoria College, University of Toronto.

  • The personal, professional, and intellectual life of Bouissac is recounted in the book, The Pleasures of Time: Two Men, A Life, by his life-long partner, the sociologist Stephen Harold Riggins.

  • Julia Kristeva (1941–), a student of Lucien Goldmann and Roland Barthes, Bulgarian-French semiotician, literary critic, psychoanalyst, feminist, and novelist. She uses psychoanalytical concepts together with the semiotics, distinguishing the two components in the signification, the symbolic and the semiotic*.* Kristeva also studies the representation of women and women's bodies in popular culture, such as slasher films and has had a remarkable influence on feminism and feminist literary studies.

Semiotics of dreaming

The flexibility of human semiotics is well demonstrated in dreams.

Sigmund Freud[41]

Current applications

Applications of semiotics include:

  • It represents a methodology for the analysis of "texts" regardless of the medium in which it is presented. For these purposes, "text" is any message preserved in a form whose existence is independent of both sender and receiver;

  • It may improve ergonomic design in situations where it is important to ensure that human beings are able to interact more effectively with their environments, whether it be on a large scale, as in architecture, or on a small scale, such as the configuration of instrumentation for human use.

In some countries, its role is limited to literary criticism and an appreciation of audio and visual media. This narrow focus may inhibit a more general study of the social and political forces shaping how different media are used and their dynamic status within modern culture. Issues of technological determinism in the choice of media and the design of communication strategies assume new importance in this age of mass media.

Publication of research is both in dedicated journals such as Sign Systems Studies, established by Yuri Lotman and published by Tartu University Press; Semiotica, founded by Thomas A. Sebeok and published by Mouton de Gruyter; Zeitschrift für Semiotik; European Journal of Semiotics; Versus (founded and directed by Umberto Eco), et al.; The American Journal of Semiotics

The major semiotic book series "Semiotics, Communication, Cognition", published by De Gruyter Mouton (series editors Paul Cobley and Kalevi Kull) replaces the former "Approaches to Semiotics" (more than 120 volumes) and "Approaches to Applied Semiotics" (series editor Thomas A. Sebeok). Since 1980 the Semiotic Society of America has produced an annual conference series: Semiotics: The Proceedings of the Semiotic Society of America

Marketing is another application of semiotics. Epure, Eisenstat and Dinu (2014) said, "semiotics allows for the practical distinction of persuasion from manipulation in marketing communication" (p. 592).[42] Semiotics are used in marketing as a persuasive device to influence buyers to change their attitudes and behaviors in the market place. Two ways that Epure, Eisenstat and Dinu (2014) state that semiotics are used are:

  1. Surface: signs are used to create personality for the product; creativity plays its foremost role at this level.

  2. Underlying: the concealed meaning of the text, imagery, sounds, etc.[42]

Semiotics analysis is used by scholars and professional researchers as a method to interpret meanings behind symbols and how the meanings are created.

Below is an example of how semiotic analysis is utilized in a research paper published in an academic journal: Educational Research and Reviews.


Semiotics has sprouted subfields including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Biosemiotics: the study of semiotic processes at all levels of biology, or a semiotic study of living systems (e.g., Copenhagen–Tartu School). Annual meetings ("Gatherings in Biosemniotics") are held since 2001.

  • Semiotic anthropology.

  • Cognitive semiotics: the study of meaning-making by employing and integrating methods and theories developed in the cognitive sciences. This involves conceptual and textual analysis as well as experimental investigations. Cognitive semiotics initially was developed at the Center for Semiotics at Aarhus University (Denmark), with an important connection with the Center of Functionally Integrated Neuroscience (CFIN) at Aarhus Hospital. Amongst the prominent cognitive semioticians are Per Aage Brandt, Svend Østergaard, Peer Bundgård, Frederik Stjernfelt, Mikkel Wallentin, Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli, and Jordan Zlatev. Zlatev later in co-operation with Göran Sonesson established the Center for Cognitive Semiotics (CCS) at Lund University, Sweden.

