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Rhetoric and Semiotics

John Lyne


Semiotics is the study of →  signs and signification, including both linguistic and nonlinguistic signs (→  Linguistics ; semiotics ; Sign Systems ). The American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), who coined the term and did innovative work in the area, regarded it as the study of that which supports inferences; that is to say, of how signs enable interpretive inference to other signs. Peirce held that all we know or experience comes to us through the mediation of signs. He did not hold that all signification is solely the product of social convention or of language proper, maintaining that signs serve as tools for scientific investigation as well as for the exploration of human creations (→  Language and Social Interaction ). One consequence of this view is that all inquiry is semiotic inquiry. Another lineage of semiotics, usually designated by the term “semiology,” grows out of a tradition of European →  structuralism traced back to the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, and carried forward by such writers as →  Roland Barthes , Roman Jakobson, and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. In this tradition, emphasis is placed on the social structuring of meaning and the rendering of cultural forms as texts. In contrast to Peirce, this tradition places emphasis on the arbitrariness of signs and on binary structures of meaning. Umberto Eco has helped to bridge ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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