Aberrant decoding — Umberto Eco's reference to decoding a text using a different code from that used to encode it.
Absent signifiers — Signifiers which are not mentioned in a text but which (by contrast) influence the meaning of a signifier used.
Analogue oppositions (antonyms) — Pairs of opposing signifiers: virtue – sin, where 'not virtuous' isn’t necessarily 'sinful.'
Analogue signs — are signs in a form in which they are perceived as unbroken relationships on a continuum rather than as discrete units (in contrast to digital signs). Digital technology can transform analogue signs into digital ones which may be perceived just as indistinguishable from the 'originals'.
Anchorage — Roland Barthes introduced the concept of anchorage. Linguistic elements in a text (such as a caption) can serve to 'anchor' the preferred readings of an image (conversely the illustrative use of an image can anchor an ambiguous verbal text).
Arbitrariness — Saussure emphasized that the relationship between the linguistic signifier and signified is arbitrary: the link between them is not necessary, intrinsic or natural. Many subsequent theorists apply this also to the relation between the signifier and any real-world referent. American logician Peirce noted that the relationship between signifiers and their signifieds varies in arbitrariness. Many other semioticians hold that all signs are to some extent arbitrary and conventional.
Associative relations — refers to Saussure's term for what later came to be called paradigmatic relations. The 'formulaic' associations of linguistic signs include synonyms, antonyms, similar-sounding words and words of similar grammatical function.
Binarism — is the ontological division of a domain into two discrete categories (dichotomies) or polarities. Binarism is a term which critics have applied to what they regard as the obsessive dualism of structuralists such as Levi-Strauss and Jakobson. Hjelmslev argued against binarism.
Binary oppositions (or digital oppositions) — Pairs of mutually exclusive signifiers representing categories which are logically opposed, e.g. alive-not-alive.
Bricolage — Levi-Strauss's term for the appropriation of pre-existing handy materials which are widely used to refer to the intertextual authorial practice of adopting and adapting signs from other texts. See also intertextuality.
Broadcast codes — Fiske's term for codes which are shared by members of a mass audience and which are learned informally through experience rather than deliberately or institutionally. In contrast to narrow-cast codes, broadcast codes are simpler, employing standard conventions and 'formulas.' They are more repetitive and predictable - 'overcoded' - having a high degree of redundancy.
Channel — A sensory mode utilized by a medium (e.g. visual [TV], auditory [radio], tactile [Braille]).
Codes — Semiotic codes process systems of understanding through learned conventions in interpretive communities. Codes provide a framework within which signs make sense.
Codification — A historical social process whereby the conventions of a particular code (e.g. for a genre) become widely established.
Combination — axis of a structuralist term for the 'horizontal' axis in the analysis of a textual structure: the plane of the syntagm (Jakobson).
Commutation test — A structuralist analytical technique used in the analysis of a text to determine whether a change on the level of the signifier leads to a change on the level of the signified.
Complex sign — Saussure's term for a sign which contains other signs. A text is usually a complex sign.
Connotation — The socio-cultural and personal associations produced as a reader decodes a text. For Barthes, connotation was a second 'order of signification' which uses the denotative sign (signifier and signified) as its signifier and attaches to it an additional signified.
A connotation is frequently described as either positive or negative, with regards to its pleasing or displeasing emotional connection. For example, a stubborn person may be described as being either strong-willed or pig-headed; although these have the same literal meaning (stubborn), strong-willed connotes admiration for the level of someone's will (a positive connotation), while pig-headed connotes frustration in dealing with someone (a negative connotation).
Contiguity — In ordinary use, this term refers to something which touches or adjoins something else; semioticians (e.g. Jakobson) use it to refer to something which is in some sense part of (or part of the same domain as) something else. Contiguity may be causal, cultural, spatial, temporal, physical, conceptual, formal or structural. See also metonymy.
Conventionalism — is a term used by realists to describe a position which they associate with epistemological relativism and the denial of the existence of a reality outside representational conventions. They associate it with the 'severing' of signs from real world referents and with the notion that reality is a construction of language or a product of theories. They regard 'conventionalists' (or constructivists) as reducing reality to nothing more than signifying practices, criticizing also as 'extreme conventionalism' the stance that theories (and the worlds which they construct) are incommensurable.