  • Computational semiotics: attempts to engineer the process of semiosis, in the study of and design for human-computer interaction or to mimic aspects of human cognition through artificial intelligence and knowledge representation. See also cybercognition.

  • Cultural and literary semiotics: examines the literary world, the visual media, the mass media, and advertising in the work of writers such as Roland Barthes, Marcel Danesi, and Yuri Lotman (e.g., Tartu–Moscow Semiotic School).

  • Cybersemiotics: built on two already-generated interdisciplinary approaches: cybernetics and systems theory including information theory and science, and Peircean semiotics including phenomenology and pragmatic aspects of linguistics, attempts to make the two interdisciplinary paradigms—both going beyond mechanistic and pure constructivistic ideas—complement each other in a common framework. Søren Brier.[43]

  • Design semiotics or product semiotics: the study of the use of signs in the design of physical products; introduced by Martin Krampen, a o, and in a practitioner-oriented version by Rune Monö while teaching industrial design at the Institute of Design, Umeå University, Sweden.

  • Ethnosemiotics is a disciplinary perspective which links semiotics concepts to ethnographic methods.

  • Film semiotics: the study of the various codes and signs of film and how they are understood; see Christian Metz.

  • Gregorian chant semiology is a current avenue of palaeographical research in Gregorian chant which is revising the Solesmes school of interpretation.

  • Law and semiotics: one of the more accomplished publications in this field is the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, published by International Association for the Semiotics of Law.

  • Marketing semiotics, or commercial semiotics is an application of semiotic methods and semiotic thinking in the analysis and development of advertising and brand communications in cultural context.

  • Key figures include Virginia Valentine, Malcolm Evans, Greg Rowland, Georgios Rossolatos.

  • International annual conferences (Semiofest) have been held since 2012.

  • Music semiology: "There are strong arguments that music inhabits a semiological realm which, on both ontogenetic and phylogenetic levels, has developmental priority over verbal language." (Middleton 1990, p. 172) See Nattiez (1976, 1987, 1989), Stefani (1973, 1986), Baroni (1983), and Semiotica (66: 1–3 (1987)).

  • Semiotics of music videos.

  • Organisational semiotics: the study of semiotic processes in organizations (with strong ties to computational semiotics and human-computer interaction).

  • Social semiotics: expands the interpretable semiotic landscape to include all cultural codes, such as in slang, fashion, tattoos, and advertising (See Roland Barthes, Michael Halliday, Bob Hodge, Chris William Martin and Christian Metz).

  • Structuralism and post-structuralism in the work of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Louis Hjelmslev, Roman Jakobson, Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, etc.

  • Theatre semiotics: extends or adapts semiotics onstage; key theoricians include Keir Elam.

  • Urban semiotics

  • Visual semiotics: analyses visual signs; prominent modern founders to this branch are Groupe µ and Göran Sonesson (see also visual rhetoric).[44]

  • Semiotics of photography.[45]

Pictorial semiotics

Pictorial semiotics[46] is intimately connected to art history and theory.

It goes beyond them both in at least one fundamental way, however.

While art history has limited its visual analysis to a small number of pictures that qualify as "works of art", pictorial semiotics focuses on the properties of pictures in a general sense, and on how the artistic conventions of images can be interpreted through pictorial codes. Pictorial codes are the way in which viewers of pictorial representations seem automatically to decipher the artistic conventions of images by being unconsciously familiar with them.[47]

According to Göran Sonesson, a Swedish semiotician, pictures can be analyzed by three models: (a) the narrative model, which concentrates on the relationship between pictures and time in a chronological manner as in a comic strip; (b) the rhetoric model, which compares pictures with different devices as in a metaphor; and (c) the laokoon (or laocoon) model, which considers the limits and constraints of pictorial expressions by comparing textual mediums that utilize time with visual mediums that utilize space.[48]

The break from traditional art history and theory—as well as from other major streams of semiotic analysis—leaves open a wide variety of possibilities for pictorial semiotics.

