Symbol

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A red octagon symbolizes "stop" even without the word. Blank stop sign octagon.svg
A red octagon symbolizes "stop" even without the word.
Wearing variously colored ribbons is a symbolic action that shows support for certain campaigns. White ribbon.svg
Wearing variously colored ribbons is a symbolic action that shows support for certain campaigns.

A symbol is a mark, sign or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different concepts and experiences. All communication (and data processing) is achieved through the use of symbols. Symbols take the form of words, sounds, gestures, ideas or visual images and are used to convey other ideas and beliefs. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a blue line might represent a river. Numerals are symbols for numbers. Alphabetic letters may be symbols for sounds. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose may symbolize love and compassion. The variable 'x', in a mathematical equation, may symbolize the position of a particle in space.

Contents

The academic study of symbols is semiotics. In cartography, an organized collection of symbols forms a legend for a map.

Etymology

The word symbol derives from the Greek σύμβολον symbolon, meaning "token, watchword" from σύν syn "together" and βάλλω bállō " "I throw, put." The sense evolution in Greek is from "throwing things together" to "contrasting" to "comparing" to "token used in comparisons to determine if something is genuine." Hence, "outward sign" of something. The meaning "something which stands for something else" was first recorded in 1590, in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene . [1]

Concepts and definitions

Symbols are a means of complex communication that often can have multiple levels of meaning. [2] Symbols are the basis of all human understanding and serve as vehicles of conception for all human knowledge. [3] Symbols facilitate understanding of the world in which we live, thus serving as the grounds upon which we make judgments. [4] In this way, people use symbols not only to make sense of the world around them, but also to identify and cooperate in society through constitutive rhetoric.

Human cultures use symbols to express specific ideologies and social structures and to represent aspects of their specific culture. Thus, symbols carry meanings that depend upon one's cultural background; in other words, the meaning of a symbol is not inherent in the symbol itself but is culturally learned. [2]

Heinrich Zimmer gives a concise overview of the nature, and perennial relevance, of symbols.

Concepts and words are symbols, just as visions, rituals, and images are; so too are the manners and customs of daily life. Through all of these a transcendent reality is mirrored. There are so many metaphors reflecting and implying something which, though thus variously expressed, is ineffable, though thus rendered multiform, remains inscrutable. Symbols hold the mind to truth but are not themselves the truth, hence it is delusory to borrow them. Each civilisation, every age, must bring forth its own." [5]

In the book Signs and Symbols, it is stated that

A symbol ... is a visual image or sign representing an idea -- a deeper indicator of a universal truth. [6]

Symbols and semiotics

Semiotics is the study of signs, symbols, and signification as communicative behavior. Semiotics studies focus on the relationship of the signifier and the signified, also taking into account interpretation of visual cues, body language, sound, and other contextual clues. Semiotics is linked with both linguistics and psychology. Semioticians thus not only study what a symbol implies, but also how it got its meaning and how it functions to make meaning in society. Symbols allow the human brain continuously to create meaning using sensory input and decode symbols through both denotation and connotation.

Psychoanalysis, rhetoric and archetypes

An alternative definition of symbol, distinguishing it from the term sign was proposed by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. In his studies on what is now called Jungian archetypes, a sign stands for something known, as a word stands for its referent. He contrasted a sign with a symbol: something that is unknown and that cannot be made clear or precise. An example of a symbol in this sense is Christ as a symbol of the archetype called self . [7]

Kenneth Burke described Homo sapiens as a "symbol-using, symbol making, and symbol misusing animal" to suggest that a person creates symbols as well as misuses them. One example he uses to indicate what he means by the misuse of symbol is the story of a man who, when told that a particular food item was whale blubber, could barely keep from throwing it up. Later, his friend discovered it was actually just a dumpling. But the man's reaction was a direct consequence of the symbol of "blubber" representing something inedible in his mind. In addition, the symbol of "blubber" was created by the man through various kinds of learning.

Burke goes on to describe symbols as also being derived from Sigmund Freud's work on condensation and displacement, further stating that symbols are not just relevant to the theory of dreams but also to "normal symbol systems". He says they are related through "substitution", where one word, phrase, or symbol is substituted for another in order to change the meaning.[ clarification needed ] In other words, if one person does not understand a certain word or phrase, another person may substitute a synonym or symbol in order to get the meaning across. However, upon learning the new way of interpreting a specific symbol, the person may change his or her already-formed ideas to incorporate the new information.

