Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 67

semiotics - Clarification of terms, History, Some important semioticians, Current applications, Branches

study linguistic systems meaning

The study of signs, sign systems, and the social production of meaning, also known as semiology. It is a multidisciplinary area of study, which derives from the pioneering work on language by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and the US philosopher C S Peirce. A fundamental notion is the arbitrary nature of communication systems (written and spoken language, gestures, dress, etc). Meaning is largely produced by relationships and differences between individual signs, organized in codes, rather than by simple reference to external reality. Although inherently unstable, such systems are regulated by convention, the source and purpose of which are found in a given culture. The field is often divided into three main branches: syntax, the study of how linguistic items can be transformed into other linguistic items; semantics, the study of meaning and reference; and pragmatics, the study of how context affects linguistic interpretation.

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