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The Peircean Sign

The Peircean Sign

C.S Peirce’s sign is a constitution of three elements: Sign (Sign-Vehicle), Object, and Interpretant[1].

– The object is generally any object with all its characteristics (The complete object): for example, a paint bucket.

– A sign is that part that retains the attention of the interpreter. Let’s say, for example, a piece of red paper around the bucket.

– The interpretant is the effect that the relationship between the object and the sign has on the interpreter: In other words, it is the meaning that the interpreter deduces by observing the relationship between the sign and the object: In this case, the red paper indicates that the bucket contains red paint[2].

Three Types of Signs by C.S Peirce

By observing the relationship between signs and objects, C.S Peirce distinguished 3 types of signs. Let’s organize them in order of difficulty, from the easiest to interpret to the most difficult.

1. Icon

When the sign resembles the object physically, it is referred to as an “icon”. Icons could be portraits or images. They are easy to interpret. For example, a simple image of a bicycle (sign) represents a real bicycle (object).

2. Index

When there is a natural or causal relationship[3] between the sign and the object, the sign is called “index”.Smoke (sign) as a sign of the existence of fire (Object) is a good example of a cause and effect relationship.

3. Symbol

When the only relation that links the sign with the object is “convention”, we are dealing with “symbols”. Although they are general, they resemble the linguistic signs of Ferdinand de Saussure in the idea of arbitrariness. Therefore, words and colors in varied contexts, for instance, are symbols.

[1] In the following lines, we will limit our focus to the first account of the Peircean theory of sign, seen for the first time in his article “On A New List of Categories” (1867-1868). However, it is imprecise, incomplete, and less developed. Cf. (Atkin)

[2] Cf. (Charles Sanders Peirce: La Sémiotique / Signo – Théories Sémiotiques Appliquées)

[3] It means a logical relationship of cause and effect.

“The Peircean Sign” is part of:

Khettab, Sid Ahmed. Semiotics and Semiology: From Sign to Semiosis and From Code to Discourse [Course]. 2021. (Datacite) [Online Article]

KHETTAB, Sid Ahmed. Semiotics and Semiology: From Sign to Semiosis and From Code to Discourse. Independently published, 2021, [Paperback]

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