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10/2/07 SEMIOTICS AND THE PROBLEM OF SHARED MEANING Semiotic tradition - Semiotic: the theory of signs - Sign: anything [signifier] that means something [signified] to someone - Communication (in semiotic theory): sharing meaning through use of signs - Communication problems (in semiotic theory): dependence on signs can produce misunderstanding (e.g. “I love you”) C.S. Peirce (1839-1914) - Founder of modern semiotic theory - Founder of American pragmatism philosophy (the meaning of a thing is its practical consequences) - Focus of his theory: o How signs function in the mind o Meaning is a constantly changing thought process Three states of mind - Feeling: simple awareness of something o EX: walking through my house in darkness - Reaction: sense of acting and being acting upon o EX: I bump into something; involves 2 feelings - Thought: discovering a rule that connects action and reaction o EX: I bumped into this chair in the dark because my daughter is home and moved it; involves 3 feelings - NOTE: In the thought process, the bump becomes a sign that my daughter is home Triadic concept of sign - For Peirce, something is a sign when we “have a mediatory interest in it, in so far as it conveys to a mind an idea about a thing” - As such, a sign is a three part (triadic) entity that is formed in a thought process: o The physical form which the sign takes EX: the word “house” o A concept in someone’s mind EX: someone’s idea of a house o An object to which the sign refers EX: a particular house THREE KINDS OF SIGNS - Peirce identified three kinds of signs: o Icon (likeness) o Index (indication) o Symbol Icon (likeness) - Icon: a mode in which the signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified (recognizably looking, sounding. feeling, tasting, or smelling like it) o EX: a portrait, a cartoon, a scale model, onomatopoeia, metaphors, sound
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effects, imitative gestures Index (indicator) - Index: a mode in which the signifier is not arbitrary but is directly connected in some way (physically or causally) to the signified o EX: “natural signs” – smoke, thunder, footprints, medical symptoms; “measuring instruments” – thermometer, clock; “Signals” – a knock on a door, a phone ringing; “Pointers” – a pointing index finger, a directional signpost Symbol - Symbol: a mode in which the signifier does not resemble the signified but which is fundamentally arbitrary or purely conventional – so that the relationship must be learned o EX: words, alphabetic letters, numbers, Morse code, traffic lights, national flags, some gestures (peace sign) Relations among types of signs - They form a progression (feeling, reaction, thought) in how signifier and signified are related: o Icon No actual relation, simple resemblance o Index Physical relation o Symbol Related by an idea in the mind - They work together in communication o EX: verbal and nonverbal signs in face to face interaction - Symbols grow o Signs are often mixed (combine iconic, indexical and/or symbolic
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This note was uploaded on 03/17/2009 for the course COMM 3210 taught by Professor Craig during the Fall '08 term at Colorado.

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