All About Semiology


Semiology refers to the study of sign processes or communication through signs and symbols and it can either be individually or grouped into a system of signs. The field of semiology is categorized under three branches namely; semantics which refers to the relationship between the signs and the specific things to which they refer, syntactic which describes the relationship between deferent signs in formal structures and lastly pragmatics which describes the relationship existing between signs and the Impacts they have on people who use them.

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Semiotics is commonly understood to have important dimensions that are anthropological as it was proposed by Umberto that every phenomenon resulting from a particular culture can be studied as a form of communication although some semioticians mainly focus on logical dimensions in science and also examine those areas that belong to the natural science like how an organism can make a prediction and be able to adapt to an environment as it tries to perform best in the position it holds in the ecosystem.

Generally, theories that explain semiotics explain signs and sign systems to be their key objects of study. The term semiotic was derived from the Greek word semiotics, which meant the person who interprets the signs and when it was used for the first time in English it meant precisely the branch of science in the medical field dealing with the interpretation of signs concerning human understanding. semiotics argue that science can be categorized into three parts all of which fall within the scope of human understanding and one of them is the nature of all things and their relations in the way they operate.

The other category is anything which a man considers right to do using his rational thought and through voluntary basis to achieve satisfaction in form of happiness and lastly how the knowledge of the first two categories are attained and communicated. (Pavis, 2001)


People who study semiotic deal with the classification of signs or their systems regarding the way they are transmitted where the method of deriving the meaning of those signs depends on codes being used which can be individual sounds or even letters that human beings usually use in forming words and the body gestures that a person can make to communicate an attitude or a certain emotion he is undergoing.

A message can also be communicated through the kind of clothes that one wears especially when in public which is easily interpreted by the majority of his target group. This implies for the message to be conveyed or for a specific word to have a certain meaning the members of the community require to reach an agreement on some simple meaning of the same word within their community language since a particular word can only have a particular meaning within correct grammatical structures and correct codes within that language because different codes represent deferent values of that culture which imply that they can add shades to almost all aspects of life.

Understanding of relationship connecting semiotic and studies of communication requires one to understand the meaning of communication as mode and process of data transfer between the source and the recipient in a way that is efficient and as effective as possible. This explains why people dealing with communication theories design models that depend on the codes and media as well as the contexts of the message in explaining the psychology, biology, and all the mechanics involved.

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Semiotic and communication recognize that technical process is inseparable from the truth of the matter that the recipient of the information has to decode data and distinguish it as salient to extract meaning from it which indicate that there exists an important overlap linking communication and semiotics making the majority of the concepts to be shared even though in each of the two fields the emphasis is different. Priorities in semiotics are to study signification first then second communication and even on some extreme views they consider communication in semiotics as insignificant and irrelevant to apply. (Bertin, 2003)

Semiotic and linguistics

Semiotic is different from linguistics because it defines a sign in a general way encompassing signs in all mediums of sensory modality and in this way it widens the broad range of sign relation and sign system and makes the definition of language extend to its widest metaphorical as well as analogical sense. According to the definition of Peirce’s semiotic means study of features in signs that are necessary to distinguish this field from linguistic in that linguistics is the study of features that the language of the world happens to have acquired during the process of human evolution.

Semiology and philosophy of language

The difference between the two terms is more of the tradition than of the subject and even different authors have addressed themselves as semioticians or philosophers of language and the difference fails to match the distinction between continental and analytical philosophies though to some extent on closer look there are some differences concerning the subjects. Philosophy of language focuses its attention on natural languages or the general language while on the other hand semiotic is rooted deeply in the concern about the signification of non-linguistics and is nearer to some humanities while the philosophy of language connects strongly to linguistics.

History of semiotics

Throughout philosophy history as well as psychology the benefit of signs and signification has been recognized so well. Both Plato and Aristotle studied the relationship of the world and the signs while Augustine explored the nature of the signs existing in a conventional system and these theories gave rise to a lasting consequence in western philosophy and more so with scholastic philosophy. Umberto Eco argues in his semiotic and philosophy of language that theories of semiotic are implicit through the work of majority great thinkers. (Pavis, 2001)

Element of semiology

According to Saussure, there exist general science of which linguistic forms only a part and therefore semiology which is a general science system is aimed to accommodate all systems of signs regardless of the substance they have or even their limit and which include images, musical sounds, body gestures, physical objects as well as the complex association between all these components forming the content of ritual, public entertainment through media and all conventions. The analysis of these facts leaves no doubt that mass communication in the modern days holds a lot of relevance with the wide-field in signifying media’s discipline’s success like linguistics, the information theory, structural anthropology, and formal logic to gives semantic analysis in line with the new instrument.

