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Saturday, July 02, 2011

Western Aesthetics - Semiotics

The term "Semiotics" finds its roots in the Greek word semeiotikos, meaning "observant of signs". Semiotics is closely related to linguistics (the study of the structure and meaning of language) and is, essentially, the study of signs and sign processes.

Semiotics is divided into three branches: semantics (the study of the relationship between the signifier and the signified), syntactics (the study of the relationship between the signs, themselves) and pragmatics (the study of the relation between signs and the effects they have on the people who use them).

Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914) was an American logician who believed in removing the theory from practice and re-applying this theory to practice to form "intelligent practice". According to Pierce, symbols can be of three types:
(1) Icons - A representation is said to be an icon if there is verisimilitude between the representation and the object, itself. For example, a photograph.
(2) Index - An index refers to a sign that is of one type, yet symbolizes something else. For example, if one were to see smoke, it is automatically understood that there is a fire.
(3) Symbols - Symbols are arbitrarily decided signs that signify particular objects when arranged in a certain manner. All spoken or written words are symbolic in nature.
Visual signs are either indexical or iconic.

Pierce classified signs into three broad categories, on the basis of the sign itself (sign vehicle), the way the sign stands for its denoted subject (object), and the way the sign stands for its subject according to the interpretant (interpretor). Each of these three categories has a three-way division:
1. Sign vehicle: Qualisigns (a quality or possibility), sinsigns (an actual thing, fact, etc.), legisigns (a law, or a rule).
2. Object: icons, indices, symbols (these three have already been dealt with)
3. Interpretant: Rhemes (the symbol stands for its object in terms of quality), dicisigns (the symbol stands for its object in terms of fact) and arguments (the symbol stands for its object in terms of rule or law).

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) is believed to be the father of modern linguistics. He gave the ideas of the "signifier" and the "signified". Signifier generally refers to the symbols used to describe a particular object. On the other hand, signified refers to the object that is described by the symbols. Take, for example, the word "cat', which is used to describe a furry, four-legged animal. The word in itself - created by putting together the letters 'c', 'a' and 't' (symbols) - is the signifier, while the animal is the signified (the object). What particular combination of letters are used to signify an object is decided by society, and this relationship between the signifier and the signified can change over time, as and when society dictates.

Umberto Eco (1932 - present), in his novel, "The Name of the Rose", helped spread awareness on semiotics. He criticized Pierce's concept of "iconic signs" and, instead, proposed four modes of sign production (recognition, ostension, replica and invention).


@ngel ~ said...

Thank you sir. This was very useful.
- Somyaa

Anil Pinto said...

Good again.

Teena George said...

In that case, thank you, again. :)