Jean Dalby Clift says that people not only add their own interpretations to symbols, they also create personal symbols that represent their own understanding of their lives: what she calls "core images" of the person. She argues that symbolic work with these personal symbols or core images can be as useful as working with dream symbols in psychoanalysis or counseling. [8]

William Indick suggests that the symbols that are commonly found in myth, legend, and fantasy fulfil psychological functions and hence are why archetypes such as "the hero," "the princess" and "the witch" have remained popular for centuries. [9]

Symbolic value

Symbols can carry symbolic value in three primary forms: Ideological, comparative, and isomorphic. [10] Ideological symbols such as religious and state symbols convey complex sets of beliefs and ideas that indicate "the right thing to do". Comparative symbols such as prestigious office addresses, fine art, and prominent awards indicate answers to questions of "better or worse" and "superior or inferior". Isomorphic symbols blend in with the surrounding cultural environment such that they enable individuals and organizations to conform to their surroundings and evade social and political scrutiny. Examples of symbols with isomorphic value include wearing professional dress during business meetings, shaking hands to greet others in the West, or bowing to greet others in the East. A single symbol can carry multiple distinct meanings such that it provides multiple types of symbolic value. [10]

Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich argued that, while signs are invented and forgotten, symbols are born and die. [11] There are, therefore, dead and living symbols. A living symbol can reveal to an individual hidden levels of meaning and transcendent or religious realities. For Tillich a symbol always "points beyond itself" to something that is unquantifiable and mysterious; symbols open up the "depth dimension of reality itself". [12] Symbols are complex, and their meanings can evolve as the individual or culture evolves. When a symbol loses its meaning and power for an individual or culture, it becomes a dead symbol. When a symbol becomes identified with the deeper reality to which it refers, it becomes idolatrous as the "symbol is taken for reality." The symbol itself is substituted for the deeper meaning it intends to convey. The unique nature of a symbol is that it gives access to deeper layers of reality which are otherwise inaccessible. [13]

Role of context in symbolism

A symbol's meaning may be modified by various factors including popular usage, history, and contextual intent.

Historical meaning

The history of a symbol is one of many factors in determining a particular symbol's apparent meaning. Consequently, symbols with emotive power carry problems analogous to false etymologies. [14]

Context

The context of a symbol may change its meaning. Similar five-pointed stars might signify a law enforcement officer or a member of the armed services, depending upon the uniform.

Symbols in cartography

The three categories of cartographic symbol shapes Cartographic Symbols.jpg
The three categories of cartographic symbol shapes

Symbols are used in cartography to communicate geographical information (generally as point, line, or area features). [15] As with other symbols, visual variables such as size, shape, orientation, texture, and pattern provide meaning to the symbol. [16] According to semiotics, map symbols are "read" by map users when they make a connection between the graphic mark on the map (the sign), a general concept (the interpretant), and a particular feature of the real world (the referent). Map symbols can thus be categorized by how they suggest this connection: [17] [18]

A symbolic action is an action that has no, or little, practical effect but symbolizes, or signals, what the actor wants or believes. The action conveys meaning to the viewers. Symbolic action may overlap with symbolic speech, such as the use of flag burning to express hostility or saluting the flag to express patriotism. [19] In response to intense public criticism, businesses, organizations, and governments may take symbolic actions rather than, or in addition to, directly addressing the identified problems. [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

Sign semiotic concept; object, quality, event, or entity whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else; includes words, punctuation, expressions, gestures, notices, road signs, symbols, pictures, etc.

A sign is an object, quality, event, or entity whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else. A natural sign bears a causal relation to its object—for instance, thunder is a sign of storm, or medical symptoms a sign of disease. A conventional sign signifies by agreement, as a full stop signifies the end of a sentence; similarly the words and expressions of a language, as well as bodily gestures, can be regarded as signs, expressing particular meanings. The physical objects most commonly referred to as signs generally inform or instruct using written text, symbols, pictures or a combination of these.

