Signs. They're everywhere. Though this statement is in no way enlightening, it is none the less very true. Within our culture, we are so completely surrounded by signs of all types that they become nearly invisible unless they are looked for. Though this likely seems true to you upon some reflection, it is just as likely that you have only considered "signs" in the most basic literal sense, that is, signs such as those that offer directions to the nearest parking lot or those denoting street names. However, semiologists1 consider signs in a much more broad manner. To semiologists, signs include both verbal and non-verbal2 communications, as well as objects or phenomenon taken as signs by their viewer. In fact, road signs and their ilk make up only a very small part of what semiologists study. Other signs, non-verbal communications for instance, tend to make for more interesting subjects of study as they are much more dynamic in both their use and perception. However, not to ignore the road signs, I will take up the ever-present stop sign as an example throughout this piece, as both a sign that demands our immediate attention and yet goes by almost unnoticed.
An important first step in this discussion is to firmly establish that a stop sign is, in fact, a sign. This may seem obvious, as, after all, it does have the word "sign" in its name, this in an important technical consideration that must be made before we can proceed. According to Charles Pierce, one of the major pioneers of the field of semiotics, a sign has three fundamental parts. These are: the object, the representamen, and the interpretant. The representamen is what most people w...
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...pear in the main body, but for reference a symptom is a sign that is automatic or compulsive and serves to indicate a condition of its object to others. The medical analogy of red spots being a symptom of Chicken Pox, for example, is applicable. Incidentally the sixth type of sign, which also won't be mentioned, is a name. The definition isn't really hard to figure out, though the reader is invited to reference the works cited if curious about its role in semiotics.
7 Note that this occurs almost exclusively when a visual representation is used in place of an actual stop sign. Thus the sign that is used would be both symbolic and iconic.
8 For instance one may buy a print of a stop sign framed starting at only $107.45 at < http://www.artboundexpress.com/imagedetail.asp?intProdID=5471>
9 e.g. other road signs or informational signs posted in public areas.
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