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© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Semiotics: Selected full-text books and articles

Signs in Use: An Introduction to Semiotics By Jørgen Dines Johansen; Svend Erik Larsen; Dinda L. Gorlee; John Irons Routledge, 2002
A Theory of Semiotics By Umberto Eco Indiana University Press, 1976
The Subject of Semiotics By Kaja Silverman Oxford University Press, 1984
Semiotics and Communication: Signs, Codes, Cultures By Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
A Theory of Linguistic Signs By Rudi Keller; Kimberley Duenwald Oxford University Press, 1998
Semiotic Grammar By William B. McGregor Clarendon Press, 1997
Structuralism and Semiotics By Terence Hawkes Routledge, 2003 (2nd edition)
Culture and Critique: An Introduction to the Critical Discourses of Cultural Studies By Jere Paul Surber Westview Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Formalist, Structuralist, and Semiotic Analyses of Culture"
Introducing Social Semiotics By Theo Van Leeuwen Routledge, 2005
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