Some influences have been drawn from phenomenological analysis, cognitive psychology, structuralist, and cognitivist linguistics, and visual anthropology and sociology.

One of the many ways that pictorial semiotics has been changing has been through the use of emojis in email, text or other online conversations.

Though not seen as works of art, these small images of happy, sad, winking faces or even a smiling poo image, have made their way into our everyday communication through digital devices.

In the early advances of mobile technology and the increasing manner in which such devices are used, many in the linguistic community felt that vital communication cues, such as the importance of nonverbal cues, would be lost.[49] Another concern is that with the high use of these symbols would begin to oversimplify our language to where the language's strength would be lost.

However, others have said that the use of emojis in digital conversation has helped to give more clarity to a conversation.

Since the ability to read another person's facial expressions, nonverbal cues or tone of voice isn’t possible in a typed message, emojis allow a communicator to convey attitudes and emotions to their message receiver.

As for oversimplifying our language, some have argued that perhaps our language is not being simplified, but that new generations are revitalizing the early forms of semiotics like cave paintings or hieroglyphics.

As technology advances, so will the use of emojis or possibly a more advanced form of pictorial symbols to use in digital communication.


Studies have shown that semiotics may be used to make or break a brand. Culture codes strongly influence whether a population likes or dislikes a brand's marketing, especially internationally. If the company is unaware of a culture's codes, it runs the risk of failing in its marketing. Globalization has caused the development of a global consumer culture where products have similar associations, whether positive or negative, across numerous markets.[50]

Mistranslations may lead to instances of "Engrish" or "Chinglish", terms for unintentionally humorous cross-cultural slogans intended to be understood in English. This may be caused by a sign that, in Peirce's terms, mistakenly indexes or symbolizes something in one culture, that it does not in another.[51] In other words, it creates a connotation that is culturally-bound, and that violates some culture code. Theorists who have studied humor (such as Schopenhauer) suggest that contradiction or incongruity creates absurdity and therefore, humor.[52] Violating a culture code creates this construct of ridiculousness for the culture that owns the code. Intentional humor also may fail cross-culturally because jokes are not on code for the receiving culture.[53]

A good example of branding according to cultural code is Disney's international theme park business. Disney fits well with Japan's cultural code because the Japanese value "cuteness", politeness, and gift giving as part of their culture code; Tokyo Disneyland sells the most souvenirs of any Disney theme park. In contrast, Disneyland Paris failed when it launched as Euro Disney because the company did not research the codes underlying European culture. Its storybook retelling of European folktales was taken as elitist and insulting, and the strict appearance standards that it had for employees resulted in discrimination lawsuits in France. Disney souvenirs were perceived as cheap trinkets. The park was a financial failure because its code violated the expectations of European culture in ways that were offensive.[54]

On the other hand, some researchers have suggested that it is possible to successfully pass a sign perceived as a cultural icon, such as the Coca-Cola or McDonald's logos, from one culture to another. This may be accomplished if the sign is migrated from a more economically-developed to a less developed culture.[54] The intentional association of a product with another culture has been called Foreign Consumer Culture Positioning (FCCP). Products also may be marketed using global trends or culture codes, for example, saving time in a busy world; but even these may be fine-tuned for specific cultures.[50]

Research also found that, as airline industry brandings grow and become more international, their logos become more symbolic and less iconic.

The iconicity and symbolism of a sign depends on the cultural convention and, are on that ground in relation with each other.

If the cultural convention has greater influence on the sign, the signs get more symbolic value.[55]

Gangs and graffiti

Graffiti is used by gang members to mark their territory and to warn off rivals.

Graffiti is a great example of semiotics and the use of symbols.

