Talk:Sign (semiotics)

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Sign models[edit]

This article does not accurately represent signs models in semeiotics.

How pleasing to have someone with such humility review my primitive efforts to communicate some general understanding to a lay readership. I look forward to reading your efforts in place of mine. David91 13:30, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

I think a semeiotics subarticle on the various sign models is appropriate. This current article is disjoint mess misleading and incomplete. I propose to rewrite it entirely.

Steven Zenith 21:49, 13 Nov 2004 (UTC)


I have been gently adding a few new pages on semiotics and filled in a few links from this page. All help to check the sense and clarity of this new material would be much appreciated. --David91 19:07, 24 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Wouldn't it make more sense to have Sign (disambiguation) pointing to Sign (semiotics)? Maybe have the remaining links at the bottom of one page? (talk) 10:15, 18 November 2007 (UTC)

Dodgy statements[edit]

"A word is only available to acquire a new meaning if it is identifiably different from all the other words in the language and it has no existing meaning."


YT: "Modern theories deny the Saussurian distinction between signifier and signified[citation needed], and look for meaning not in the individual signs, but in their context and the framework of potential meanings that could be applied."

YT: Firstly, Saussure isn't putting a wedge between the 2, but is discussing 2 aspects to the same thing. I don't think he either focuses so much on individual signs, but very much stresses their interrelations, the negativity of a syntagm of signifiers in physical manifestation (eg, written words). This should be removed immediately if it can't be backed up.

Material removed[edit]

This was the paragraph as amended:

"Modern theories of the systemic sign are roughly divisible into autonomous formalisms, reductivist functionalisms, and a full spectrum in between. Modern linguistic theory, in fact, is not easily characterizable because the field is split into so many different, non-competitive, and non-communicating (awfully ironic, isn't it?) specialized theories. Formalists maintain some form of the Saussurean insight into the division between langue and parole, now termed competence and performance, and the hierarchial relationships of constituents in the former. The relevance of empirical data of use to linguistic theory is a matter of continuing dispute. Reductive functionalists come in two broad stripes, cognitivist and pragmatist, the former seeking to motivate linguistic structure piecemeal by putative cognitive universals, and the latter motivating it by potentialities and regularities of use. It is probably safe to say that any combination of all of these positions has probably been published.
On the other hand, theories of signs in use (pragmatics) have tended to develop in only rough relation to theories of autonomous strucure ([[phonology, syntax, semantics). The most common are various complementarist theories, such as speech act theory and implicature-based theories, deriving ultimately from J.L. Austin and H.P. Grice respectively. They seek to explain use by appealing to either conventional regularities in sign use or the intention of the speaker construed through putatively universal interpretative principles. In another, totally autonomous camp, some reductive functionalisms seek to explain grammar as an emergent pattern or regularity from the regularities of signs' co-occurrence in use. The other major camp to mention, the reticulations of which are again minute and complicated, is various forms of anthropological linguistics, which seeks to see language as an inevitably cultural fact, doing cultural 'work' when used. It's principal concept is thus indexicality construed far more broadly than is typical in formal semantics or the philosophy of language. All of these theories, it should be noted, operate with the notion of language as significant, and thus are only obliquely and problematically related to the psychophysical and neurological processes that presumably must underlie actual production and comprehension, which are treated under psycholinguistics.
All of these regional investigations into language are, to greater or lesser degrees in both conflictual and complementary relationships.

Firstly it is not accepted that the original version was either partial or ignorant. Secondly, even if some elements could be construed as partial, this new version, containing its own internal commentary, is equally partial. I am not against producing a compromise version, but negotiation is required for such a major reconstruction, particularly to ensure that it continues to focus on semiotics rather than linguistics and the philosophy of language. David91 10:18, 15 February 2006 (UTC)


"It is now agreed that the effectiveness of the acts that may convert the message into text (including speaking, writing, drawing and physical movements) depends upon the knowledge of the sender. If the sender is not familiar with the current language, its codes and its culture then he or she will not be able to say anything at all, whether as a visitor in a different language area or because of a medical condition such as aphasia (see Roman Jakobson)."

