Semiotic Theories

interpretation of meaning

History and Orientation

Semiotics, translated as the science of signification, is often said to derive from two sources: F. de Saussure (Swiss-French, 1857-1913) and C.S. Peirce (Anglo-American, 1839-1914). Some other researchers known for their work in semiotics are Noam Chomsky, Umberto Eco, R. Barthes and Jean Baudrillard.


Core Assumptions and Statements

Semiotics is the theory of the production and interpretation of meaning. It's basic principle is that meaning is made by the deployment of acts and objects which function as "signs" in relation to other signs. Systems of signs are constituted by the complex meaning-relations that can exist between one sign and another, primarily relations of contrast and superordination/subordination (e.g. class/member, whole/part). Signs are deployed in space and time to produce "texts", whose meanings are construed by the mutually contextualizing relations among their signs.

There are two major traditions in European semiotics: F. de Saussure, semiology; and C.S. Peirce, semiotics. Saussure's approach was a generalization of formal, structuralist linguistics; Peirce's was an extension of reasoning and logic in the natural sciences.

General Semiotics tends to be formalistic, abstracting signs from the contexts of use; Social Semiotics takes the meaning-making process, "semiosis", to be more fundamental than the system of meaning-relations among signs, which are considered only the resources to be deployed in making meaning.

Multimedia semiotics is based on the principle that all meaning-making, because it is a material process as well as a semiotic practice, necessarily overflows the analytical boundaries between distinct, idealized semiotic resource systems such as language, gesture, depiction, action, etc. Every material act and sign can be, and usually is, construed in relation to more than one system of sign relations (e.g. a written word is both a linguistic sign and a visual orthographic one; a spoken word is also construed in relation to its non-linguistic acoustical qualities; an image is interpreted both visually and usually also linguistically; etc.). Therefore it becomes important to study how different sign-systems are physically and semiotically integrated in texts and multimedia productions of various kinds

Conceptual Model

Not applicable.


Favorite Methods

To be added.


Scope and Application

Social semiotics examines semiotic practices, specific to a culture and community, for the making of various kinds of texts and meanings in various situational contexts and contexts of culturally meaningful activity. Social semiotics therefore makes no radical separation between theoretical and applied semiotics and is more closely associated with discourse analysis, multimedia analysis, educational research, cultural anthropology, political sociology, etc.



To be added.



Key publications

Barthes, R. (1967). Elements of Semiology (trans. Annette Lavers & Colin Smith). London: Jonathan Cape.

Baudrillard, J. & Poster, M. (1988). Selected Writings. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Eco, U. (1976). A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


Peirce, C. S. (1931-58). Collected Writings (8 Vols.). (Ed. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss & Arthur W Burks). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Peters, J.M. (1987). In het teken van het beeld. Beknopte introductie tot de semiologie. In J. Bardoel & J. Bierhoff (Eds.), Informatie in Nederland, theorie, achtergronden. Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff.

Saussure, F. de (1983). Course in General Linguistics (trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth.

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