Police task forces are now starting to use a programming system called GARI, they upload pictures of gang symbols that they find and it helps them to decipher the meaning of the symbols.[56] Gang members use semiotics and symbols for many different reasons, for example: Government-sanctioned graffiti from the city's Department of Public Works, in red, typically indicates an abandoned building, or the stylized SS stands for South Side, a faction of the 18th Street gang based in southern Indianapolis.

A rival gang sprayed red Xs over the work as a sign of disrespect.[57]

In the book The Lost Boyz: A Dark Side of Graffiti by Justin Rollins[57] it talks about how Rollins started writing on trains at a very early age, because it helped him find himself, he was now a graffiti writer – a somebody.[57] This is true with a lot of symbols. People use symbols to express themselves by getting tattoos or wearing a symbol on their clothing. This helps them to feel like they belong to something or it helps them to express themselves. Gangs also use their clothing as a symbol, they do something unique for their group so that you aware of the gang you are encountering. An example could be a certain pant leg rolled up or wearing a certain color of bandana. The book also talks about how Rollins joined a graffiti gang that was called the WK which stands for Who Kares but it also had a different meaning which was Wanted Kriminals.[57] Many symbols in semiotics theory have different meanings; these meanings can be different from country to country or even just from person to person depending on where and how a person was raised. For example, in the United States, waving is a form of "hello" but in other cultures this could mean something offensive.

Semiotics is anything that can stand for something else.[58] A symbol does not stand on its own, it is a part of something, a system perhaps.

Symbols in gangs are used for different things.

Not just to show which gang a person is associated with but to express what has happened in their gang and in their individual lives.

Gangs were first created to strengthen a certain ethnic group.[59] They are very territorial.

To show which territory is theirs they will mark the streets so that other gangs are aware.

There are special ways to read gang signs and their tattoos: left to right, top to bottom.

They may also make the tattoo or graffiti cluttered so that it is hard to read.[59]

Each gang has special hand signals or set of signs to identify themselves.

There are some gangs who add a dot or something similar to their graffiti to stand as a phrase used in their specific gang.[59] Each gang is unique and has special symbols, and these symbols usually have some sort of meaning.

For example, the gang called "Bloods" use the color red in their clothing to symbolize they are a part of this specific gang.

They also are known to use the number 5 and have tattoos and graffiti of a five-point crown.

The hand sign that they use mostly is a "b" which stands for bloods.[59]

Some gangs use graffiti and tattoos more than others as well as using their clothing as a symbol of their gang.

Gangs will also use codes to communicate on the streets.

They will oftentimes use a number that will relate to a letter of the alphabet.

Depending on the gang, they may use more complex codes.[59]

Street gangs are known for using graffiti in their neighborhoods to mark their territory.

Gangs are also using their graffiti to challenge other gangs and to disrespect them.[59] When they do this, they will somehow cross the other gang's symbol, and they will use their gang slang as well.

They make sure to do it in a place that is clear and will leave a direct hit on the other gang.[59]

Semiotics and gang graffiti merge on the undercarriage of bridges, the face of billboards, on abandoned buildings, storefronts, the sides of railroad cars, and even in inconspicuous places found along dirt roads in small rural areas.

The idea, is to communicate a message.

A message that is part of a system.[58]

It is not uncommon for those outside the culture of gangs to judge the meaning of graffiti and its direct connection to semiotics as completely negative.

This kind of graffiti was branded "Graffiti of Grief" in an article by Gabrielle Luber.[60] They are a commemoration of mourning; a "funeral" for those who have died on the streets.

The murals are often created by members designated within the gang and the artwork is intended to "provide glimpses of their lives, possessions, friends, and surroundings, and map out for us the identities of lost friends."[60] The symbols used in these murals are intentional and communicate significant meanings within the developed culture.

It is an art, an expression of respect and loyalty.

It is a portable headstone and is often layered (painted over) with the next memorial of death caused by street violence.

In its own right, it is a historical timeline, a genealogy of grief, and it is rewritten every day with the same story and a new name.

Poverty, marginalism, survival, perpetual crisis, inadequate housing, low or no job skills, poor education, and social constraints and constructs will continue to market for the consumption of lives on the streets.

