Semiotics (also called semiotic studies and in the Saussurean tradition called semiology) is the study of meaning-making, the philosophical theory of signs and symbols. This includes the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. Semiotics is closely related to the field of linguistics, which, for its part, studies the structure and meaning of language more specifically. As different from linguistics, however, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems. Semiotics often is divided into three branches:
- Semantics: relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their denotata, or meaning
- Syntactics: relations among signs in formal structures
- Pragmatics: relation between signs and sign-using agents
Semiotics frequently is seen as having important anthropological dimensions; for example, Umberto Eco proposes that every cultural phenomenon may be studied as communication. 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).
Syntactics is the branch of semiotics that deals with the formal properties of signs and symbols. More precisely, syntactics deals with the "rules that govern how words are combined to form phrases and sentences".
Charles Morris adds that semantics deals with the relation of signs to their designata and the objects that they may or do denote; and, pragmatics deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, that is, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena that occur in the functioning of signs.
The term, which was spelled semeiotics, derives from the Greek σημειωτικός sēmeiōtikos, "observant of signs", (from σημεῖον sēmeion, "a sign, a mark",) and it was first used in English by Henry Stubbes in a very precise sense to denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs. John Locke used the term sem(e)iotike in Book 4, Chapter 21 of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). 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, but an exact knowledge of medicinal physiology (founded on observation, not principles), semiotics, method of curing, and tried (not excogitated, 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", and which is philosophical logic pursued in terms of signs and sign processes. The Peirce scholar and editor Max H. Fisch claimed in 1978 that "semeiotic" was Peirce's own preferred rendering of Locke's σημιωτική.
Charles 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.
Peircean semiotic is triadic (sign, object, interpretant), 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.
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.
T. A. Sebeok assimilated "semiology" to "semiotics" as a part to a whole, and was involved in choosing the name Semiotica for the first international journal devoted to the study of signs.
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, and Augustine 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, has argued that semiotic theories are implicit in the work of most, perhaps all, major thinkers.)
The general study of signs that began in Latin with Augustine culminated in Latin 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,) consist exclusively of objects related to the animal as desirable (+), undesirable (–), or “safe to ignore” (0).
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. Thus the generically animal objective world as Umwelt, becomes a species-specifically human objective world or Lebenswelt, wherein linguistic communication, rooted in the biologically underdetermined Innenwelt of human animals, makes possible the further dimension of cultural organization within the otherwise merely social organization of 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. Sebeok also played the central role in bringing Peirce’s work to the center of the semiotic stage in the twentieth century, first with his expansion of the human use of signs (“anthroposemiosis”) to include also the generically animal sign-usage ("zoösemiosis"), then with his further expansion of semiosis (based initially on the work of Martin Krampen, but taking advantage of Peirce’s point that an interpretant, as the third item within a sign relation, “need not be mental”) to include the vegetative world (“phytosemiosis”).
Peirce’s distinction of an interpretant from an interpreter, with the further qualification that the former need not be “of a mental mode of being”—not his demonstration that sign relations are perforce irreducibly triadic, as is commonly assumed in his following so far as the followers continue the modern tradition of ignoring the Latin Age of philosophy’s history—was his most revolutionary move and most seminal contribution to the doctrine of signs. 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.
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 also 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.
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 sub-theories 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.
Some important 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. Semiosis is logically structured to perpetuate itself. The object may be quality, fact, rule, or even fictional (Hamlet), and may be (1) immediate to the sign, the object as represented in the sign, or (2) dynamic, the object as it really is, on which the immediate object is founded. The interpretant may be (1) immediate to the sign, all that the sign immediately expresses, such as a word's usual meaning; or (2) dynamic, such as a state of agitation; or (3) 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. His semiotic 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 to classify any sign by three interdependent trichotomies, intersecting to form ten (rather than 27) classes of sign. 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:
- "A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea." Peirce called the sign a representamen, in order to bring out the fact that a sign is something that “represents” something else in order to suggest it (that is, “re-present” it) in some way. For a summary of Peirce's contributions to semiotics, see Liszka (1996) or Atkin (2006).
- 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. It is important to note that, according to Saussure, the sign is completely arbitrary—i.e., there was 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 grouping the triad syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Syntax studies the interrelation of the signs, without regard to meaning. Semantics studies the relation between the signs and the objects to which they apply. Pragmatics studies 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.