Conventionality — is a term often used in conjunction with the term arbitrary to refer to the relationship between the signifier and the signified. In the case of a symbolic system such as verbal language this relationship is purely conventional - dependent on social and cultural conventions (rather than in any sense natural). The conventional nature of codes means that they have to be learned (not necessarily formally). See also arbitrariness, primacy of the signifier, relative autonomy.
Decoding — is the interpretation of texts by decoders with reference to relevant codes. Most commentators assume that the reader actively constructs meaning, 'extracting' it from the text.
Deconstruction — This is a poststructuralist method for textual analysis, which was developed by Jacques Derrida. Practitioners seek to dismantle the rhetorical structures within a text to demonstrate how key concepts within it depend on their unstated oppositional relation to absent signifiers. Deconstructionists have also exposed culturally embedded conceptual oppositions in which the initial term is privileged or favored, leaving 'Term B' negatively 'marked'. Radical deconstruction is not simply a reversal of the valorization in an opposition but a demonstration of the instability of such oppositions..
Denaturalization — The denaturalization of signs and codes is a Barthesian method seeking to reveal the socially coded basis of phenomena which are taken for granted as natural. The goal is to make more explicit the underlying rules for encoding and decoding them, and often also to reveal the usually invisible operation of ideological forces.
Denotation — refers to the relationship between the signifier and its signified (or referent). In the pairing denotation/ designation it signifies the relation of reference (Sebeok). In the pairing denotationlconnotation, denotation is routinely treated as the definitional, literal, obvious or common-sense meaning of a sign, but semioticians tend to treat it as a signified about which there is a relatively broad consensus.
Denotatum — is a Latin term for a referent. In relation to language, the denonatum is extralinguistic as distinct from the signatum (Morris, Jakobson). See also designatum, object, referent. designation refers to the relation of sense or meaning as opposed to denotation (Sebeok).
Diachronic analysis — Diachronic analysis studies change in a phenomenon (such as a code) over time (in contrast to synchronic analysis). Saussure saw the development of language in terms of a series of synchronic states.
Differance — Derrida coined this term to allude simultaneously to 'difference' and 'deferral'. He deliberately ensured that (in French) the distinction from the word for 'difference' was apparent only in writing. Adding to Saussure's notion of meaning being differential (based on differences between signs), intending to remind readers that signs also defer the presence of what they signify through endless substitutions of signifiers.
Digital signs — involve discrete units such as words and numerals, in contrast to analogue signs.
Discourse — Contemporary theorists influenced by Michel Foucault treat language as structured into different discourses (fields) such as those of science, law, government, medicine, journalism and morality. A discourse is a system of representation consisting of a set of representational codes (including a distinctive interpretive repertoire of concepts, tropes and myths) for constructing and maintaining particular forms of reality within the ontological domain (or topic) defined as relevant to its concerns. Representational codes reflect relational principles underlying the symbolic order of the 'discursive field'.
Dominant (or 'hegemonic') code and reading — Within Stuart Hall's framework, this is an ideological code in which the decoder fully shares the text's code and accepts and reproduces the preferred reading (a reading which may not have been the result of any conscious intention on the part of the author(s
Double articulation A semiotic code which has double articulation (as in the case of verbal language) can be analysed into two abstract structural levels. At the level of first articulation the system consists of the smallest meaningful units available (e.g. morphemes or words in a language). These meaningful units are complete signs, each consisting of a signifier and a signified. At the level of second articulation, a semiotic code is divisible into minimal functional units which lack meaning in themselves (e.g. phonemes in speech or graphemes in writing). They are not signs in themselves (the code must have a first level of articulation for these lower units to be combined into meaningful signs).
Elite interpreter — Semioticians who reject the investigation of other people's interpretations privilege what has been called the 'elite interpreter,' whiles socially oriented semioticians insist that the exploration of people's interpretive practices is fundamental to semiotics.
Empty signifier — or 'floating' signifier is variously defined as a signifier with a vague, highly variable, unspecifiable or nonexistent signified. Such signifiers mean different things to different people: they may stand for many or even any signifieds; they may mean whatever their interpreters want them to mean.
