semiotics or semiology, discipline deriving from the American logician C. S. Peirce and the French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. It has come to mean generally the study of any cultural product (e.g., a text) as a formal system of signs. Saussure's key notion of the arbitrary nature of the sign means that the relation of words to things is not natural but conventional; thus a language is essentially a self-contained system of signs, wherein each element is meaningless by itself and meaningful only by its differentiation from the other elements. This linguistic model has influenced recent literary criticism, leading away from the study of an author's biography or a work's social setting and toward the internal structure of the text itself (see structuralism). Semiotics is not limited to linguistics, however, since virtually anything (e.g., gesture, clothing, toys) can function as a sign.

See R. Barthes, Elements of Semiology (1967); A. A. Berger, Signs in Contemporary Culture: An Introduction to Semiotics (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Signs in Use: An Introduction to Semiotics
Jørgen Dines Johansen; Svend Erik Larsen; Dinda L. Gorlee; John Irons.
Routledge, 2002
Semiotics: The Basics
Daniel Chandler.
Routledge, 2002
The Subject of Semiotics
Kaja Silverman.
Oxford University Press, 1984
Semiotics and Communication: Signs, Codes, Cultures
Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
A Theory of Linguistic Signs
Rudi Keller; Kimberley Duenwald.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Semiotic Grammar
William B. McGregor.
Clarendon Press, 1997
Structuralism and Semiotics
Terence Hawkes.
Routledge, 2003 (2nd edition)
The Forms of Meaning: Modeling Systems Theory and Semiotic Analysis
Thomas A. Sebeok; Marcel Danesi.
Mouton de Gruyter, 2000
Postmodernism and Social Inquiry
David R. Dickens; Andrea Fontana.
UCL Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Semiotics and Postmodernism"
Situated Cognition: Social, Semiotic, and Psychological Perspectives
David Kirshner; James A. Whitson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Culture and Critique: An Introduction to the Critical Discourses of Cultural Studies
Jere Paul Surber.
Westview Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Formalist, Structuralist, and Semiotic Analyses of Culture"
Semiotics and Thematics in Hermeneutics
T. K. Seung.
Columbia University Press, 1982
Introducing Social Semiotics
Theo Van Leeuwen.
Routledge, 2005
Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World
Ron Scollon; Suzie Wong Scollon.
Routledge, 2003
The Biological Foundations of Gestures: Motor and Semiotic Aspects
Jean-Luc Nespoulous; Paul Perron; André Roch Lecours.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986
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