The word for the day was suggested by a former Kindergarten classmate. Carolyn, a retired university music librarian, brought Semiotics to our attention after reading yesterday’s posts on hermeneutics. She knew the word but had had to look it up at least seven times, but could no longer remember what it meant.
The request took us online to the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Semiotics.
Semiotics, also called Semiology, the study of signs and sign-using behaviour. It was defined by one of its founders, the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, as the study of “the life of signs within society.” Although the word was used in this sense in the 17th century by the English philosopher John Locke, the idea of semiotics as an interdisciplinary mode for examining phenomena in different fields emerged only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the independent work of Saussure and of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.
Click HERE for the Encyclopaedia Britannica‘s one page entry, ending with references and links to the influence of Semiotics in the fields of aesthetics, anthropology, psychoanalysis, communications, and semantics. The Britannica doesn’t mention hermeneutics, although the relation between them is that of kissing cousins. Both understand us humans as meaning-makers who create meaning by means of signs and language.
Most students of hermeneutics and semiotics disagree with religious fundamentalism’s view that meaning already exists and that the human task is to find it, as in the statement often made at times of death that “God has a better plan.” The role of the divine, if one supposes it, is as creative Spirit beneath the human spirit, always creating, never finished, never pre-determined. Scholars in theology, philosophy, anthropology, and linguistics can no longer do their work honestly without going through the Semiotics door of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Tampa, FL, January 22, 2016