Does this make any sense? I can't actually parse the first sentence. In what sense is it even related to the rest of this page? The second sentence either trivial or philosophically rich and accordingly totally underdeveloped. Trivial: it has never been doubted in a modern, pre-modern, or ancient theory. The only exception would be theorists of telepathy. Rich: One could argue about whether or not a speaker who makes a sound quite by chance in the listener's vocabularly is or is not saying something. This gets into arguments about artificial intelligence, on the one hand, and Kripke/Wittgenstein's private language arguments on the other.

"Modern theories deny the Saussurian distinction between signifier and signified, and look for meaning not in the individual signs, but in their context and the framework of potential meanings that could be applied."

Evidently the writer has never understood Saussure, as he is saying the exact opposite of Saussure's central insight, i.e. that one cannot look for meaning in individual signs. The second is by no means a part of Saussure's conception, or completely accepted today!

"Such theories assert that language is a collective memory or cultural history of all the different ways in which meaning has been communicated and may, to that extent, be constitutive of all life's experiences (see Louis Hjelmslev)."

Sucht theories? Which theories? How does one go from collective memory to constituitive of experience?

"This implies that speaking is simply one more form of behaviour and changes the focus of attention from the text as language, to the text as a representation of purpose, a functional version of the author's intention."

How in the world does the previous sentence imply this one? Is representation of purpose the same as a function version of an intention? What IS a functional VERSION of an intention? Furthermore, when did we move from linguistic structure to linguistic acts?

"But, once the message has been transmitted, the text exists independently."

Transmitted... to where? To nowhere? In what sense independent? If independent, how transmitted?

"Hence, although the writers who co-operated to produce this page exist, they can only be represented by the signs actually selected and presented here. The interpretation process in the receiver's mind may attribute meanings completely different to those intended by the senders. Why might this happen? Neither the sender nor the receiver of a text has a perfect grasp of all language. Each individual's relatively small stock of knowledge is the product of personal experience and their attitude to learning. When the audience receives the message, there will always be an excess of connotational meanings available to be applied to the particular signs in their context (no matter how relatively complete or incomplete their knowledge, the cognitive process is the same)."

Yes. Sure. Among other reasons. Is this issue clearly connected to the nature of the sign? Or to the previous half of this paragraph?

"The first stage in understanding the message is, therefore, to suspend or defer judgement until more information becomes available. At some point, the individual receiver decides which of all the possible meanings represents the best possible "fit". Sometimes, uncertainty may not be resolved so meaning is indefinitely deferred, or a provisional or approximate meaning is allocated. More often, the receiver's desire for closure (see Gestalt psychology) leads to simple meanings being attributed out of prejudices and without reference to the sender's intentions."

Is this supposed to be the cognitively real process? That seems doubtful. It seems to accord ill with the psycholinguistic facts. And the last assertion clashes with previous ones in the same paragraph.

Basically I replaced this paragraph because it is egregiously incoherent and ignorant. I replaced it with an attempt at characterizing the breadth of positions currently operable in the field. It is possible I left out some positions, particularly ones psycholinguistically focused, and ones focusing on hermeneutics. I am responsive to assertions that my own contribution may have POV problems, and I hope they can be worked out. User:adamzero:adamzero

