Outline of semiotics  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Semiotics – study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. Semiotics is closely related to the field of linguistics, which, for its part, studies the structure and meaning of language more specifically. Also called semiotic studies, or semiology (in the Saussurean tradition).


What type of thing is semiotics?

Semiotics can be described as all of the following:

  • Academic discipline – branch of knowledge that is taught and researched at the college or university level. Disciplines are defined (in part), and recognized by the academic journals in which research is published, and the learned societies and academic departments or faculties to which their practitioners belong.
  • Social science – field of study concerned with society and human behaviours.

Branches of semiotics

Three main branches

  • Semantics – relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their denotata, or meaning
  • Syntactics – relations among signs in formal structures
  • Pragmatics – relation between signs and the effects they have on the people who use them


  • Biosemiotics – growing field that studies the production, action and interpretation of signs and codes [1] in the biological realm. Biosemiotics attempts to integrate the findings of scientific biology and semiotics, representing a paradigmatic shift in the occidental scientific view of life, demonstrating that semiosis (sign process, including meaning] and interpretation) is its immanent and intrinsic feature.
  • Cognitive semiotics – study of meaning-making by employing and integrating methods and theories developed in the cognitive sciences as well as in the human sciences. It involves conceptual and textual analysis as well as experimental and ethnographic investigations.
  • Computational semiotics – attempts to engineer the process of semiosis, in the study of and design for Human-Computer Interaction, and mimic aspects of human cognition through artificial intelligence and knowledge representation.
  • Cultural semiotics
  • Design Semiotics
  • Product Semiotics – study of the use of signs in the design of physical products. Introduced by Rune Monö while teaching Industrial Design at the Institute of Design, Umeå University, Sweden.
  • Law and Semiotics
  • Literary semiotics – approach to literary criticism informed by the theory of signs or semiotics. Semiotics, tied closely to the structuralism pioneered by Ferdinand de Saussure, was extremely influential in the development of literary theory out of the formalist approaches of the early twentieth century.
  • Music semiology – "There are strong arguments that music inhabits a semiological realm which, on both ontogenetic and phylogenetic levels, has developmental priority over verbal language." (Middleton 1990, p. 172) See Nattiez (1976, 1987, 1989), Stefani (1973, 1986), Baroni (1983), and Semiotica (66: 1–3 (1987)).
  • Gregorian chant semiology – current avenue of palaeographical research in Gregorian chant which is revising the Solesmes school of interpretation.
  • Organisational semiotics – examines the nature, characteristics and features of information, and studies how information can be best used in the context of organised activities and business domains. Organisational semiotics treats organisations as information systems in which information is created, processed, distributed, stored and used.
  • Semiotic anthropology – semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce and Roman Jakobson applied to anthropology.
  • Semiotic engineering – views HCI as computer-mediated communication between designers and users at interaction time. The system speaks for its designers in various types of conversations specified at design time. These conversations communicate the designers' understanding of who the users are, what they know the users want or need to do, in which preferred ways, and why.
  • Semiotic information theory – considers the information content of signs and expressions as it is conceived within the semiotic or sign-relational framework developed by Charles Sanders Peirce.
  • Social semiotics – expands the interpretable semiotic landscape to include all cultural codes, such as in slang, fashion, and advertising. It considers social connotations, including meanings related to ideology and power structures, in addition to denotative meanings of signs.
    • Urban semiotics – study of meaning in urban form as generated by signs, symbols, and their social connotations. It focuses on material objects of the built environment, such as streets, squares, parks, and buildings, but also abstract cultural constructs such as building codes, planning documents, unbuilt designs, real estate advertising, and popular discourse about the city, such as architectural criticism and real estate blogs.
  • Theatre Semiotics – extends or adapts semiotics onstage. Key theoricians include Keir Elam.
  • Visual semiotics – analyses visual signs. See also visual rhetoric.

History of semiotics

Methods of semiotics

Semiotic analyses

General semiotics concepts

Semiotics organizations

Semiotics publications

Persons influential in semiotics

Cognitive semioticians

Literary semioticians

Social semioticians

See also

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