Semiotics is the study of sign systems

Semiotics is the study of sign systems. It explores how words and other signs make meaning. In semiotics, a sign is anything that stands in for something other than itself. This lesson focuses primarily on linguistic signs.

The word ‘semiotics’ dates back to ancient Greece, but its use in modern linguistics was propelled in the 19th century with the research of Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure was a Swiss linguist who contributed greatly to the study of semiotics, also sometimes referred to as semiology.

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Scholars of modern linguistics understand that words do not have innate meanings. That is, when we say the word ‘rabbit’, it is not because those sounds or letter symbols have anything to do with the qualities of a small, furry herbivore. In fact, the word, sounds, and letters are all unrelated to the creature we call rabbit, except that humans have assigned a value to them.