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Pages in this series:
» Better communication?
» Sending Messages  
» Perception  
» Signs and more signs
» Codes  
» Redundancy  


What is a "Sign"?

A Sign = Something which refers to something other than itself.

Signs can be literal "signs", such as a sale notice in a store window. Words and images are all signs (as they always refer to something besides themselves). Behaviors are often signs, as are mental concepts such as metaphors or equations that "stand for" some other reality.

Examples of the different parts of a SIGN -- the sign, its physical form, what it refers to (or "signifies"), and how it might be interpreted.


Physical Form of the Sign

Referent / Signified
What object or concept does the sign refer to?

Mental Concept
The "sense" or interpretation of the sign


words, letters, or spoken sounds

a particular food: two pieces of bread with something else edible between them is the determining factor

  • pastrami on rye
  • PB & J
  • lunch
  • wedged between two things
The stock market Bull

photo, ink on paper, letters

Male adult cow with horns.

  • Rising values on the Stock Market.
  • Optimistic attitude about economy or a particular segment/stock.
Slamming Door

shutting a door with a loud noise (i.e. action plus sound)

emotional state

  • anger
  • carelessness
  • hurry
  • relief, safety
  • rejecting
  • poorly brought up
Women's sign for rest room

stylized figure, many possible materials.

bathroom, toilet for women's use.

  • women's room
  • gender notions (how woman represented)
  • notion that genders should be separated in certain situations
Blonde woman lounging on hood of a sleek sports car


Juxtaposition of woman and car.

Car for sale

  • sexual desire
  • speed
  • the good life
  • youth, beauty
  • "making it"

The next page Are signs "real"? looks at how signs communicate "reality" -- symbols and icons, analog vs digital signs, literal and cultural representations.

« Perception    Are signs "real"? »

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