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semioticsthe general science of SIGNS, whether these signs appear in language, in literature or in the world of artefacts. As an aspect of STRUCTURALISM, semiology evolved from the linguistic studies of SAUSSURE. Its leading exponent was Roland BARTHES.
Although the idea of a general science of signs first appeared at the turn of the century in the work of Saussure, it was not until the 1960s, and in the fields of MASS MEDIA research and CULTURAL STUDIES that the idea was developed. In the realm of cultural studies semiology has involved the study of areas ignored by other disciplines (e.g. eating habits) and opened up the question of the relationships between cultural codes and power relationships. Its key concepts are the signifier (a thing, word or picture) and the signified (the mental picture or meaning indicated by the signifier), and the sign is the association or relationship established between them (see also SIGNIFIER AND SIGNIFIED). Some relationships may be fairly direct (iconic) and others may involve considerable mediation because of their arbitrariness. Semiology draws attention to the layers of meaning which may be embodied in a simple set of representations (e.g. the representations of’Christmas’ on greetings cards: Santa, Merrie England, Virgin and Child, fluffy animals, and so on). Barthes said that signs communicate latent as well as manifest meanings. They can signify moral values and they can generate feelings or attitudes in the viewer (e.g. a photograph of a Rottweiler = dog = power, a fighting dog = threat to children). Thus signs may be collected and organized into complex codes of communication. See also BRICOLAGE.