Semiotics is the study of sign process (semiosis), which is any form of activity, conduct, or any process that involves signs, including the production of meaning. A sign is anything that communicates a meaning, that is not the sign itself, to the interpreter of the sign. The meaning can be intentional such as a word uttered with a specific meaning, or unintentional, such as a symptom being a sign of a particular medical condition. Signs can communicate through any of the senses, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or gustatory.

Symbolism or symbolist may refer to:

Symbolic communication is the exchange of messages that change a priori expectation of events. Examples of this are modern communication technology and the exchange of information amongst animals. By referring to objects and ideas not present at the time of communication, a world of possibility is opened. In humans, this process has been compounded to result in the current state of modernity. A symbol is anything one says or does to describe something, and that something can have an array of many meanings. Once the symbols are learned by a particular group, that symbol stays intact with the object. Symbolic communication includes gestures, body language and facial expressions, as well as vocal moans that can indicate what an individual wants without having to speak. Research argues that about 55% of all communication stems from nonverbal language. Symbolic communication ranges from sign language to braille to tactile communication skills.

In semiotics, a sign is anything that communicates a meaning that is not the sign itself to the interpreter of the sign. The meaning can be intentional such as a word uttered with a specific meaning, or unintentional, such as a symptom being a sign of a particular medical condition. Signs can communicate through any of the senses, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or taste.

Symbology concerns the study of symbols.

In semiotics, a modality is a particular way in which information is to be encoded for presentation to humans, i.e. to the type of sign and to the status of reality ascribed to or claimed by a sign, text, or genre. It is more closely associated with the semiotics of Charles Peirce (1839–1914) than Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) because meaning is conceived as an effect of a set of signs. In the Peircean model, a reference is made to an object when the sign is interpreted recursively by another sign, a conception of meaning that does in fact imply a classification of sign types.

In semiotics, connotation arises when the denotative relationship between a signifier and its signified is inadequate to serve the needs of the community. A second level of meanings is termed connotative. These meanings are not objective representations of the thing, but new usages produced by the language group.

Representation (arts) art technique

Representation is the use of signs that stand in for and take the place of something else. It is through representation that people organize the world and reality through the act of naming its elements. Signs are arranged in order to form semantic constructions and express relations.

In linguistics, meaning is the information or concepts that a sender intends to convey, or does convey, in communication with a receiver.

In semiotics, the meaning of a sign is its place in a sign relation, in other words, the set of roles that it occupies within a given sign relation.

Carl Jung understood archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct. They are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world. They are autonomous and hidden forms which are transformed once they enter consciousness and are given particular expression by individuals and their cultures. In Jungian psychology, archetypes are highly developed elements of the collective unconscious. The existence of archetypes can only be inferred indirectly from stories, art, myths, religions, or dreams.

Social semiotics is a branch of the field of semiotics which investigates human signifying practices in specific social and cultural circumstances, and which tries to explain meaning-making as a social practice. Semiotics, as originally defined by Ferdinand de Saussure, is "the science of the life of signs in society". Social semiotics expands on Saussure's founding insights by exploring the implications of the fact that the "codes" of language and communication are formed by social processes. The crucial implication here is that meanings and semiotic systems are shaped by relations of power, and that as power shifts in society, our languages and other systems of socially accepted meanings can and do change.

Neosymbolism is a movement current in the visual arts genre. Active in the movement are artists in the United States, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Canada.

Visual semiotics is a sub-domain of semiotics that analyses the way visual images communicate a message.

Semiotics in popular music, or mesomusica, is different from semiotics in other musical forms, because pop music denotes a cultural object.. Popular music has many signs in itself because it has many components and uses, but it also appeals to the emotions of a generation. Music is the “logical expression” of feelings, a “symbolic form”. Music videos are an example of syntagm, which interacting signifiers form a meaningful whole. Music videos are also considered multimodal genres because one semiotic system is joined syntagmatically to another semiotic system, which results in a signified indexical meaning. The process of music correlated with visuals can be described in terms of two basic mechanisms: temporal synchronicity and cross-modal homology. Incorporating the two modalities, sound and image, we can interpret it as a unified syntagm. Music videos are known to be visually secondary signified in combination with the semantic content of the lyrics. Semiotics in music videos is different from a pragmatic analysis because we can uphold that semiotics searches for meaning by considering sign production and progress, while pragmatics searches for meaning by considering the intentions of semantics and the context it has evolved in.