Encoding — is the production of texts by encoders with reference to relevant codes. Encoding involves foregrounding some meanings and backgrounding others.
Foregrounding, stylistic — This term was used by the Prague school linguists to refer to a stylistic feature in which signifiers in a text attract attention to themselves rather than simulating transparency in representing their signifieds. This primarily serves a 'poetic' function (being used 'for its own sake') rather than a 'referential' function.
functions of signs In Jakobson's model of linguistic communication, the dominance of anyone of six factors within an utterance reflects a different linguistic function: referential, oriented towards the context; expressive, oriented towards the addresser; conative, oriented towards the addressee; phatic, oriented towards the contact; metalingual, oriented towards the code; poetic, oriented towards the message.
hegemonic code See dominant (or 'hegemonic') code and reading.
homology See isomorphism.
iconic A mode in which the signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified (recognizably looking, sounding, feeling, tasting or smelling like it) - being similar in possessing some of its qualities. See also indexical, isomorphism, symbolic.
ideal readers This is a term often used to refer to the roles in which readers of a text are 'positioned' as subjects through the use of particular modes of address. For Eco this term is not intended to suggest a 'perfect' reader who entirely echoes any authorial intention but a 'model reader' whose reading could be justified in terms of the text. See also addresser and addressee, modes of address, preferred reading, subject.
imaginary signifier This term was used by Christian Metz to refer to the cinematic signifier. The term is used in more than one sense. The cinematic signifier is 'imaginary' by virtue of an apparent perceptual transparency which suggests the unrnediated presence of its absent signified - a feature widely regarded as the key to the power of cinema. The term is also related to Lacan's term, 'the Imaginary' - the cinematic signifier is theorized as inducing identifications similar to those of 'the mirror stage'.
indexical A mode in which the signifier is not purely arbitrary but is directly connected in some way (physically or causally) to the signified - this link can be observed or inferred (e.g. fingerprint). See also iconic, symbolic.
interpellation Interpellation is Althusser's term to describe a mechanism whereby the human subject is 'constituted' (constructed) by pre-given structures or texts (a structuralist stance). See also subject.
interpretant In Peirce's model of the sign, the interpretant is not an interpreter but rather the sense made of the sign. See also unlimited semiosis.
interpretive community Those who share the same codes are members of the same' interpretive community'. Linguists tend to use the logocentric term, 'discourse community'. Individuals belong simultaneously to several interpretive communities. See also code, signifying practices.
Intertextuality — Intertextuality refers to the various links in form and content which bind a text to other texts.
Intratextuality — While the term intertextuality would normally be used to refer to links to other texts, a related kind of link is what might be called 'intratextualit,y' involving internal relations within the text.
Irony — Irony is a rhetorical trope, a double-coded sign in which the 'literal sign' combines with another sign to signify the opposite meaning (although understatement and overstatement can also be ironic)..
Isomorphism The term is used to refer to correspondences, parallels, or similarities in the properties, patterns or relations of (a) two different structures; (b) structural elements in two different structures and (c) structural elements at different levels within the same structure. Some theorists use the term homology in much the same way.
Langue and parole These are Saussure's terms. Langue refers to the abstract system of rules and conventions of a signifying system - it is independent of, and pre-exists, individual users. Parole refers to concrete instances of its use. See also diachronic analysis, synchronic analysis.
Literalism The fallacy that the meaning of a text is contained within it and is completely determined by it so that all the reader must do is to 'extract' this meaning from the signs within it. This stance ignores the importance of 'going beyond the information given' and limits comprehension to the decoding (in the narrowest sense) of textual properties (without even reference to codes).
Logocentrism Derrida used this term to refer to the 'metaphysics of presence' in Western culture - in particular its phonocentrism, and its foundation on a mythical 'transcendent signified'. Logocentrism can also refer to a typically unconscious interpretive bias which privileges linguistic communication over the revealingly named 'non-verbal' forms of communication and expression.
