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The Secrets of Semiotics


AKA the ‘science of signs.’

But what does this really mean?

According to this article by Sign Salad,

“Semiotics is an investigation into how meaning is created and how meaning is communicated. Its origins lie in the academic study of how signs and symbols (visual and linguistic) create meaning. It is a way of seeing the world, and of understanding how the landscape and culture in which we live has a massive impact on all of us unconsciously.”

Semiotics is not just one single theory. There are actually several semiotic theories, formulated by multiple people including de Saussure, Peirce, Morris, HjelmslevJakobson, Barthes, Greimas, and Eco.

For deSaussure and Peirce, the signifier and signified are inseparable, one cannot exist without the other, and one always implicates the other.

In his version the signifier and signified are arbitrarily linked and inseparable. They create meaning simultaneously, together.

This means that every sign has a denotation (signifier) and connotation (signified).

Using Semiotics:

For example:

When I looked at this image my understanding was…

Denotation = two (well dressed) young boys; one smiling, one frowning.

Connotation = one boy is happy because he got enough sleep, one boy is grumpy because he is tired.

I believe my understanding reflects the creators preferred interpretation of the image.

However, this interpretation directly conflicts with Tumblr user professorgo’s opinion which is that the smiling boy got less sleep.

As such, it is important to remember that almost all images can be interpreted in more than one way…

Example #2

How about we look at this (adorable) Volkswagen Advertisement?

Image Source:

The signifiers include: Three see through, water filled, plastic bags containing goldfish in a line. A small (very cute) hedgehog lined up between two of the goldfish. A simple white background. The text
“Precision parking. Parking assist by Volkswagen” and further right of the text there is the Volkswagen logo.

The signified: Because the animals are lined up so close together it is implied that the fish are vulnerable to the sharp quills of the hedgehog which is symbolic of the fear of damaging a car when parallel parking. As such, this Ad has used semiotics to communicate an idea to their audience in an effective and creative way.

So next time you look at an image, see if you can work out what’s literally there and how that triggers different ideas…

I’d love to hear what you think, leave a comment below!


R. Nordquist, (2018), “Definition and Examples of Semiotics”. Available at:[Accessed at 27/03/19]

L. Herbert, (2019), “Elements of Semiotics”. Available at: [Accessed: 27/03/19]


2 thoughts on “The Secrets of Semiotics

  1. Hi! This blog reads super well, I really like the use of multiple examples to further push your point. I used the concept of context in my interpretation blog as a reason for the reasons messages can be interpreted in different ways, like you did for your first example. I find context heavily contributes to ones perception of the ‘signified’. The only thing I could suggest (and this is just how I would have done it, so it doesn’t mean much) is adding the theories throughout your examples instead of heavily at the beginning, but again this was an awesome read!

    Liked by 1 person

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