Semiotics of Fashion is the study of fashion and how humans signify specific social and cultural positions through dress. Ferdinand de Saussure defined semiotics as "the science of the life of signs in society". Semiotics is the study of signs and just as we can interpret signs and construct meaning from text we can also construct meaning from visual images such as fashion. Fashion is a language of signs that non-verbally converse meanings about individuals and groups. It holds a symbolic and communicative role having the capacity to express one's unique style, identity, profession, social status, and gender or group affiliation.

The semiotics of dress is a term used to refer to the design and customs associated with dress (clothing), as patterned to a kind of symbolism that has rules and norms. It is the study of how people use clothing and adornments to signify various cultural and societal positions.

Signified and signifier concepts in linguistics

The terms signified and signifier are most commonly related to semiotics, which is defined by Oxford Dictionaries Online as "the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation". Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the two founders of semiotics, introduced these terms as the two main planes of a sign. The first pertains to the "plane of content" while the latter is the "plane of expression".

In art, symbolic language refers to the use of characters or images to represent concepts. Symbolic language in art uses imagery to communicate meaning by displaying an accessible concept, the signifier, to represent a signified concept.

References

  1. Online Etymological Dictionary
  2. 1 2 Womack, Mari. Symbols and Meaning: A Concise Introduction. California: AltaMira Press, 2005.
  3. Langer, Susanne K. A Theory of Art, Developed From: Philosophy in a New Key. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953.
  4. Palczewski, Catherine, and Ice, Richard, and Fritch, John. Rhetoric in Civic Life. Pennsylvania: Strata Publishing, Inc., 2012.
  5. Campbell, Heinrich Zimmer; edited by Joseph (1969). Philosophies of India (9. paperback print. ed.). Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN   0-691-01758-1.
  6. Dorling Kindersley Limited. Signs and Symbols. p.6. ISBN   978-0-7566-3393-6. 2008
  7. Christ, A symbol of the self CW vol 9i Aion RKP 1958
  8. Jean Dalby Clift, Core Images of the Self: A Symbolic Approach to Healing and Wholeness. Crossroad, 1992. [ page needed ]
  9. Indick, William. Ancient Symbology in Fantasy Literature: A Psychological Study. Jefferson: McFarland &, 2012. Print.
  10. 1 2 Schnackenberg, Andrew K.; Bundy, Jonathan; Coen, Corinne; Westphal, James (2019). "Capitalizing on Categories of Social Construction: A Review and Integration of Organizational Research on Symbolic Management Strategies". Academy of Management Annals. 13 (2): 375–413. doi:10.5465/annals.2017.0096.
  11. Tillich, Paul (1964). Theology of Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 58. ISBN   0195007115.
  12. Tillich, Paul (1964). Theology of Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 59. ISBN   0195007115.
  13. Tillich, Paul (1964). Theology of Culture. Oxford University Press. p. 54. ISBN   0195007115.
  14. Compare: Basso, Michele (1982). Eschatological symbolism in the Vatican Necropolis. Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana. p. 700. Retrieved 2019-01-05. In a late period the Greeks made [Pan] the incarnation of All (giving a false etymology to his name, which is really connected with the pastures), that is to say, the universe.
  15. Tyner, Judith A. (2010). Principles of map design. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN   9781606235447. OCLC   437300476.
  16. Dent, Borden D.; Torguson, Jeffrey; Hodler, T. W. (2008-08-21). Cartography : thematic map design (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN   978-0072943825. OCLC   184827987.
  17. MacEachren, Alan (1995) How Maps Work: Representation, visualization, and design, New York: Guilford Press
  18. Dent, Borden D. (1999). Cartography : thematic map design (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN   0697384950.
  19. Bagossy, Renate. The Difficulty of the Amendment Process of the Constitution of the United States of America and Freedom of Speech and its limits . GRIN Verlag; 2008-08-11 [cited 5 November 2012]. ISBN   9783640129546. p. 16–17.
  20. Bednar, Michael Kay. How Symbolic Action Affects the Media as a Governance Mechanism . ProQuest; 2008. ISBN   9780549738817. p. 17.