Linguistic Sign

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sign, Linguistic


any unit of language (morpheme, word, phrase, or sentence) used to designate objects or phenomena of reality. Linguistic signs are bilateral; they consist of a signifier, made up of speech sounds (more precisely, phonemes), and a signified, created by the linguistic sign’s sense content. The relationship between the aspects of a sign is an arbitrary one, since the selection of a sound form does not usually depend on the properties of the designated object. The peculiarity of the linguistic sign is its asymmetricality, that is, the capacity of one signifier to convey various meanings (polysemy or homonymy) and the tendency of the signified to be expressed by various signifiers (heterophony or homosemy). The asymmetry of the structure of the linguistic sign determines the language’s capacity for development.

Linguistic signs are sometimes subdivided into complete and partial signs. A complete sign implies an utterance, usually a sentence, directly related to the designated situation (the referent or denotatum of the linguistic sign). A partial linguistic sign is a word or morpheme that is actualized only as part of a complete sign. The existence in a language of partial signs of various degrees of complexity, as well as the divisibility of the signifier and signified of the simplest sign into unilateral (nonsign) units of content (components of meaning) and expression (phonemes), ensure the economy of the linguistic system, permitting the creation of an infinitely large number of communications from a finite number of simple units.


Saussure, F. de. Kurs obshchei lingvistiki. Moscow, 1933. (Translated from French.)
Kartsevskii, S. “Ob asimmetrichnom dualizme lingvisticheskogo znaka.” In V. A. Zvegintsev, Istoriia iazykoznaniia XIX-XX vekov v ocherkakh i izvlecheniiakh, part 2. Moscow, 1965.
lakobson, R. “V poiskakh sushchnosti iazyka.” In Sbornik perevodov po voprosam informalsionnoi teorii i praktiki, issue 16. Moscow, 1970.
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Materialy k konferentsii “lazyk kak znakovaia sistema osobogo roda.” Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.