Markedness The concept of markedness introduced by Jakobson can be applied to the poles of a paradigmatic opposition. Paired signifiers (such as male-female) consist of an unmarked form and a 'marked' form distinguished by some special semiotic feature. A marked or unmarked status applies not only to signifiers but also to their signifieds. The marked form (typically the second term) is presented as 'different' and is (implicitly) negative. The unmarked form is typically dominant (e.g. statistically within a text or corpus) and therefore seems to be neutral, normal and natural. See also analogue oppositions, binary oppositions, deconstruction, paradigm, transcendent(al) signified.
Meaning — Osgood and Richards (1923) listed 23 meanings of the term 'meaning'. The key distinction in relation to models of the sign is between: (a) sense - referred to by various theorists simply as 'meaning', or as conceptual meaning (e.g. linguistic meaning), content, designation, signatum, significatum, signified, signification, interpretant, idea or thought; and (b) reference to something beyond the sign-system (e.g. extralinguistic) - what is 'represented', variously termed denotation, denotatum, designatum, object, reference, referent, or simply 'thing'.
Medium — is used in a variety of ways by different theorists, ncluding such broad categories as speech and writing, or print and broadcasting or relate to specific technical forms within the media of mass communication or the media of interpersonal communication. Signs and codes are always anchored in the material form of a medium, each of which has its own constraints and affordances. A medium is typically treated instrumentally as a transparent vehicle of representation by readers of texts composed within it, but the medium used may itself contribute to meaning.
Message — variously refers either to a text or to the meaning of a text - referents which literalists tend to conflate. See also text.
Metaphor — Metaphor expresses and ideas and its image. In semiotic terms, a metaphor involves one signified acting as a signifier referring to a rather different signified. Since metaphors apparently disregard literal or denotative resemblance they can be seen as symbolic as well as iconic.
Metonymy — is a figure of speech that involves using one signified to stand for another signified which is directly related to it or closely associated with it in some way, notably the substitution of effect for cause. It is sometimes considered to include the functions ascribed by some to synecdoche.
Modality — refers to the reality status accorded to or claimed by a sign, text or genre.
Modeling systems, primary and secondary — Secondary modeling systems are described, following Lotman, as semiotic superstructures built upon primary modeling systems. Saussure treated spoken language as primary and saw the written word as secondary. Since this stance grants primacy to the spoken form, it has been criticized as phonocentric. Other theorists have extended this notion to texts in other media, seeing them as secondary modelling systems built out of a primary 'language'.
Modes of address Implicit and explicit ways in which aspects of the style, structure and/or content of a text function to position readers as subjects ('ideal readers') (e.g. in relation to class, age, gender and ethnicity).
Motivation and constraint — as used by Saussure is sometimes contrasted with 'constraint' in describing the extent to which the signified determines the signifier. The more a signifier is constrained by the signified, the more 'motivated' the sign is: iconic signs are highly motivated; symbolic signs are unmotivated. The less motivated the sign, the more learning of an agreed code is required.
Multiaccentuality of the sign — Voloshinov's term is used to refer to the diversity of the use and interpretation of texts by different audiences.
Myths— For Levi-Strauss, myths were systems of binary alignments mediating between nature and culture. For Barthes, myths were the dominant discourses of contemporary culture. He argued that myths were a meta-language operating through codes and serving the ideological function of naturalization.
Narrow cast codes — In contrast to broadcast codes, narrow cast codes are aimed at a limited audience, structurally more complex, less repetitive and tend to be more subtle, original and unpredictable.
Natural signs — (a) (in classical theory) representational visual images as opposed to 'conventional signs' (words); (b) signs not intentionally created but nevertheless interpreted as signifying, such as smoke signifying fire (St Augustine); (c) signs (apparently) produced without the intervention of a code (as in Barthes' initial characterization of photographs); (d) (allegedly in popular perception) metonyms (in contrast to metaphors).
Naturalization Codes — are those which have been naturalized and are so widely distributed in a culture and which are learned at such an early age that they appear not to be constructed but to be naturally given. Myths serve the ideological function of naturalization.
Negotiated code and reading — Stuart Hall says that this is an ideological code in which the reader partly shares the text's code and broadly accepts the preferred reading, but sometimes resists and modifies it in a way which reflects their own social position, experiences and interests (local and personal conditions may be seen as exceptions to the general rule).
Object — is a term used in Peirce's triadic model of the sign to describe the referent of the sign - what the sign 'stands for'.
