The Science of Signs

Semiotics: the Science of Signs

langue (language)/parole (speech)


1. Sign, Signified, Signifier

The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image. The latter is not the material sound, a purely physical thing, but the psychological imprint of the sound, the impression that it makes on our senses. . . . I call the combination of a concept and a sound-image a sign . . . I propose to retain the word sign to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by signified and signifier. (1966, 66–67)


Concept = idea* = signified

Sound-image = representation = signifier

2. Principle I: The Arbitrary Nature of the Sign

Every means of expression used in society is based, in principle, on collective behavior or—what amounts to the same thing—on convention. . . . The individual does not have the power to change the sign in any way once it has become established in the linguistic community. (1966, 68)

Meaning is not inherent in language

Capital T-Truth and “truths”

3. Principle II: The Linear Nature of the Signifier

Just as with speech [parole], and in contrast to images, language [langue] necessarily unfolds one letter after another in a succession—a line.

Immutability and Mutability of the Sign
1. Immutability

The masses have no voice in the matter, and the signifier chosen by language could be replaced by no other. . . . A particular language-state is always the product of historical forces. (1966, 71–72)

2. Mutability

“Language is radically powerless to defend itself against the forces which from one moment to the next are shifting the relationship between the signified and the signifier. This is one of the consequences of the arbitrary nature of the sign.

Unlike language, other human institutions–customs, laws, etc.–are all based in varying degrees on the natural relations of things; all have of necessity adapted the means employed to the ends pursued.” (1966, 75)

“From the moment when it fulfills its mission and becomes the property of everyone, control is lost.” (1966, 76)


* See note 4 (1966, 75)

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