- 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 Vsevolodovich Ivanov, and Boris Uspensky.
- Umberto Eco (1932–present) 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 applied semiotic operations. His most important contributions to the field bear on interpretation, encyclopedia, and model reader. He also has 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 purposes four modes of sign production: recognition, ostension, replica, and invention.
- 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.
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, but 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. The use of semiotic methods to reveal apparently-different levels of meaning and, sometimes, hidden motivations has led Harold Bloom, of Yale University, to label elements of the subject as Marxist nihilist. (e.g., critical discourse analysis in postmodernism and deconstruction in post-structuralism).
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; and as articles accepted in periodicals of other disciplines, especially journals oriented toward philosophy and cultural criticism.
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.
Semiotics has sprouted a number of 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).
- 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, say in the study of and design for Human-Computer Interaction or to mimic aspects of human cognition through artificial intelligence and knowledge representation
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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, and advertising (See Roland Barthes, Michael Halliday, Bob Hodge, 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)
- Semiotics of photography
Pictorial Semiotics is intimately connected to art history and theory. It has gone 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 has focused on the properties of pictures more generally. This 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.
Semiotics of food
Food has been one traditional topic of choice in relating semiotic theory because it is extremely accessible and easily relatable to the average individual’s life.
Food is said to be semiotic because it transforms meaning with preparation. Food that is eaten by a wild animal raw from a carcass is obviously different in meaning when compared to a food that is prepared by humans in a kitchen to represent a cultural dish.
Food also may be said to be symbolic of certain social codes. “If food is treated as a code, the messages it encodes will be found in the pattern of social relations being expressed. The message is about different degrees of hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, boundaries and transactions across boundaries”.
Food is a semiotic regardless of how it is prepared. Whether food is prepared with precision in a fine dining restaurant, picked from a dumpster, plucked, devoured, or even consumed by a wild animal, meaning always may be extracted from the way a certain food has been prepared and the context in which it is served.
Semiotics and globalization
Studies have shown that semiotics may 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.
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. 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. 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.
A good example of branding according to cultural code is Disney’s international theme park business. For example, 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.
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. The intentional association of a product with another culture is 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.
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.
A world organisation of semioticians—the International Association for Semiotic Studies, with its journal Semiotica—was established in 1969. The larger research centers together with extensive teaching program include the semiotics departments at the University of Tartu, Aarhus University, and Bologna University.
- Caesar, Michael (1999). Umberto Eco: Philosophy, Semiotics, and the Work of Fiction. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-7456-0850-1.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Syntactics
- σημειωτικός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- σημεῖον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- Stubbe, 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 phsiology (founded on observation, not principles), semeiotics, method of curing, and tried (not excogitated, not commanding) medicines ...."
- For 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 .
- Locke 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.)
- Prior 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 Stubbes 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).
- A 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.
- That is, "thought out", "contrived", or "devised" (Oxford English Dictionary).
- Peirce, C.S., Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 2, paragraph 227.
- Peirce, 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.
- Peircean 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.
- Max 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.
- Fisch, 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.
- The whole anthology, Frontiers in Semiotics, was devoted to the documentation of this pars pro toto move of Sebeok.
- See “Umwelt”, Semiotica 134–1/4 (2001), 125–135; Special Issue on “Jakob von Uexküll: A paradigm for biology and semiotics” Guest-Edited by Kalevi Kull.
- Cf. Martin Heidegger (1927), in the 1962 trans. by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson, Being and Time (New York, NY: Harper & Row), p. 487: “The distinction between the being of existing Dasein and the Being of entities, such as Reality, which do not have the character of Dasein...is nothing with which philosophy may tranquillize itself. It has long been known that ancient ontology works with ‘Thing-concepts’ and that there is a danger of ‘reifying consciousness’. But what does this ‘reifying’ signify? Where does it arise? Why does Being get ‘conceived’ ‘proximally’ in terms of the present-at-hand and not in terms of the ready-to-hand, which indeed lies closer to us? Why does reifying always keep coming back to exercise its dominion?” This is the question that the Umwelt/Lebenswelt distinction as here drawn answers to.