Open and closed texts — Umberto Eco describes as 'closed' those texts which show a strong tendency to encourage a particular interpretation - in contrast to more 'open' texts.
Oppositional code and reading — Stuart Hall's framework holds that a personal ideological code in which the reader, whose social situation places them in a directly oppositional relation to the dominant code, understands the preferred reading but does not share the text's code and rejects this reading, bringing to bear an alternative ideological code.
Orders of signification — Barthes modified Hjelmslev’s notion to highlight different orders of signification (levels of meaning) in semiotic systems. The first order of signification is that of denotation: at this level there is a sign consisting of a signifier and a signified. Connotation is a second order of signification which uses the denotative sign (signifier and signified) as its signifier and attaches to it an additional signified. Barthes argued that myth is also a higher order of signification built upon language.
Overcoding — refers to simple, conventional and repetitive texts having what theorists call a high degree of redundancy. These are alleged to be features of broadcast codes. Under-coding is a feature of texts using less conventional narrowcast codes.
Pan semiotic features — Jakobson's term for properties shared by all systems of signs (not just verbal language).
Paradigm — A paradigm is a set of associated signifiers which are all members of some defining category, but in which each signifier is significantly different. In natural language there are grammatical paradigms such as verbs or nouns. In a given context, one member of the paradigm set is structurally replaceable with another. See also paradigmatic analysis, syntagm.
Paradigmatic analysis — Paradigmatic analysis is a structuralist technique which seeks to identify the various paradigms which underlie the 'surface structure' of a text. This aspect of structural analysis involves a consideration of the positive or negative connotations of each signifier (revealed through the use of one signifier rather than another), and the existence of 'underlying' thematic paradigms (e.g. binary oppositions). See also analogue oppositions, binary oppositions, commutation test, markedness, paradigm, syntagmatic analysis.
Phonocentrism Phonocentrism is a typically unconscious interpretive bias which privileges speech over writing (and consequently the oral-aural over the visual).
Preferred reading (Stuart Hall). Readers of a text are guided towards a preferred reading and away from 'aberrant decoding' through the use of codes. A preferred reading is not necessarily the result of any conscious intention on the part of the producer(s) of a text. The term is often used as if it refers to a meaning which is in some way built into the form and/or content of the text - a notion which is in uneasy accord with a textual determinism which Hall rejected. See also dominant (or hegemonic) code and reading.
Primacy of the signifier The argument that reality or the world is at least partly created by the language (and other media) we use insists on the primacy of the signifier - suggesting that the signified is shaped by the signifier rather than vice versa. Some theorists stress the materiality of the signifier. Poststructuralist theorists such as Lacan, Barthes, Derrida, Foucault have developed the notion of the primacy of the signifier, but its roots can be found in structuralism.
Reference — The meaning of a sign in relation to something beyond the sign-system. Sometimes a synonym for referent.
Referent Term used by some theorists (e.g. Ogden and Richards) for what the sign 'stands for'. In Peirce's triadic model of the sign this is called the object. In Saussure's dyadic model of the sign a referent in the world is not explicitly featured - this is sometimes referred to as 'bracketing the referent'. Note that referents can include ideas, events and material objects. See also representation.
Reflexivity — Some 'reflexive' aesthetic practices foreground their textuality —the signs of their production (the materials and techniques used) — thus reducing the transparency of their style. Texts in which the poetic function is dominant foreground the act and form of expression and undermine any sense of a natural or transparent connection between a signifier and a referent. Postmodernism often involves a highly reflexive intertextuality.
Relative autonomy — Saussure's model of the sign assumes the relative autonomy of language in relation to reality (it does not directly feature a 'real world' referent); there is no essential, inherent bond between words and things. In a semiotic system with double articulation the levels of the signifier and of the signified are relatively autonomous. The signifier and the signified in a sign are autonomous to the extent that their relationship is arbitrary.
Representamen — The representamen is one of the three elements of Peirce's model of the sign and it refers to the form which the sign takes (not necessarily material).