Let me start with a thank you. I had thought I was slipping from pre-senility into dementia so it is reassuring to have the diagnosis that it is no more than the same egregious incoherence and ignorance that has afflicted me all my life. Whereas you have erudition exploding all over the screen. I particularly liked the Parthian shot on hermeneutics. You have an impressive vocabulary. And all this effort out of concern for the potential non-academic readership of this page! Impressive! I know I did trip by Lacanian-style critiques of Saussure as being so myopically focused on linguistics that he ignored the materiality of the sign which may generate its own connotations independently of the sign. In the first pair of sentences, I was attempting a vague postmodernist assertion that the encoder must understand the implicit significance both in the particular signs used and the modalities adopted if a message is to be sent and convey the intended meaning. For example, if A uses international sign language to convey the letters F I R E to B, A must have grounds for believing that B is capable of understanding the code, e.g. that A is a U.S. Navy Seal and wishes to command B, a fellow warrior, to discharge his firearm at an enemy. If B, a British naval officer, only speaks fluent semaphore. . . Which was Jakobson’s point derived from his study of aphasia. Because the attribution of meaning to any given sign is entirely arbitrary, only those who can address the denotational and connotational framework of potential meanings immanent in the current context can communicate effectively. After all, if a person whom you knew to be a paranoid schizophrenic shouted “Fire!” how would you react? Alternatively, is your use of that vocabulary in reply to a person whom you were accusing of being egregiously ignorant likely to be an effective mechanism for communication to me? If at this point, I type “condensation” is this a reference to the pool of water under the glass beside me on my desk or have I just remembered something Freud proposed? Without further contextual data, you must delay the decision between the potential meanings, etc. But all this begs the question, does it not? Am I defending what I wrote so that it can remain, or are we having a lazy afternoon’s debate in the abstract, or should I start critiquing your passage, or should we start to compose something ab initio that we can both agree will inform a non-academic readership and not bend semiotic theory too far out of shape? In other words, since this Wiki-phenomenon is intended to provide accessible information to a lay readership, what was the point of your message and this reply? David91 02:30, 19 February 2006 (UTC)

General comments on Peirce[edit]

  • JA: I'm not ready to wade into this yet, but here are a few comments that come to mind as I read the article, especially with respect to the contrast between Saussure and Peirce.
  • JA: (1) It used to be pretty standard to associate Saussure with "semiology" (based on a translit from French) and Peirce with "semiotics" (plus the usual variations), and this was very helpful in keeping their different theories straight in the mind. If waves of current usage have overwhelmed this dike, then there's nothing for it but to add further adjectives, but if possible it might be helpful to return to that distinction.
  • JA: (2) It is rather misleading to call Peirce a "Kantian philosopher". He famously studied Kant from an early age, but he came to differ from him on many critical points, in particular, as to the unknowability of ultimate objects.
  • JA: (3) The fine points of the distinction between "representamen" and "sign", which Peirce himself did not always observe, are best left to a later point of discussion, as the long word tends to be off-putting and mystifying at first byte. So I'd recommend just using "sign" here, unless and until the distinction becomes important.
  • JA: All for now, Jon Awbrey 16:20, 17 February 2006 (UTC)
I have never really liked this page because Peirce is always obscure to the lay reader, no matter what the terminology, yet we are compelled to include him. I wait with interest to see how you proceed. David91 17:22, 17 February 2006 (UTC)
  • JA: In my experience Peirce in his own write is the very model of clarity. It is some of his interpreters that tack on layers of obscurity. The reasons for this are various, which I will elaborate another time, but said as succinctly as possible it is mainly on account of these two factors: (1) some readers do not read what he writes but think that they already know better what he should have said, and so they judge him to be writing very obscurely what they expect he meant to write, (2) some readers simply lack the mathematical background that is prerequisite to comprehending both what he writes and the cultural context in which he writes it. Jon Awbrey 03:48, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
  • JA: But let us put that to one side for now, as there are slightly more pressing matters at hand, especially if the subject matter of semiotics is not to be submerged in a glut of lately fashioned but thoroughly retrograde ontologism that has nothing to do with the critical insights of either Peirce or Saussure into the characters of signs in relation to objects and interpreters. Jon Awbrey 03:48, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
  • JA: A better way to approach the subject of semiotics might be to take notice of the all-important thing that both Peirce and Saussure seemed to intuit from the very beginning, namely, that signs have their being as such within a system, a "standing together". Jon Awbrey 03:48, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
  • JA: If a thing serves as a sign only within the requisite sort of system, then changing the system in which it serves has the power to change how and even whether the thing serves as a sign. This follows immediately from any theory of signs that takes signhood to be a systematic property, that is, a property that is defined relative to a system. This view of signhood is opposed to any which views signhood as something that is determined and fixed by an absolute, non-relative, substantial property, in short, that reduces signhood to a matter of "essence" or "ontology". Jon Awbrey 04:52, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
"Standing together" could be ironic (given the discussion above or in terms of postcolonial textuality) but I recognise the spirit in which it is offered. As to the rest: carpe diem! Stop monologuing and Be bold!
  • JA: Nice in theory, but I have reasons to go slowly, and I'm in no particular hurry here. As a veteran of some nasty revert wars, I have learned that they are always won by those who are most willing to slash and burn and salt the earth. So I'm thinking that I'll try appealing to gentler good sense this time, or maybe just bore the invaders off our turf? Jon Awbrey 05:08, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
Ain't no Carthaginians here. Ah, no. That is your point: Carthago delenda est. Well, ain't no Romans here either (except for Jakobson) and, if you check the edit history, things have been calm around here for most of the last six months. So have a little more confidence and start boring on the article page. David91 05:32, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
  • JA: Maybe it's the full-blow'n' rushin' winter we've been havin' here, or maybe I was thinking of this article in the context of several related ones, for instance, the one at Sign simpliciter. At any rate, Watch Out For What You Wish. Jon Awbrey 06:32, 19 February 2006 (UTC)
Join the club. I think in epic terms. For better or worse, I have written batches of twenty and thirty pages in a sequence here to fill in gaps, including most of the semiotics (even though it was no more than a passing interest of mine many years ago). I am of the view that something is better than nothing until something better comes along. If you or the anonymous editor above prove to be the better thing(s) for semiotics, that is good for Wiki and I welcome you. We all have bad experiences here. You seem to have had an early blooding which is unfortunate. But allowing it to inhibit you when you are obviously capable of contributing well is not helpful to your own self-esteem or to Wiki. David91 07:14, 19 February 2006 (UTC)

