Also known as semiology or as theory of signs , semiotics is a type of science that manages to study the way in which signs are used within the communication process to be able to shape and transmit different messages or meanings. It is a theory that belongs to the human and social sciences as it is part of the interaction established by individuals in order to communicate properly.


What is semiotics?

Semiotics is a type of scientific discipline that studies the different signs with which meaning can be built and transmitted when the communication process occurs . It is a theory of language that defines the sign as the minimum unit within the sentence.

  • Definition
  • Characteristics of semiotics
  • History
  • Function
  • Branches
  • Types
  • Semiotics of art
  • Legal semiotics
  • Cultural semiotics
  • Wardrobe semiotics
  • Musical semiotics
  • Visual semiotics
  • Literary semiotics
  • Semiotics in architecture
  • Importance
  • Representatives
  • Examples


Semiotics is a type of discipline that is responsible for studying signs , which are used to represent ideas or objects . It is in charge of studying how to interpret and produce the senses from specific signs. It is a science that studies and analyzes the phenomena and sign systems that are part of language as well as the discourses that are developed in order to produce something with meaning.


Characteristics of semiotics

Among its main features are the following:

  • Study images , icons , codes, and objects that already have an established meaning.
  • It encompasses all kinds of communication system in man’s society.
  • Study the formal nature of a certain sign.
  • It is part of the field of semantics .
  • It covers all types of communication that are present within a society.


Semiotics is actually an ancient science because experts consider that it already existed since ancient civilizations . Plato and Aristotle were in charge of making many reflections on the way in which language had originated and analyzed the relationship between the different signs that were used at the time. During the Middle Ages, semiotics continued to advance and many scholars took it upon themselves to continue the analysis.

By the middle of the 19th century , Charles Sanders Peirce was in charge of proposing a completely new theory related to signs and that is how they began to be called icons and indices. At the beginning of the 20th century, Ferdinand Saussure was in charge of studying the process through which a symbol acquired a specific meaning.


The main function of semiotics is the study of the different forms of communication that occur between human beings, not only language or words , but all those systems formed by signs that make it possible for messages to be exchanged between men .


Semiotics is divided into three fundamental branches which are:

  • Semantics : study the relationship between meanings and signifiers, in other words, analyze what words mean.
  • Onomasiology : gives names to the different objects and also establishes the names for a certain thing.
  • Semasiology : studies the relationship that exists between a certain object and the name that has been given to it.
  • Pragmatic : studies the relationship between the signifier and the user in order to establish how human beings use the different signs to communicate.


There are the following types of semiology:

  • Semiotics of communication : it gives importance to the communication process between the sender and the receiver and establishes that for this process to be carried out, the intention of communication by means of signs is needed.
  • Semiotics of the narrative : it is presented in the different types of texts that exist taking into account the narrative structure of the same. It is a medium that guarantees solidity in the way objects and messages are constructed.
  • Semiotics of signification : it is a process through which the texts that circulate within society can be understood using signs that produce a specific meaning.
  • Discursive semiotics : studies all messages and discourses as a type of significant reality which is made up of organized and successive levels that go from a superficial point to the most important.

Semiotics of art

It is the way in which an attempt is made to search for the encoded meaning of aesthetic objects through union with a collective consciousness. In this case, the images are understood from the point of view of whoever observes them and the artist is supplanted by the observer who is the one who gives the meaning to the work.

Legal semiotics

It is the science that is responsible for the study of symbols that have been created by man in specific situations . Analyze the meanings of the same and the way in which the meaning can vary over time.

Cultural semiotics

In this case, semiotics is mainly based on the realization of studies on the sign systems that are found or that have been created by a specific culture . It also studies the communication processes that occur between different cultures through the production of signs and the exchange of messages.

Wardrobe semiotics

In this case, it refers to the way of perceiving a person depending on their body language and the personal appearance they have. In other words, the way someone dresses, the type of clothing they wear and the elements convey a certain message that is received and interpreted by others.

Musical semiotics

It involves the study of the different processes by which music can acquire a certain meaning for a person. It is a type of music theory that has been established in order to develop analysis models for musical works.

Visual semiotics

It is a science that studies the interpretation of images , objects, gestures and expressions of the body in order to have a better understanding of what is displayed at that moment. Here we find sign language , works of art, cartoons and billboards.

Literary semiotics

Literary semiotics is the one that takes care of all the signs and the possible encodings that they have within a text. The sign here is then seen as a sensible form that refers to a specific object which also has a specific meaning and serves to express or communicate ideas . 

Semiotics in architecture

In the field of architecture it is used to be able to choose the most suitable forms , finishes and designs for a certain client, always taking into account the feelings of the person, the perception of the same when entering a certain space and the way of feeling before a determined construction. It is a way of finding an optimal balance between what the client wants and what will eventually be built. Within architecture, it is seen as the meaning and language of the work in which important feelings and sensations are transmitted, which are seen as art.


Semiotics is considered important mainly within studies related to language and the way in which human beings can communicate . It also plays an important role within the field of psychology and society, which in part are very important within the field of communication. Another important aspect is that it is closely related to knowledge and how signs or symbols can help us achieve it.


The main representatives were:

  • Charles Sanders Peirce : He was an American philosopher who developed semiotic theory and also developed symbolic logic.
  • Raimon Llull who had the ideal that there was a perfect language that could be used so that all men could communicate.
  • Ronal Barthes: he classified the signs in an artificial way because for him, their functioning was given by their structure and this, according to his theory, works depending on the society in which one lives.
  • Fardinad de Saussure: proposed to eliminate the study of language seen from its historical point of view in order to be able to analyze them from a more structural point of view.


Some examples of semiotics are the following:

  • Deaf-mute sign language.
  • The hieroglyphs of antiquity that were used to express ideas.
  • Traffic signs such as stop, yield, turn left or right.
  • To show where emergency exits are located in a building.
  • To indicate prohibitions as in the signs that indicate “no smoking”.

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