Representation — Dictionaries note that a representation is something which stands for or in place of something else which is of course what semioticians call a sign. Semiotics foregrounds and problematizes the process of representation. Representation always involves the construction of reality. All texts, however realistic they may seem to be, are constructed representations rather than simply transparent reflections, recordings, transcriptions or reproductions of a pre-existing reality. Both structuralist and poststructuralist theories lead to reality and truth being regarded as the products of particular systems of representation.
Selection — axis of a structuralist term for the 'vertical' axis in the analysis of a textual structure: the plane of the paradigm (Jakobson).
Semiology — Saussure's term semiology. It is sometimes used to refer to the study of signs by those within the Saussurean tradition (e.g. Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Kristeva and Baudrillard), while 'semiotics' sometimes refers to those working within the Peircean tradition (e.g. Morris, Richards, Ogden and Sebeok). Sometimes 'semiology' refers to work concerned primarily with textual analysis while 'semiotics' refers to more philosophically oriented work.
Semiosphere — The Russian cultural semiotician Yuri Lotman coined this term to refer to 'the whole semiotic space of the culture in question' - it can be thought of as a semiotic ecology in which different languages and media interact.
Semiotic square — Greimas introduced the semiotic square as a means of mapping the key semantic oppositions in a text or practice. If we begin by drawing a horizontal line linking two familiarly paired terms such as 'beautiful' and 'ugly', we turn this into a semiotic square by making this the upper line of a square in which the two other logical possibilities - 'not ugly' and 'not beautiful' occupy the lower corners. The semiotic square reminds us that this is not simply a binary opposition because something which is not beautiful is not necessarily ugly and that something which is not ugly is not necessarily beautiful.
Semiotic triangle — Peirce's triadic model of the sign is a semiotic triangle. See also referent, sense, sign vehicle.
Semiotics, definition of — Semiotics is 'the study of signs'. It is not purely a method of textual analysis, but involves both the theory and analysis of signs, codes and signifying practices.
Shifters — Term adopted by Jakobson from Otto Jespersen for 'indexical symbols' in language - grammatical units with an indexical (deictic) character (such as personal pronouns) which can be decoded only by reference to the specific context of particular messages.
Sign — A sign is a unit of meaning which is interpreted as 'standing for' something other than itself. Signs are found in the physical form of words, images, sounds, acts or objects (this physical form is sometimes known as the sign vehicle). Signs have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when signusers invest them with meaning with reference to a recognized code.
Sign vehicle — A term sometimes used to refer to the physical or material form of the sign (e.g. words, images, sounds, acts or objects). For some commentators this means the same as the signifier (which for Saussure himself did not refer to material form). The Peircean equivalent is the representamen: the form which the sign takes, but even for Peirce this was not necessarily a material form.
Signatum — In Jakobson's dyadic model the signatum is the signified or conceptual meaning of the sign; in language it refers to linguistic meaning as distinct from the denotatum. See also signans, signified, signum.
Signification — In Saussurean semiotics signification refers to the relationship between the signifier and the signified. It is also variously used to refer to: the defining function of signs (i.e. that they signify, or 'stand for', something other than themselves); the process of signifying (semiosis); signs as part of an overall semiotic system; what is signified; the reference of language to reality; a representation.
Signified (signifie) — For Saussure, the signified was one of the two parts of the sign. Saussure's signified is the mental concept represented by the signifier (and is not a material thing). This does not exclude the reference of signs to physical objects in the world as well as to abstract concepts and fictional entities, but the signified is not itself a referent in the world.
Signifier (signifiant) — In the Saussurean tradition, the signifier is the form which a sign takes. For Saussure himself, in relation to linguistic signs, this meant a non-material form of the spoken word. Subsequent semioticians have treated it as the material (or physical) form of the sign - something which can be seen, heard, felt, smelt or tasted (also called the sign vehicle).
Signum — Jakobson's favoured Latin term for a sign, uniting a signans and signatum in his dyadic model.
Simple sign — A sign which does not contain any other signs, in contrast to a complex sign.
Simulacrum — This was Baudrillard's term (borrowed from Plato); 'simulacra' are 'copies without originals' - the main form in which we encounter texts in postmodern culture. More broadly, he used the term to refer to a representation which bears no relation to any reality.
