Signifier and Signified

The sign is the unified whole that results from the association of a sound with a concept.

Signifier -A sound or group of sounds, an image, or a symbol that stands for an object or concept.

Signified-A concept or meaning as distinguished from the sign through which it is communicated.

  1. Iconic signs — icons are signs where meaning is based on similarity of appearance. So our drawing of our tree stands in for the notion of ‘tree’ based on a crude similarity of appearance.
  2. Indexical signs — Indexical signs have a cause-and-effect relationship between the sign and the meaning of the sign. There is a direct link between the two. So a leaf might be an indexical sign.
  3. Symbolic signs — these signs have an arbitrary or conventional link. The word tree, t-r-e-e only comes to stand in for the notion of a tree because of the conventions of our language. In another convention.

In each case, the sign can be broken into two parts, the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the thing, item, or code that we ‘read’ — so, a drawing, a word, a photo. Each signifier has a signified, the idea or meaning being expressed by that signifier. Only together do they form a sign. There is often no intrinsic or direct relationship between a signifier and a signified — no signifier-signified system is ‘better’ than another. Language is flexible, constructed, and changeable.