Semiotics [semiology] (from Gk. Sēmeion: ‘Sign’)
- Naomi Cumming
[semiology] (from Gk. Sēmeion: ‘Sign’)
The science of signs.
Two thinkers may be credited with developing this study in the 20th century. Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), who used the term ‘semiology’, instigated a systematic approach to the study of language, based on the observation of binary contrasts as constitutive of the ‘meaning’ of units at any level of generality. The signifying unit, or ‘signifier’, does not bear any intrinsic relationship to the object or idea that forms its ‘signified’ content. This content is purely arbitrary and is determined by the relationship of the term to others, in binary pairs. ‘Bit’ and ‘Bat’, for example, are distinguished by the binary contrast of their vowels. Saussure’s manner of analysing language as a relatively stable system of such contrasts, existing synchronically, contrasts with the ‘diachronic’ or historically-based approach to word meaning found in traditional philology. His further distinction between ‘langue’ and ‘parole’ is based on the assumption that a synchronic system (...