Impenetrable language of article[edit]

I realize that there are limits in how simple the language can be to discuss such a complex topic, and I know there are many topics that tend to be read only by people who are at least passingly familiar with many of the underlying concepts. With that said, I'd like to say that I have a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction and slogged my way through a number of critical theory-oriented texts, so I'm no slouch ... and yet I could not make sense of more than one or two sentences in the entire article, if that. We must remember that one of the many uses — and, I'd argue, one of the most common uses — of Wikipedia is by someone who's trying to understand a term run across while reading, and in many cases, run across more than once. While the articles are no substitute for an education in the subject, a literate semi-novice should be able to come away from a well-written article with some sense of getting the broadest strokes of a topic, and some sense of what other topics should be explored to get a further grasp. As it stands, I suspect that the only people who can understand this article are the ones who would have no reason to read it. Lawikitejana 05:52, 22 August 2007 (UTC)

I agree. As someone who actually knows Saussure and Perice's theories quite well, I'd say this article complicates rather simple matters to the point where I can hardly imagine a potential reader who could make use of it. This is Wikipedia, its goal encyclopedic clarity and not showing off one's Academic English style. Such style is out of place here. The article needs to be adjusted to fit this completely different convention.
ETA: Having read some of the comments by David91, the article's supposed first author/editor, I now know the source of its ridiculously showy language. A complete re-write is needed. -- (talk) 13:33, 1 August 2012 (UTC)

Superfluity in introduction?[edit]

"...essentially all of the ways in which information can be communicated as a message by any sentient, reasoning mind to another." Isn't this superfluous? Doesn't the very idea of information being communicated as a message carry with it sentience, and hence the reasoning minds of others? Would there be a point in communicating information as a message (one also wonders in what other way information might be conveyed) to nothing or to a rock, for example? "Message" is somewhat vague, isn't it? I suggest that at least the last word, "another" be removed. The sentence reads better as "...essentially all of the ways in which information can be communicated as a message by any sentient, reasoning mind." It may be composed better yet as "...essentially all of the ways in which information can be communicated." Unless, that is, the original author has entirely missed his mark. I am but a dullard who has not matriculated out of some fancy--and expensive--diploma mill, and so this is merely my inconsequential opinion. On second glance, perhaps I should just rewrite this entire article using standard grammar...