- Thomas A. Sebeok, “The Evolution of Communication and the Origin of Language”, lecture in the 1984 June 1–3 International Summer Institute for Semiotic and Structural Studies 1984 Colloquium on “Phylogeny and Ontogeny of Communication Systems”, published under the title “Communication, Language, and Speech. Evolutionary Considerations”, in Sebeok’s I Think I Am A Verb. More Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs (New York: Plenum Press, 1986), pp. 10–16. For subsequent context, see the “Afterword” to the volume of Sebeok’s Semiotic Prologues, ed. John Deely and Marcel Danesi (Ottawa, Canada: Legas, 2012), pp. 365–383; version online at .
- Detailed demonstration of Sebeok’s role of the global emergence of semiotics is recorded in at least three recent volumes. (1) Semiotics Seen Synchronically. The View from 2010 (Ottawa: Legas, 2010). (2) Semiotics Continues To Astonish. Thomas A. Sebeok and the Doctrine of Signs (Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, 2011)—a 526-page assemblage of essays, vignettes, letters, pictures attesting to the depth and extent of Sebeok’s promotion of semiotic understanding around the world, including his involvement with Juri Lotman and the Tartu University graduate program in semiotics (currently directed by P. Torop, M. Lotman and K. Kull). (3) Sebeok’s Semiotic Prologues (Ottawa: Legas, 2012)—a volume which gathers together in Part I all the “prologues” (i.e., introductions, prefaces, forewords, etc.) that Sebeok wrote for other peoples’ books, then in Part 2 all the “prologues” that other people wrote for Sebeok.
- See Thomas A. Sebeok, “Communication in Animals and Men”, review article covering three books: Martin Lindauer, Communication among Social Bees (Harvard Books in Biology, No. 2; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. ix + 143); Winthrop N. Kellogg, Porpoises and Sonar (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1961, pp. xiv + 177); and John C. Lilly, Man and Dolphin (Garden City, New York: Doubleday), in Language 39 (1963), 448–466.
- Martin Krampen, “Phytosemiotics”, Semiotica, 36.3/4 (1981), 187–209.
- Peirce c. 1907: Excerpt from “Pragmatism (Editor )”, published under the title “A Survey of Pragmaticism” in The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol. 5, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934), 5.473. See also the part of Peirce’s letter of to Lady Welby dated 23 December 1908, in Semiotic and Significs: The Correspondence between C. S. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby, ed. Charles S. Hardwick with the assistance of James Cook (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1977), pp. 73–86. And “Semiosis: The Subject Matter of Semiotic Inquiry”, Chap. 3 of Basics of Semiotics by John Deely (5th ed.: Tartu, Estonia: Tartu University Press, 2009), 26–50, esp. 31 & 38– 41).
- 1971, orig. 1938, Writings on the general theory of signs, Mouton, The Hague, The Netherlands
- 1944, Black M. The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, Library of Living Philosophers, vol. 5.
- For Peirce's definitions of signs and semiosis, see under "Sign" and "Semiosis, semeiosy" in the Commens Dictionary of Peirce's Terms; and "76 definitions of sign by C. S. Peirce" collected by Robert Marty. Peirce's "What Is a Sign" (MS 404 of 1894, Essential Peirce v. 2, pp. 4–10) provides intuitive help.
- See Peirce, excerpt from a letter to William James, March 14, 1909, Collected Papers v. 8, paragraph 314. Also see under relevant entries in the Commens Dictionary of Peirce's Terms. On coincidence of actual opinion with final opinion, see MS 218, transcription at Arisbe, and appearing in Writings of Charles S. Peirce v. 3, p. 79.
- He spelt it "semiotic" and "semeiotic". See under "Semeiotic [etc.] in the Commens Dictionary of Peirce's Terms.
- Peirce, Collected Papers v. 2, paragraphs 243–263, written c. 1903.
- He worked on but did not perfect a finer-grained system of ten trichotomies, to be combined into 66 (Tn+1) classes of sign. That raised for Peirce 59,049 classificatory questions (59,049 = 310, or 3 to the 10th power). See p. 482 in "Excerpts from Letters to Lady Welby", Essential Peirce v. 2.
- Ryan, Michael (2011). > The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-8312-3.
- Dewey, John, (1946, February 14), “Peirce's Theory of Linguistic Signs, Thought, and Meaning”. The Journal of Philosophy, v. 43, n. 4, pp. 85–95.