The symbol of grief portrayed in certain kinds of graffiti suggest a depth of meaning and a place or memorial far beyond what the eye can see.

To an outsider, it may easily be interpreted without compassion.

Main institutions

A world organisation of semioticians, the International Association for Semiotic Studies, and its journal Semiotica, was established in 1969. The larger research centers together with teaching program include the semiotics departments at the University of Tartu, University of Limoges, Aarhus University, and Bologna University.

See also

  • Ethnosemiotics

  • Index of semiotics articles

  • Language-game (philosophy)

  • Medical sign

  • Outline of semiotics

  • Private language argument

  • Semiofest

  • Semiotic elements and classes of signs

  • Structuralist semiotics

  • Universal language


Citation Linkwww.cs.joensuu.fi"Semiology vs. semiotics". University of Eastern Finland. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.org"The science of communication studied through the interpretation of signs and symbols as they operate in various fields, esp. language", Oxford English Dictionary (2003)
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgCaesar, Michael (1999). Umberto Eco: Philosophy, Semiotics, and the Work of Fiction. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-7456-0850-1.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkwww.perseus.tufts.eduσημειωτικός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkwww.perseus.tufts.eduσημεῖον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgStubbes, H.,The Plus Ultra reduced to a Non Plus ... (London, England, 1670), page 75: "... nor is there any thing to be relied upon in Physick, but an exact knowledge of medicinal phisiology (founded on observation, not principles), semeiotics, method of curing, and tried (not excogitated, not commanding) medicines ...."
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.org"The branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of symptoms", Oxford English Dictionary (1989)
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkpermalink.gmane.orgFor the Greeks, "signs" occurred in the world of nature, "symbols" in the world of culture. Not until Augustine of Hippo would a thematic proposal for uniting the two under the notion of "sign" (signum) as transcending the nature-culture divide and identifying symbols as no more than a species (or sub-species) of signum be formally proposed. See the monograph study on this question, Le teorie del segno nell'antichità classica by Giovanni Manetti (Milan: Bompiani, 1987); trans. by Christine Richardson as Theories of the Sign in Classical Antiquity (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993). Classic also is the article by Luigi Romeo, "The Derivation of 'Semiotics' through the History of the Discipline", in Semiosis 6, Heft 2 (1977), 37–49. See also Andrew LaVelle's discussion of Romeo on Peirce-l at [1].
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkwww.britannica.com"semiotics | study of signs". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkbooks.google.comLocke used the Greek word σημιωτική [sic] in the 4th ed. of 1700 (p. 437) of his Essay concerning Human Understanding. He notably writes both (a) "σημιωτικὴ" and (b) "Σημιωτική"—when term (a) is followed by any kind of punctuation mark, it takes the form (b); see Ancient Greek accent. The 1689/1690 first edition of Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding, in the concluding "Division of the Sciences" chapter, Locke introduces, in §4, "σημιωτική" as his proposed name synonymous with "the Doctrine of Signs" for the development of the future study of the ubiquitous role of signs within human awareness. In the 1689–1690 original edition, the "Division of the Sciences" chapter was Chapter XX. In the 4th ed. of 1700, a new Chapter XIX "Of Enthusiasm" is inserted into Book IV, after which the Chapter XX of the 1st ed. becomes Chapter XXI for all subsequent editions. — see in John Deely, Why Semiotics? (Ottawa: Legas, 2004), 71–88, esp. 77–80 for the editions of Locke's Essay from 1689 through 1716. It is an important fact that Locke's proposal for the development of semiotics, with three passing exceptions as "asides" in the writings of Berkeley, Leibniz, and Condillac, "is met with a resounding silence that lasts as long as modernity itself. Even Locke's devoted late modern editor, Alexander Campbell Fraser, dismisses out of hand 'this crude and superficial scheme of Locke'" (see "Locke's modest proposal subversive of the way of ideas, its reception, and its bearing on the resolution of an ancient and a modern controversy in logic" in Chap. 14 of Deely's Four Ages