Single articulation codes — Codes with single articulation have either first articulation or second articulation only. Codes with first articulation only (e.g. traffic signs) consist of signs meaningful elements which are systematically related to each other - but there is no second articulation to structure these signs into minimal, non-meaningful elements. Other semiotic codes lacking double articulation have second articulation only. These consist of signs which have specific meanings which are not derived from their elements (e.g. binary code). They are divisible only intofigurae (minimal functional units).
Subject — In theories of subjectivity a distinction is made between 'the subject' and 'the individual'. While the individual is an actual person, the subject is a set of roles constructed by dominant cultural and ideological values. Poststructuralist theorists critique the concept of the unified subject.
Symbol — (a) for some theorists (e.g. Goodman), and in popular usage, is simply a sign; (b) a symbolic (i.e. conventional) sign, as distinct from an iconic or an indexical sign.
Symbolic — A mode in which the signifier does not resemble the signified but which is arbitrary or purely conventional - so that the relationship must be learned (e.g. the word 'stop', a red traffic light, a national flag, a number).
synchronic analysis — Synchronic analysis studies a phenomenon (such as a code) as if it were frozen at one moment in time. Saussurean structuralism focused on synchronic rather than diachronic analysis and was criticized for ignoring historicity. See also langue and parole.
Synecdoche — is a figure of speech involving the substitution of part for whole, genus for species or vice versa. Some theorists do not distinguish it from metonymy. See also irony, metaphor, metonymy, trope.
Syntagm — is an orderly combination of interacting signifiers which forms a meaningful whole. Syntagmatic relations are the various ways in which constituent units within the same text may be structurally related to each other. These can be either sequential (e.g. in film and television narrative sequences), or spatial (e.g. in paintings or photographs).
Syntagmatic analysis — Syntagmatic analysis is a structuralist technique which seeks to establish the 'surface structure' of a text and the relationships between its parts.
Text — Most broadly, this term is used to refer to anything which can be 'read' for meaning; to some theorists, the world is 'social text'. Although the term appears to privilege written texts (it seems graphocentric and logocentric), to most semioticians a text is a system of signs (in the form of words, images, sounds and/or gestures). The term is often used to refer to recorded (e.g. written) texts which are independent of their users (used in this sense the term excludes unrecorded speech).
Tokens and types — Peirce made a distinction between tokens and types. In relation to words in a text, a count of the tokens would be a count of the total number of words used (regardless of type), while a count of the types would be a count of the different words used (ignoring any repetition). The medium used may determine whether a text is a type which is its own sole token (unique original) or simply one token among many of its type ('a copy without an original').
Transcendent(al) signified — Derrida argued that dominant ideological discourse relies on the metaphysical illusion of a transcendental signified: an ultimate referent at the heart of a signifying system which is portrayed as 'absolute and irreducible,' stable, timeless and transparent, as if it were independent of and prior to that system. All other signifieds within that signifying system are subordinate to this dominant central signified which is the final meaning to which they point. Without such a foundational term to provide closure for meaning, every signified functions as a signifier in an endless play of signification.
Transformation — rules of Levi-Strauss argued that new structural patterns within a culture are generated from existing ones through formal rules of transformation based on systematic similarities, equivalences, parallels, or symmetrical inversions. The patterns on different levels of a structure (e.g. within a myth) or in different structures (e.g. in different myths) are seen as logical transformations of each other. Rules of transformation enable the analyst to reduce a complex structure to some more basic constituent units.
Trope — Tropes are rhetorical 'figures of speech' such as metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony.
Types and tokens — See tokens and types.
Unarticulated codes — are codes in a series of signs bearing no direct relation to each other. These signs are not divisible into recurrent compositional elements (e.g. the folkloristic 'language of flowers').
Unlimited semiosis — Umberto Eco coined the term 'unlimited semiosis' to refer to the way in which, for Peirce (via the 'interpretant'), for Barthes (via connotation), for Derrida (via 'freeplay') and for Lacan (via 'the sliding signified'), the signified is endlessly commutable - functioning in its turn as a signifier for a further signified.
Value — Saussure distinguished the value of a sign from its signification or referential meaning. A sign does not have an absolute value in itself - its value is dependent on its relations with other signs within the signifying system as a whole. Words in different languages can have equivalent referential meanings but different values since they belong to different networks of associations.