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Semiotics: The Basics, 2nd edition, by Daniel Chandler (Routledge, 2007)


The theory and study of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language or other systems of communication. A person who studies or practices semiotics is known as a semiotician.

Many of the terms and concepts used by contemporary semioticians were introduced by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). See, for instance, sign, langue, and parole.

See also:


From the Greek, "sign"


  • "Semiotics involves the study not only of what we refer to as 'signs' in everyday speech, but of anything which 'stands for' something else. In a semiotic sense, signs take the forms of words, images, sounds, gestures and objects. Contemporary semioticians study signs not only in isolation but as part of semiotic 'sign systems' (such as a medium or genre). They study how meanings are made and how reality is represented. . . .

    "Signs do not just 'convey' meanings, but constitute a medium in which meanings are constructed. Semiotics helps us to realize that meaning is not passively absorbed but arises only in the active process of interpretation. . . .

    "'Commonsense' suggests that 'I' am a unique individual with a stable, unified identity and ideas of my own. Semiotics can help us to realize that such notions are created and maintained by our engagement with sign systems: our sense of identity is established through signs. We derive a sense of 'self' from drawing upon conventional, pre-existing repertoires of signs and codes . . .. We are thus the subjects of our sign systems rather than being 'users' who are fully in control of them."
    (Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. Routledge, 2006)

  • "Not only are words signs but also gestures, images, non-linguistic sounds like the chimes of Big Ben. Obviously devices (such as flags) created by man in order to indicate something are signs, but so are, in ordinary language, the thread of smoke that reveals a fire, the footsteps in the sand that tells Robinson Crusoe a man has passed along the beach, the clue that permits Sherlock Holmes to find the murderer."
    (Umberto Eco, Times Literary Supplement. 1973)

  • Nonlinguistic Sign Systems
    "Semiotic methods of analysis which originated in literary criticism have been applied in anthropology, the study of popular culture (e.g., advertisements), geography, architecture, film, and art history. The majority of these approaches emphasize the systemic character of the object under analysis. Buildings, myths, or pictures are regarded as systems of signs in which elements interact in ways analogous to letters, words, and sentences. For this reason, these divergent disciplines are often subsumed under the umbrella-term semiotics (the science of signs)."
    (Mario Klarer, An Introduction to Literary Studies, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2004)

  • Signs of the Wall Street People
    "To the untrained eye, the Wall Street people who rode from the Connecticut suburbs to Grand Central were an undifferentiated mass, but within that mass Danny noted many small and important distinctions. If they were on their BlackBerrys, they were probably hedge fund guys, checking their profits and losses in the Asian markets. If they slept on the train they were probably sell-side people--brokers, who had no skin in the game. Anyone carrying a briefcase or a bag was probably not employed on the sell side, as the only reason you'd carry a bag was to haul around brokerage research, and the brokers didn't read their own reports--at least not in their spare time. Anyone carrying a copy of the New York Times was probably a lawyer or a back-office person or someone who worked in the financial markets without actually being in the markets.

    "Their clothes told you a lot, too. The guys who ran money dressed as if they were going to a Yankees game. Their financial performance was supposed to be all that mattered about them, and so it caused suspicion if they dressed too well. If you saw a buy-side guy in a suit, it usually meant that he was in trouble, or scheduled to meet with someone who had given him money, or both. Beyond that, it was hard to tell much about a buy-side person from what he was wearing. The sell side, on the other hand, might as well have been wearing their business cards: The guy in the blazer and khakis was a broker at a second-tier firm; the guy in the three-thousand-dollar suit and the hair just so was an investment banker at J.P. Morgan or someplace like that."
    (Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. W.W. Norton, 2010)

  • Semiotics and Rhetoric
    "As distinct traditions within the field of communication theory, rhetoric and semiotics are closely akin in some ways and hybrids of the two are not uncommon (e.g. Burke, 1966; Kaufer & Carley, 1993a, 1993b). Rhetoric can be thought of as the branch of semiotics that studies the structure of language and argument that mediate between communicators and audiences. Semiotics can also be thought of as a particular theory of rhetoric that studies the resources that are available for conveying meanings in rhetorical messages. . . .

    "In modernist thought, rhetoric has often been cast as the enemy of communication. Communication for modernists is all about reason, truth, clarity, and understanding; rhetoric is all about traditionalism, artifice, obfuscation, and manipulation. Communication marks the new way of science and enlightenment; rhetoric the old way of obscurantism and reaction.

    "In postmodernist thought, of course, all of this has largely been turned on its head. For poststructuralist semioticians all communication is rhetoric--if by rhetoric we mean uses of language for which reason, truth, clarity, and understanding can no longer be upheld as normative criteria. In the rhetorical tradition of communication theory, however, rhetoric typically means . . . communication designed to appeal to an audience and inform their judgment on important matters of opinion and decision."
    (Robert T. Craig, "Communication Theory as a Field." Theorizing Communication: Readings Across Traditions, ed by Robert T. Craig and Heidi L. Muller. Sage, 2007)
Pronunciation: se-me-OT-iks
Also Known As: semiology, semasiology, semeiology
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