1. The linguistic sign

Any unit of language (morpheme, word, phrase, or sentence) used to designate objects or phenomena of reality. Linguistic signs are bilateral; they consist of a signifier, made up of speech sounds (more precisely, phonemes), and a signified, created by the linguistic sign’s sense content. The relationship between the aspects of a sign is an arbitrary one, since the selection of a sound form does not usually depend on the properties of the designated object. The peculiarity of the linguistic sign is its asymmetricality, that is, the capacity of one signifier to convey various meanings (polysemy or homonymy) and the tendency of the signified to be expressed by various signifiers (heterophony or homosemy). The asymmetry of the structure of the linguistic sign determines the language’s capacity for development.

Linguistic signs are sometimes subdivided into complete and partial signs. A complete sign implies an utterance, usually a sentence, directly related to the designated situation (the referent or denotatum of the linguistic sign). A partial linguistic sign is a word or morpheme that is actualized only as part of a complete sign. The existence in a language of partial signs of various degrees of complexity, as well as the divisibility of the signifier and signified of the simplest sign into unilateral (nonsign) units of content (components of meaning) and expression (phonemes), ensure the economy of the linguistic system, permitting the creation of an infinitely large number of communications from a finite number of simple units.

Properties of the linguistic sign.
- Material nature
- Arbitrary relation between the sign and the referent
- Systematic relation between one sign/ the rest of the signs


2. Signs in nature, signs in society and signs in language

What is a sign? Something that stands for something to somebody in some respect or capacity. A sign is an object, quality, event, or entity whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else. A natural sign bears a causal relation to its object—for instance, thunder is a sign of storm, or medical symptoms signify a disease. A conventional sign signifies by agreement, as a full stop signifies the end of a sentence; similarly the words and expressions of a language, as well as bodily gestures, can be regarded as signs, expressing particular meanings. The physical objects most commonly referred to as signs (notices, road signs, etc., collectively known as signage) generally inform or instruct using written text, symbols, pictures or a combination of these.
The philosophical study of signs and symbols is called semiotics; this includes the study of semiosis, which is the way in which signs (in the semiotic sense) operate.

3. Kinds of signs (Saussure, Frege, Morris)

A. F. Saussure – the unity of two things, the signifier and the signified

Saussure: Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the valeur of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of others. A few examples will show clearly that this is true. Mod. Fr. mouton can have the same signification as English sheep, but not the same valeur, and this for several reasons, particularly because in speaking of a piece of meat ready to be served on the table, English uses mutton and not sheep. The difference in valeur between sheep and mouton is due to the fact that sheep has beside it a second term while the French word does not.

B. Gothold Fege

Classifications of signs (the classification of signs is not rigid)
Rudolf Keller 1998. A Theory of Linguistic Signs. Oxford: Oxford University Press

1. Signs symptoms – a causal relation between the sign and what it represents

2. Signs icons – similarity between the sign and what it represents

3. Signs symbols – an arbitrary relation between the sign and what it stands for

4. Semiotics

A. General characteristic and definition of Semiotics 

Definition of semiotics (also called semiotic studies; not to be confused with the Saussurean tradition called semiology which is a part of semiotics) - is the study of meaning-making, the study of sign processes and meaningful communication. This includes the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogymetaphorsymbolism, 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. The semiotic tradition explores the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communications. As different from linguistics, however, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems.

Semiotics is frequently seen as having important anthropological dimensions; for example, the late Italian semiotician and novelist Umberto Eco proposed 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.

B. Terminology - the term 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 (spelt semeiotics) 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 four, 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.

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, and was involved in choosing the name Semiotica for the first international journal devoted to the study of signs.

C. History of semiotics - 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 throughscholastic 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" (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. 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").

One of Peirce’s distinctions was that of distinguishing an interpretant from an interpreter. 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. MorrisMax Black argued that the work of Bertrand Russell was seminal in the field.

D. Branches of Semiotics - semiotics may be divided into three branches:

Semantics: relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their signified denotata, or meaning

Syntactics: relations among or between signs in formal structures                

Pragmatics: relation between signs and sign-using agents or interpreters

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