Philosophy Word of the Day – Semiotics

The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857...

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“The analysis of ‘signs,’ particularly with respect to language, from the Greek semeion, indicating a ‘mark’ or a sign of something (as in smoke is a sign that there is fire).  Just as a street sign can point the way to the park, so words can function as ‘pointers’ or signs of things and ideas.  Words, for instance, whether oral or written, are understood as ‘signs’ of both thoughts and wishes of a speaker or author, as well as signs pointing to specific realities.

“Classically, Aristotle spoke of signs in terms of symbols: ‘Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words’ (De interpretatione).  Further developed by the Stoics, semiotics was advanced by Augustine’s discussion of signs in his On Christian Teaching.  In the twentieth century, and in light of the ‘linguistic turn,’ Ferdinand de Saussure made semiotics central to the discourse of most disciplines. (Saussure’s classical model was a primary target of Derrida’s deconstruction.)  Of particular concern was how to understand the relationship between the ‘signifier’ (a particular word or mark) and the ‘signified’ (that to which the mark ‘pointed’).  Saussure suggested that the relation between signifier and signified was entirely arbitrary.” . . .

— “Semiotics” in 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology, 88.

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