of Understanding, pp. 591–606). In the 1975 Oxford University Press critical edition, prepared and introduced by Peter Harold Nidditch, Nidditch tells us, in his "Foreword", p. vii, that he presents us with "a complete, critically established, and unmodernized text that aims at being historically faithful to Locke's final intentions"; p. xxv tells us further that "the present text is based on the original fourth edition of the Essay", and that "readings in the other early authorized editions are adopted, in appropriate form, where necessary, and recorded otherwise in the textual notes". The term "σημιωτική" appears in that 1700 4th edition, the last published (but not the last prepared) within Locke's lifetime, with exactly the spelling and final accent found in the 1689/1690 1st edition. Yet if we turn to (the final) chapter XXI of the 1975 Oxford edition, we find on p. 720 not "σημιωτικὴ" but rather do we find substituted the "σημειωτικὴ" spelling (and with final accent reversed). (Note that in Modern Greek and in some systems for pronouncing classical Greek, "σημιωτική" and "σημειωτική" are pronounced the same.)
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgPrior to Locke, the notion of "sign" as transcending the nature/culture divide was introduced by Augustine of Hippo—see John Deely, Augustine & Poinsot: The Protosemiotic Development (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2009) for full details of Augustine's originality on this point—a specialized study was firmly established. Himself a man of medicine, Locke was familiar with this "semeiotics" as naming a specialized branch within medical science. In his personal library were two editions of Scapula's 1579 abridgement of Henricus Stephanus' Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, which listed σημειωτική as the name for "diagnostics", the branch of medicine concerned with interpreting symptoms of disease ("symptomatology"). Indeed the English physician and scholar Henry Stubbe had transliterated this term of specialized science into English precisely as "semeiotic" in his 1670 work, The Plus Ultra Reduced to a Non Plus (p. 75).
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgA now-obsolete term for the art or profession of curing disease with (herbal) medicines or (chemical) drugs; especially purgatives or cathartics. Also, it specifically refers to the treatment of humans.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThat is, "thought out", "contrived", or "devised" (Oxford English Dictionary).
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgPeirce, C. S., Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 2, paragraph 227.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkwww.cspeirce.comPeirce, C. S. (1902), "Logic, Considered as Semeiotic", Manuscript L75, transcription at Arisbe: The Peirce Gateway, and, in particular, its "On the Definition of Logic" (Memoir 12), transcription at Arisbe.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgPeircean semiotic is triadic (sign, object, interpretant), as opposed to the dyadic Saussurian tradition (signifier, signified), and is conceived of as philosophical logic studied in terms of signs that are not always linguistic or artificial, and sign processes, modes of inference, and the inquiry process in general, with emphases not only on symbols but also on signs that are semblances ("icons") and signs that are signs by being factually connected ("indices") to their objects.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkwww.iupress.indiana.eduMax Fisch compiled Peirce-related bibliographical supplements in 1952, 1964, 1966, 1974; was consulting editor on the 1977 microfilm of Peirce's published works and on the Comprehensive Bibliography associated with it; was among the main editors of the first five volumes (published 1981–1993) Writings of Charles S. Peirce; and wrote a number of published articles on Peirce, many collected in 1986 in Peirce, Semeiotic, and Pragmatism, Ketner and Kloesel, eds., Indiana University Press: catalog page, Bloomington, IN, 480 pages. See Charles Sanders Peirce bibliography.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgFisch, Max H. (1978), "Peirce's General Theory of Signs" in Sight, Sound, and Sense, ed. T. A. Sebeok. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 31–70.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe whole anthology, Frontiers in Semiotics, was devoted to the documentation of this pars pro toto move of Sebeok.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM
Citation Linkvisual-memory.co.uk"Semiotics for Beginners: Signs". visual-memory.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-03-26.
Sep 25, 2019, 12:17 AM