Semiotics

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If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used "to tell" at all. ~ Umberto Eco

Semiotics, also called semiotic studies (or in the Saussurean tradition semiology), is 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. Semiotics is often 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 the effects they have on the people who use them
See also:
Sign
Meaning
Irony
Listing of other major concepts in Semiotics

Quotes[edit]

I do not recommend any legislative action against hermeneutics. ~ Ernest Gellner
All language can be considered as names for unspeakable entities on the objective level, be it things or feelings, or as names of relations. ~ Alfred Korzybski
It is important to understand what I mean by semiosis. ~ Charles Sanders Peirce
The entire universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs. ~ Charles Sanders Peirce
  • A symbol is always in general and, however precise its translation, an artist can restore to it only its movement: there is no word-for-word rendering. Moreover, nothing is harder to understand than a symbolic work. A symbol always transcends the one who makes use of it and makes him say in reality more than he is aware of expressing.
  • Semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used "to tell" at all.
    • Umberto Eco, in Trattato di semiotica generale (1975), translated as A Theory of Semiotics (1976)
  • I do not recommend any legislative action against [hermeneutics]]. I am a liberal person opposed to all unnecessary state limitation of individual liberties. Hermeneutics between consenting adults should not, in my view, be the object of any statutory restrictions. I know, only too well, what it would entail. Hermeneutic speakeasies would spring up all over the place, smuggled Thick Descriptions would be brought in by the lorry-load from Canada by the Mafia, blood and thick meaning would clot in the gutter as rival gangs of semiotic bootleggers slugged it out in a series of bloody shoot-outs and ambushes. Addicts would be subject to blackmail. Consumption of deep meanings and its attendant psychic consequences would in no way diminsh, but the criminal world would benefit, and the whole fabric of civil society would be put under severe strain. Never!
  • The only link between the verbal and objective world is exclusively structural, necessitating the conclusion that the only content of all "knowledge" is structural. Now structure can be considered as a complex of relations, and ultimately as multi-dimensional order. From this point of view, all language can be considered as names for unspeakable entities on the objective level, be it things or feelings, or as names of relations. In fact... we find that an object represents an abstraction of a low order produced by our nervous system as the result of a sub-microscopic events acting as stimuli upon the nervous system.
  • A sign is in a conjoint relation to the thing denoted and to the mind. If this triple relation is not of a degenerate species, the sign is related to its object only in consequence of a mental association, and depends upon a habit. Such signs are always abstract and general, because habits are general rules to which the organism has become subjected. They are, for the most part, conventional or arbitrary. They include all general words, the main body of speech, and any mode of conveying a judgment. For the sake of brevity I will call them tokens.
  • Tokens alone do not state what is the subject of discourse; and this can, in fact, not be described in general terms; it can only be indicated. The actual world cannot be distinguished from a world of imagination by any description. Hence the need of pronoun and indices, and the more complicated the subject the greater the need of them.
  • It is important to understand what I mean by semiosis. All dynamic action, or action of brute force, physical or psychical, either takes place between two subjects, — whether they react equally upon each other, or one is agent and the other patient, entirely or partially, — or at any rate is a resultant of such actions between pairs. But by "semiosis" I mean, on the contrary, an action, or influence, which is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs.
    • Charles Sanders Peirce, in "Pragmatism" (1907), also in The Essential Peirce : Selected Philosophical Writings (1998) edited by the Peirce Edition Project, Vol. 2, p. 411
  • I define a Sign as anything which is so determined by something else, called its Object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its Interpretant, that the latter is thereby mediately determined by the former.
  • To say, therefore, that thought cannot happen in an instant, but requires a time, is but another way of saying that every thought must be interpreted in another, or that all thought is in signs.
  • The entire universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs.

External links[edit]

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