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Sign - acording to Charles Sanders Peirce

Sign - acording to Charles Sanders Peirce

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Published by: ohrin on Dec 23, 2010
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05/30/2011

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Sign
 
n. From the Proto-Indo-European
 
base
sekw 
- (meaning “point out”) stems the Greek
sēmeion 
—biblical Hebrew
ot 
— (“signifying and indicating something beyond itself”)
1
, fromwhich stems the Latin
signum 
(“mark, token, seal, image, indication, sign, symbol”), from whichstems the Old French
signe 
(“miracle” c. 950 and “something outstanding” c. 990)
2
, from whichstems the English
sign 
attested c. 1225 (“gesture”), c. 1290 (“noteworthy mark or device”), c.1300 (“miracle”), c. 1467 (“device attached to shop fronts to signal them”), and c. 1700(“element of sign language”).
3
 Currently used in a number of situations (hence its wide extension) where its basic meaning(i.e. its narrow intension) takes on various specific characteristics which are listed in mostdictionaries. It therefore has a general meaning which can be used metaphorically to suit agreat deal of particular contexts, and it becomes a precise technical term in quite a fewscientific and non-scientific disciplines such as medicine, astrology or advertising. Thesedomains of application all have in common the conception of the sign that is the focal point ofthe science of signs, which the present article will now address.The sign is the core concept of the science of signs, but the latter is regarded by some asbeing semiotics and by others as semiology, and each of these fields has it own appreciation ofwhat a sign is. Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiological sign and Charles S. Peirce’s semiotic signwill be presented here, along with Algirdas J. Greimas’s.
Signifier 
(i.e. what signifies) and
signified 
(i.e. what is signified) arethe two faces of Saussure’s dyadic concept of sign, which the Swisslinguist elaborated in his revolutionizing quest for the essenceof language in the early 20
th
century. Nonetheless, his fascinatingapproach focused mainly on verbal signs, thereby tending to isolate thisverbal part of the linguistic unit from its non-verbal part, and consequently from the rest ofthe world. His structuralist followers later intended to make up for this by adding a thirdelement: the
referent 
(i.e. what the sign refers to in the existing world).This three-fold perspective is notably that of Greimas, who associates Saussure’s semiology’s
signifier 
and
signified 
to the structuralist
referent 
, and conceives of them as being subsumedunder semiotics — Peirce’s term for the science of signs. Greimas’s eclectic theoretical standmight possibly be deemed as contributing to the widespread confusion between semiology andsemiotics that characterizes public knowledge and even the comprehension of most scholarsnot specialized on the subject.Peirce’s science of signs —known as
semiotics 
even though the word hardly appears (if at all)in his luxuriant writings— revolves around the American mathematician and philosopher’senlightening understanding of the essence of life as logic. Hisconception of the sign is triadic, which entails its formingpart of a potentially never-ending, at any rate continuousdynamics reflected off in any of life’s occurrences. The sign isidentified as comprising a first —called a
representamen 
which stands for a second called its
object 
— to a third —called its
interpretant 
—, the latter in turn becoming a
representamen 
of the same
object 
to another
interpretant 
 and so on
ad infinitum 
, thus creating an endless series of inter-related signs that Peirce (1839-1914) referred to as
semiosis 
.
1
See
Encyclopaedia Britannica 
, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/543697/sign
2
Respectively in
St Léger 
, éd. J. Linskill, 209, and in
Passion,
éd. D'Arco Silvio Avalle, 272 (seehttp://atilf.atilf.fr/dendien/scripts/tlfiv5/affart.exe?19;s=2055577695;?b=0;)
3
See http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=sign
signifiedsignifierIO
 
The term
Bible 
, for instance, is a
representamen 
(or a material embodiment, or sign) used torepresent (or refer to) what the Bible in itself actually is (and that it is regardless of whetherit is being referred to or not), i.e. —in semiotic terms— an
object 
. Now the latter in itselfcannot be approached: it is the sign’s
dynamical object 
, and can only be thought through itsrepresentation in the sign, namely the
immediate object 
. From thence the need to interpretthe object via the interpretant, since this is the only way to take into account the connectionbetween the representamen and the object it stands for. The
immediate interpretant 
may bedefined as being what is immediately, though somewhat vaguely, interpreted. The
dynamical interpretant 
as the actual response that is triggered. And the
final interpretant 
as the sum ofthe consequences brought about by the sign.This basic definition is to be considered in the light of Peirce’s phaneroscopy, which holds thatanything resorts to one of the following modes of being:
firstness 
—what is in itself—,
secondness 
—what exists in response to something else—, and
thirdness 
—what relates a firstto a second—. These three phaneroscopic categories then combine with (1) the monadic modeof apprehension of the representamen, (2) the dyadic relation of the representamen to itsdynamical object, and (3) the triadic relation of the representamen to its dynamical object andto its final interpretant, so as to form the main three trichotomies of the sign (see tablebelow). These trichotomies are then to be associated with one another abiding by the law ofcategories (a third logically comprises a second and a first, and a second comprises a first —not the other way around) which leads onto Peirce’s ten classes of signs listed below:Trichotomy of themonadic mode ofapprehension ofthe representamenin itselfTrichotomy of thedyadic relation ofthe representamento its dynamicalobjectTrichotomy of thetriadic relation ofthe representamento its dynamicalobject and to itsfinal interpretant10
CLASSES OF SIGNS
 
HIRDNESS
Legisign Symbol Argument(X)
Argument
Symbolic Legisign(IX)
Dicent Symbol
Legisign(VIII)
Rhematic Symbol
Legisign(VII)
Dicent Indexical Legisign
 (VI)
Rhematic Indexical Legisign
 (V) Rhematic
Iconic Legisign
S
ECONDNESS
Sinsign Index Dicisign(IV)
Dicent
Indexical
Sinsign
 (III)
Rhematic Indexical Sinsign
 (II) Rhematic
Iconic
 
Sinsign
 F
IRSTNESS
Qualisign Icon Rheme (I) Rhematic Iconic
Qualisign
 Peirce’s theory of the sign, funded on his phaneroscopy and prolonged in his pragmaticism, canbecome quite complex but its essential components are just as elementary as they are

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