Semiotics: Just What Is It?

Signs and Symbols, we see them everyday in all walks of life, what is the difference? To ask this question is to first question what Semiotics is. Semiotics is the study behind Signs and Symbols and their use and interpretation. Now in relation to the study, there are two most notable theories that subscribe directly to Semiotics, the works of: Charles Sanders Pierce and Ferdinand de Saussure, of whom both theorize that there is a distinction between a physical object and its meaning.

The differences between their theories is that Saussure believe there to be two telling things with any object: Signifier (The physical concept of something) vs Signified (The mental concept of something). Peirce thought differently, he believe that there were three distinct things that separate the distinction: Sign (Word or an Image) vs Object (Physical real world object) vs Interpretation (How an individual would think about said object)

To illustrate best, i’ll show you Saussure’s theory in visual means;

OpenSign OpenSign

Here is an ‘Open Sign’, you see these everyday in local shops. These are a perfect example of Semiotics in terms of depicting Signs and Symbols. Using Saussure’s illustration of Signifier vs Signified, located next to the right of the sign, we can begin to deconstruct what is going on.

Signifier (The actual object): Which in this case is the ‘Open Sign’ itself or the word ‘Open’

Signified (The mental concept): Which is the insinuation that the shop is ‘Open’ for business

From here what we see is that the object is giving the viewer an interpretation that the shop in question is open for business.


Ferdinand de Saussure:

Charles Sanders Peirce:

Semiotics Research #1:

Semiotics Research #2:


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