I've just wandered in on this, but I have an observation to make. While I appreciate that the definition in the opening is already so general as to verge on the Pythonesque, nonetheless Deleuze and Guattari formulate a semiology that includes a whole range of signs, only some of which communicate meaning; they develop the 'a-signifying sign' in some detail in the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Anti-Œdipus and A Thousand Plateaus. Information is transmitted without meaning becoming involved. It's a development of Hjelmslev's content-expression, material-form scheme. Not twos, not threes, but fours. They are not the only ones to use sign in this a-signifying sense:
In the taxonomy of act, do, and perform, the performer need not be communicative, in the sense of communicating meaning. The response to the demand [of the presence of an audience] is at an erotic level that takes place in the play of signifiers that do not signify. An extreme example of this can be found in certain songs when the lyrics degenerate, so to speak, into rhythmic sounds, often repeated in a chorus, sounds like do-dah, do-dah, or dit-di-dit-di-dit, or sha-nah-nah. The pleasure, or erotic dimension, of such nonsense comes, in part, from the freedom from meaning, in part from the openness, in part from the rhythm, in part from particularity of the excess." (Alice Rayner, To Act, To Do, To Perform (1994, 28).
DionysosProteus 16:16, 28 August 2007 (UTC)

total arbitrariness of signs in doubt[edit]

In the section about Dydatic signs it is mentioned that a sign is arbitrary (not in relation to other signs) but to the signified world, however this is not necessarily so, there are some modern linguists who would cast doubt on this - the classic exception to the rule being examples of Onomatopoeic words such as "meow" or "woof" where the sound (though not the othography)is an attempted mirroring of the actual sound made by the animal, other examples "buzz" and "click". Although some would dispute this to be an example of the sign relating directly to the material world but rather to another system of sounds that is also related to the material world, it might thus be important to mention Natural signs here and how human language may relate to animal language, and also how they both might then relate to the world that stems them.

An intesresting note on Onomatopeic words, aside from them being proven to be in each and every human language, is:

The word “onomatopoeia” comes from Greek. In Greek, the word onoma means “name,” and the word poieo means “make” or “do.” Therefore, the word onomatopoeia literally means “the making of names.” ( —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:35, 11 September 2008 (UTC)

Re: Impenetrable language: specific suggestions.[edit]

I am currently reviewing this Wikipedia article so I can understand an original research article titled "Triadic Conceptual Structure of the Maximum Entropy Approach to Evolution." I too am experiencing difficulty with this wikipedia article. However, I have assessed the problem to be poorly constructed sentences not erudition per say.

Unfortunately I am not comfortable re-writing sentences myself because I may change the meaning. With that in mind I will copy sentences that caused me to stumble and halted my learning flow. I will paste them in talk posts titled "Please Edit for Clarity". In those same posts I will suggest corrected versions.

I ask that all knowledgeable editors find the original sentence in the article (by using ctrl- F) and either replace it with the suggestion, do a more appropriate re-write or explain how the suggestion is wrong so I may try again.

I invite all other naves to post their clarity re-write suggests in other similarly titled posts. For an article related to the study of meaning and communication there are a lot of stumbling blocks. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:05, 22 October 2011 (UTC)

Please Edit for Clarity[edit]

original: "He covered not only artificial, linguistic, and symbolic signs, but all semblances, for example kindred sensible qualities, and all indicators, for example mechanical reactions."

Re-write: "He covered not only artificial, linguistic, and symbolic signs, but all semblances, for example kindred sensible qualities, and all indicators such as mechanical reactions."

original: " In semiosis a first is determined as a sign by a second, as its object, to determine a third as an interpretant"

Re-write: "In semiosis a first is determined to be a sign by a second, which is its object. This allows the determination of a third as an interpretant"

Original: "by how the sign stands for its object to its interpretant — the sign (rheme, also called seme,[18] such as a term) representing itself for interpretation as standing for its object as to quality or possibility, or (dicisign, also called pheme, such as a proposition) as to fact, or (argument, also called delome[19]) as to rule or habit. This is the trichotomy of all signs as building blocks in an inference process."

re-write: "by how the sign stands for its object in relation to its interpretant — the sign (rheme, also called seme,[18] such as a term) opening itself for interpretation as standing for its object due to quality or possibility, or due to fact (dicisign, also called pheme, such as a proposition), or due to rule or habit (argument, also called delome[19]). This is the trichotomy of all signs as building blocks in an inference process." (talk) 22:30, 22 October 2011 (UTC)

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