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Steven Skaggs :
TUT: Sign;
Wed, 12 Jun 1996 11:36:14 -0400

Responding to Paul:

>  [Fiske] thinks of signs as the
>basic signifying construct.

Signs signify
Signs are a construct (ie: a complex of parts, put together)

I believe there is common agreement on this in the different systems.

>A sign is something physical [as opposed to idea]

I think both Peircian and Saussurian traditions deny the necessity of this,
although it is akin to the vernacular usage and therefore accessible to
students. Saussure speaks of a physical expression (sound pattern, for
example) and a concept which come together to make a sign. Peirce's own
terminology floats around but the sign is essentially the coming into
relation of an object-representamen-interpretant cluster.

So a sign need NOT be physical.

(Furthermore, the notion of 'physical' is itself an interpretant that is
the result of sign-action. The beauty of Peirce is that one can get beyond
physical-mental divisions.)

>perceivable by our senses.

Here Saussurian practice implicitly assumes human interaction and sense
pickup, although the SIGNIFIER would be the thing sensed. Extensions from
Peirce, most clearly the work of Sebeok, have made it clear that human
senses are not required. The terminology avoids the idea of sensation as a
sticky wicket. The sensation itself is already an interpretant and cannot
be divided out from the process of semiosis. It just occupies a particular
scale in, for instance, human semiosis.

 > It refers to something other than itself.

A closer Peircian rendering might be:
Something that stands for something else to somebody in some respect or

A relation of a signifier and a signified.

In either case, it does not necessarily have to refer to something other
than itself (although it may usually do so). Indeed, in Eco's version
(following Jakobson) of the aesthetic sign, its salient feature is its

But there may be agreement that it signifies,
and that by signifying, it refers,
and that reference involves interpretation.

So signifying and referring are near synonyms, one suggesting a more
defined (specific) link, the other a more vague connection (less specific).
The idea of interpretation (as opposed to interpretant) suggests the
process from the point of view of an agent - something doing the

>A sign has to be
>recognized by its users as a sign.

No, I think that if it is a mediational event between
representamen-object-interpretant, then it is a sign (period. amen.). I
don't see Saussurian or Peircian perspectives wanting to mess with the
notion of recognition. Perhaps what is meant is that the sign operates in a
code system that is an adopted set of conventions.

I think there may be agreement that signs operate within code systems.
Natural law, language, etc are such structures.

>Paul Rousseau
Steven Skaggs

>> McCarthy: "Even machines as simple as thermostats can be said to have
<< Searle: "What beliefs does your thermostat have?"
>> McCarthy: "My thermostat has three beliefs - it is too hot in here, it
>>is too cold in here, and it is just right in here."

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