My (Cathy’s) research focus is on multiliteracies. Understanding the history and conceptual development of multiliteracies demanded I grasp a basic understanding of semiotics, or semiology. Semiotics is a branch of linguistics that studies signs, symbols, and signification. However, it is the study of how meaning is created, not what it is.
Ferdinand de Saussure is generally credited as the father of semiotics. His book Course in General Linguistics, was published posthumously by his former students Bally and Sechehaye. It was through this work that Saussure’s Semiology Theory was made public. His theory was based on the study of signs; a sign being anything that represented something else. Saussure proposed that communication is a system of signs that convey meaning, but limited his work to the use of words, spoken and written. Sassure’s most recognized semiotic terms are signifier, signified, sign and symbolic. (Glossary at bottom of page)
To test our knowledge of these terms, I share the following three graphics. Does their signifier representation signify anything symbolic to you?
Signifier: any material thing that signifies, e.g., words on a page, a facial expression, an image.
Signified: the concept that a signifier refers to.
Together, the signifier and signified make up the:
Sign: the smallest unit of meaning. Anything that can be used to communicate.
Symbolic (arbitrary) signs: signs where the relation between signifier and signified is purely conventional and culturally specific, e.g., most words.