Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics Thomas Albert Sebeok

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The phenomenon that distinguishes life forms from inanimate objects is semiosis. This can be defined simply as the instinctive capacity of all living organisms to produce and understand signs. sign is any physical form that has been imagine or made externally
(through some physical medium) to stand for an object, eyent, feeling, etc., known as a referent, or for a class of similar (or related) objects, events, feelings, etc., known as a referential domain.
In human life, signs serve many functions. They allow people to recognize pattern in things; they act as predictive guides or plans for taking actions; they serve as exemplars of specific kinds of phenomena; and the list could go on and on.

The English word cat, for example, is an example of a particular kind of human sign –
known as verbal- which stands for a referent that can be described as a ‘carnivorous mammal with a tail, whiskers, and retractile claws.
Each species produces and understands certain kinds of specific signs for which it has been programmed by its biology. These can range from simple bodily signals to advanced symbolic structures such as words. Signs allow each species to

(1) signal its existence,
(2) communicate messages within the species, and

(3) model incoming information from the external world.

Semiotics is the science that studies these functions. The goal of this opening chapter is to introduce several basic notions for the formal study of semiosis.


  • Introduction: Thomas A. Sebeok and the Science of Signs
  • 1. The Study of Signs. A Biological Approach to the Study of Signs. Messages. The Sign. Signs and ‘Reality’
  • 2. Six Species of Signs. General Features of Signs. Six Species of Signs. Signal. Symptom. Icon. Index. Symbol. Name. On the Being, Behaving, and Becoming of Signs
  • 3. Symptom Signs. The Meaning of Symptom. The Peircean View. Symptoms and the Medical Origins of Semiotics. Interpreting Symptoms
  • 4. Indexical Signs. Indexicality. Features of Indexicality. Manifestations of Indexicality. The Study of Indexicality
  • 5. Iconic Signs. Iconicity. The Incidence of Iconicity. Features of Iconicity. The Study of Iconicity
  • 6. Fetish Signs. The Origin of Fetishism as ‘Deviation’. The Fetish in Psychology and Sexology. The Fetish in Semiotics
  • 7. Language Signs. The Study of the Verbal Sign. Verbal and Non-verbal Signing
  • 8. Language as a Primary Modelling System? Modelling System. Uexkull’s Model Revisited.
  • Language as a Modelling System.

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