Presently, there is a demand for the study of signs and their interpretations stemming from the history of the modern world although the facts still hold it strongly that this study remains a tentative science as opposed to Saussure thought because he thought linguistics just formed part of general science. Today it is beyond reasonable doubt that semiology applies inhuman life because there are extensive sign systems that are outside human language with concern in highway codes and situations where sociological significance is beyond superficial.

It then becomes true that physical objects, visual images, and patterns of one’s behavior can signify on a large scale although not autonomously. All known semiological systems have their linguistic admixture for example in the presence of a visual substance confirmation of the meaning is made possible through duplication in linguistic information as it happens with the cinema, comic strips, an advertisement, the press photography, and all other forms of the media communication to ensure that at least all or a part of a used iconic message in terms of the relationship of its structure is either redundant or is absorbed by the linguistic system.

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Regarding the collections of objects like clothes and food, these objects can only obtain pleasure from the system only if they can communicate the message which they are meant to signify in form of their use and the reasons attached to them. (Bertin, 2003)

The modern man is far beyond the former times and even with the spread of illustrations in pictorial form, he is more of a civilization of written words which implies that signs and written messages have to be coupled for one to obtain complete information. It would be increasingly harder to interpret a system comprising of images and objects whose signs do not depend on language and for a person to have a right perception about what an object or a sign signifies he has to depend on his language because all meanings are designated and language is the world of signs.

Semiology prospects

Garment system

Considering the issue of the garment that a person put on it can be subdivided under different systems depending on the specific substance directed towards a particular communication because the most important feature in the analysis of linguistics is the distinction between language and speech meaning it would be futile in proposing applying the separation directly to systems of images, objects as well as behavior patterns that have not been studied from semantic view. In analyzing the communication through clothing for example using a fashion magazine through the use of articulated language, practically there is no use of speech and the garment that is being described has never corresponded to the rules of handling the fashion of that particular individual being targeted.

The person who designs the magazine comes up with a set of systemized rules and signs and yet it qualifies to be a language in its pure form but according to the schema by Saussure, one can’t have a language that does not contain speech.

It is important to understand that what qualifies this fact to be acceptable is the fact that fashion language does not have its source from the mass peaking but rather from a group making a decision as well as deliberately elaborating the codes and also from the fact that abstraction inherent in all language, in this case, has been materialized to acquire the same status as a written language. It is therefore important for one to note that fashion clothes are a language at vestment level of communication and on the other hand is speech at the verbal communication level. (Pavis, 2001)

In the case of a photographed woman garment, one may argue that because there is no verbal description then there is no duplication but the language still manifest from the fashion group though it is not issued in an abstract form since a photographed garment can only be worn by an individual woman. A fashion photograph of a woman garment gives a semi-formalized form of the system of the garment because the fashion language, in this case, has to be related to a pseudo-real garment and the person who is wearing in this case the model photographed, is an individual who is normative and has been chosen for generality and she represents a fixed speech devoid of any combinative freedom.

semiology makes it clear that an image is not all about an image but rather a visual language whose function is a sign or a symbol to enhance communication in human beings as well as animals even if they do not know how to speak and can therefore be in language form or other various non-linguistic modes. For example, the Revlon image has many implications as far as its myth and the ideology it has is concerned like creating false ideas regarding how women ought to be and give society a hung up on an impossible perfection.

The Revlon image is a photo of a young woman which is enticing and has an effect like that the media portrays by telling everyone to look young. The image is white implying that it has a target group audience. It has porcelain skin that is making anyone think that she is perfect and also flawless although that is not real and the image it gives on our girls is a perfect goal that they can never achieve.

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The image of her head has been made to tilt up with her eyes also facing up creating an effect that everyone is looking at up as if she is above everyone in terms of power. Her light brown hair makes her appear likable and adds a lot of value to all the other unrealistic good qualities. If she happened to have a fat face or imperfect yellow teeth the whole picture of perfectionism would be destroyed. (Kreusch, 2004)


Semiotics represent methodology for us to analyze the text without much consideration to the modality and therefore text can be defined as any preserved message in an independent form both to the sender and the receiver. The study also improves ergonomic design if the situation requires human beings to interact with their environment in a more effective manner both on a large scale or small scale like when one wants to configure the instrument for a human being to use.

Semiotic as a study is currently slowly getting established as a respectable discipline where in some countries it is confined with its roles limited to Christian and audiovisual media appreciation which is a narrow focus inhibiting general study of society as well as political forces which have roles in shaping how media can be used and the status media has on the modern culture. Understanding the relationship between the sign which are well understood by our culture and the meaning they portray is important because it enhances quick communication even when only the signs have been used without any writing accompanying them. Once it is generally accepted by the majority worldwide then it will easily become a discipline to be practiced and studied.


Bertin J. (2003): semiology of graphics: university of Wisconsin press.

Pavis P. (2001): essays in the semiology of the theatre: PAJ publications.

Kreusch J. (2004): Dermoscopic semiology: Blackwell synergy.

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