Semiotics approaches meaning by studying the signs that make up sign systems. Such an approach goes back to the 4th century with St. Augustine of Hippo, but two 19th Century theorists developed modern notions of Semiotics: Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce. They saw standard notions of meaning as being not sufficient enough to account for how language works.
Sassure's notion of Semiotics drew a hard line between the natural and the cultural. For him, signs were not natural, but were rooted in shifts in culture and symbol use. He applied this to language in developing semiotics but arguing that meaning was not in the object itself, but in the relationship between concept or object signified and the vocal or symbolic referent signifier.
In semiotics, the meaning of a sign is its place in a sign relation, in other words, the set of roles that it occupies within a given sign relation. This statement holds whether sign is taken to mean a sign type or a sign token. Defined in these global terms, the meaning of a sign is not in general analyzable with full exactness into completely localized terms, but aspects of its meaning can be given approximate analyses, and special cases of sign relations frequently admit of more local analyses.
Two aspects of meaning that may be given approximate analyses are the connotative relation and the denotative relation. The connotative relation is the relation between signs and their interpretant signs. The denotative relation is the relation between signs and objects. An arbitrary association exists between the signified and the signifier. For example, a US salesperson doing business in Japan might interpret silence following an offer as rejection, while to Japanese negotiators silence means the offer is being considered. This difference in interpretations represents a difference in: semiotics