Semiotics, ‘the study of signs’, is a very, very confusing field. As such I hope to simplify it somewhat in this blog post as much of the information I’ve found on the internet does little to help in that respect. Semiotics is a visual language and suggests that any image or ‘sign‘ can fit into one of the following categories: icon, index or symbol. To understand how to categorise a sign we must first develop an understanding of these aforementioned categories.
An icon can be described as something that resembles what it stands for.
This portrait is an icon as it is a photo of Barack Obama and represents exactly what we see
This drawing of a butterfly is also an icon as it physically resembles it’s meaning
An index points to what is describes through a link between the image and a sensory feature.
A footprint is an index as it is not a foot but is a sign that one was present before
A fantastic project called ‘Chineasy‘ created by Shao Lan and an illustrator named Noma Bar hopes to use index signs to develop an easy method of learning Chinese. They use illustration incorporated with a character to represent it’s meaning. Above we see the Chinese character for ‘tree’ presented as a tree!
There is no logical correlation between a symbol and what they represent, that is to say that although an image can be understood to mean something as a symbol, it does not need to bear any resemblance to what it represents.
A red heart is widely understood as a symbol for love, though as an emotion love has no physical form.
A cross is a sign for Christianity as it has lost dependence on resemblance over time
Port, R. (2004) ICON, INDEX and SYMBOL (Short Version) http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~port/teach/103/sign.symbol.short.html
Boulton, M. (2005) Icons, Symbols and a Semiotic Web http://www.markboulton.co.uk/journal/icons-symbols-and-a-semiotic-web
Hashemi, A. (2011) Semiotic Studies: Icon, Index and Symbols http://semitopia.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/icon-index-and-symbols_8301.html