- Brier, Søren (2008). Cybersemiotics: Why Information Is Not Enough!. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-9220-5.
- Semiotics of Photography
- Leeds-Hurwitz, W. (1993). Semiotics and Communication: Signs, Codes, Cultures. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Douglas, Mary. 1971. "Deciphering a Meal". In: Clifford Geertz (ed.) Myth, Symbol and Culture. New York: Norton, pp. 61–82.
- Alden, Dana; Jan-Benedict Steenkamp & Rajeev Batra. (1999). "Brand Positioning Through Advertising in Asia, North America, and Europe: The Role of Global Consumer Culture", Journal of Marketing 63 (1), 75–87.
- Chandler, Daniel. (2001/2007). Semiotics: The Basics. London: Routledge
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- Brannen, M. (2004). When Mickey Loses Face: Recontextualization, Semantic Fit, and the Semiotics of Foreignness, Academy of Management Review, 29 (4), 593–616
- Thurlow, C. & Aiello, G. (2007). "National pride, global capital: a social semiotic analysis of transnational visual branding in the airline industry", Visual Communication, 6(3), 305–344
- Atkin, Albert. (2006). "Peirce's Theory of Signs", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Barthes, Roland. ( 1987). Mythologies. New York: Hill & Wang.
- Barthes, Roland ( 1967). Elements of Semiology. (Translated by Annette Lavers & Colin Smith). London: Jonathan Cape.
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- Clarke, D. S. (1987). Principles of Semiotic. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
- Clarke, D. S. (2003). Sign Levels. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
- Culler, Jonathan (1975). Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
- Danesi, Marcel & Perron, Paul. (1999). Analyzing Cultures: An Introduction and Handbook. Bloomington: Indiana UP.
- Danesi, Marcel. (1994). Messages and Meanings: An Introduction to Semiotics. Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press.
- Danesi, Marcel. (2002). Understanding Media Semiotics. London: Arnold; New York: Oxford UP.
- Danesi, Marcel. (2007). The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
- Deely, John. (2005 ). Basics of Semiotics. 4th ed. Tartu: Tartu University Press.
- Deely, John. (2000), The Red Book: The Beginning of Postmodern Times or: Charles Sanders Peirce and the Recovery of Signum. PDF (578 KiB).
- Deely, John. (2000), The Green Book: The Impact of Semiotics on Philosophy. PDF (571 KiB).
- Deely, John. (2001). Four Ages of Understanding. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
- Deely, John. (2003), "On the Word Semiotics, Formation and Origins", Semiotica 146.1/4, 1–50.
- Deely, John. (2003). The Impact on Philosophy of Semiotics. South Bend: St. Augustine Press.
- Deely, John. (2004), "'Σημειον' to 'Sign' by Way of 'Signum': On the Interplay of Translation and Interpretation in the Establishment of Semiotics", Semiotica 148–1/4, 187–227.
- Deely, John. (2006), "On 'Semiotics' as Naming the Doctrine of Signs", Semiotica 158.1/4 (2006), 1–33.
- Derrida, Jacques (1981). Positions. (Translated by Alan Bass). London: Athlone Press.
- Eagleton, Terry. (1983). Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Eco, Umberto. (1976). A Theory of Semiotics. London: Macmillan.
- Eco, Umberto. (1986) Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Eco, Umberto. (2000) Kant and the Platypus. New York, Harcourt Brace & Company.
- Eco, Umberto. (1976) A Theory of Semiotics. Indiana, Indiana University Press.
- Emmeche, Claus; Kull, Kalevi (eds.) (2011) Towards a Semiotic Biology: Life is the Action of Signs. London: Imperial College Press.
- Foucault, Michel. (1970). The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Tavistock.
- Greimas, Algirdas. (1987). On Meaning: Selected Writings in Semiotic Theory. (Translated by Paul J Perron & Frank H Collins). London: Frances Pinter.
- Herlihy, David. 1988–present. "2nd year class of semiotics". CIT.
- Hjelmslev, Louis (1961). Prolegomena to a Theory of Language. (Translated by Francis J. Whitfield). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Hodge, Robert & Kress, Gunther. (1988). Social Semiotics. Ithaca: Cornell UP.
