Use of Signs and Symbols as Important Forms of Communication

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Use of Signs and Symbols as Important Forms of Communication

Signs. They're everywhere. Though this statement is in no way enlightening, it is none the less very true. Within our culture, we are so completely surrounded by signs of all types that they become nearly invisible unless they are looked for. Though this likely seems true to you upon some reflection, it is just as likely that you have only considered "signs" in the most basic literal sense, that is, signs such as those that offer directions to the nearest parking lot or those denoting street names. However, semiologists1 consider signs in a much more broad manner. To semiologists, signs include both verbal and non-verbal2 communications, as well as objects or
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The object is of course what both of these phenomena refer to, though the interpretant may only be an aspect or quality of the original object. It is important to note that this is a dynamic process and does not end after this chain has run its course, but rather is a continuous loop. The next time the object is encountered, the interpretant may become the new representamen, and a more refined interpretant may be developed over time and experience (Smith 60). Looking at the stop sign as our example, the sign would function as a representamen for an intersection that has been deemed an appropriate place for vehicles to stop before entry by the local government, that is, the object. The interpretant that is first formed for the driver is the idea that he or she should stop. Over time this will evolve slightly, perhaps into an attitude such as, "I don't really need to come to a full stop, provided there aren't any cops around."

A key point within this model is that a sign must be recognized as such in order to act as a sign. This may seem almost absurdly obvious, but it is important to remember that the loop of semiosis that was just described must be entered for a first time at some point (Smith 62). Coming back to our example of the stop sign, if a traveler from a foreign land4 first came upon a stop sign next to a street, its meaning and function would not at all be obvious; it may be a decoration or some functional object whose
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