- Lacan, Jacques. (1977) Écrits: A Selection. (Translated by Alan Sheridan). New York: Norton.
- Lidov, David (1999) Elements of Semiotics. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Liszka, J. J. (1996) A General Introduction to the Semeiotic of C.S. Peirce. Indiana University Press.
- Locke, John, The Works of John Locke, A New Edition, Corrected, In Ten Volumes, Vol.III, T. Tegg, (London), 1823. (facsimile reprint by Scientia, (Aalen), 1963.)
- Lotman, Yuri M. (1990). Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. (Translated by Ann Shukman). London: I.B. Tauris.
- Morris, Charles W. (1971). Writings on the general theory of signs. The Hague: Mouton.
- Menchik, D., and X. Tian. (2008) "Putting Social Context into Text: The Semiotics of Email Interaction." The American Journal of Sociology. 114:2 pp. 332–70.
- Peirce, Charles S. (1934). Collected papers: Volume V. Pragmatism and pragmaticism. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.
- Petrilli, S. (2009). Semiotics as semioethics in the era of global communication. Semiotica, 173(1–4), 343–347, 353–354, 359. doi: 10.1515/SEMI.2009.015
- Ponzio, Augusto & S. Petrilli (2007) Semiotics Today. From Global Semiotics to Semioethics, a Dialogic Response. New York, Ottawa, Toronto: Legas. 84 pp. ISBN 978-1-894508-98-8
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- Sebeok, T.A. (1976), Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.
- Sebeok, Thomas A. (Editor) (1977). A Perfusion of Signs. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
- Signs and Meaning: 5 Questions, edited by Peer Bundgaard and Frederik Stjernfelt, 2009 (Automatic Press / VIP). (Includes interviews with 29 leading semioticians of the world.)
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- Further reading
- Journals, book series—associations, centers
|Library resources about
- American Journal of Semiotics, Joseph Brent, Editor, & John Deely, Managing Editor—from the Semiotic Society of America.
- Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée (AS/SA), Peter G. Marteinson & Pascal G. Michelucci, Editors.
- Approaches to Semiotics (1969–97 book series), Thomas A. Sebeok, Alain Rey, Roland Posner, et al., Editors.
- Approaches to Applied Semiotics (2000–2009 book series), Thomas Sebeok et al., Editors.
- Biosemiotics, Marcello Barbieri, Editor-in-Chief—from the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies.
- Center for Semiotics, Aarhus University, Denmark.
- Cognitive Semiotics, Per Aage Brandt & Todd Oakley, Editors-in-Chief.
- Cybernetics and Human Knowing, Søren Brier, Chief Editor.
- International Journal of Signs and Semiotic Systems (IJSSS), Angelo Loula & João Queiroz, Editors.
- Open Semiotics Resource Center. Journals, lecture courses, etc.
- S.E.E.D. Journal (Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, and Development) (2001–7), Edwina Taborsky, Editor—from SEE.
- Semiotica, Marcel Danesi, Chief Editor—from the International Association for Semiotic Studies.
- Semiotiche, Gian Paolo Caprettini, Managing Director; Andrea Valle & Miriam Visalli, Editors. Some articles in English. Home site seems gone from Web, old url  no longer good, and Wayback Machine cannot retrieve.
- Semiotics, Communication and Cognition (book series), Paul Cobley & Kalevi Kull, Editors.
- SemiotiX New Series: A Global Information Bulletin, Paul Bouissac et al.
- Sign Systems Studies, Kalevi Kull, Kati Lindstrom, Mihhail Lotman, Timo Maran, Silvi Salupere, Peeter Torop, Editors—from the Dept. of Semiotics, U. of Tartu, Estonia.
- Signs: International Journal of Semiotics. Martin Thellefsen, Torkild Thellefsen, & Bent Sørensen, chief eds.
- Tartu Semiotics Library (book series), Peeter Torop, Kalevi Kull, Silvi Salupere, Editors.
- The Public Journal of Semiotics, Paul Bouissac, Editor in Chief; Alan Cienki, Associate Editor; René Jorna, Winfried Nöth.
- The Semiotic Review of Books, Gary Genosko, General Editor; Paul Bouissac, Founding Editor.
- Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Cornelis de Waal, Chief Editor—from The Charles S. Peirce Society.
- Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici, founded by Umberto Eco.