Key Difference – Iconic vs Symbolic Signs
Semiotics is a subfield of linguistics that study signs and symbols. Sign in semiotics can be basically interpreted as something that can represent something else. A sign is anything that creates meaning. Signs can be categorized into three main groups known as iconic signs, indexical signs, and symbolic signs. The key difference between iconic and symbolic signs is in how meaning is associated with these signs. An iconic sign bears a physical resemblance to its meaning or concept whereas a symbolic sign has no resemblance to the material form and the mental concept associated with it.
What is an Iconic Sign?
A sign is composed of two elements known as the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the sign’s physical form, and the signified is the meaning or idea expressed by the sign. Thus, the signifier can be a printed word, sound, image, etc. In iconic sign, the signifier and the signified bear a strong physical resemblance.
Iconic sign is also known as an icon. This is the simplest out of all three classification of signs where the signifier resembles what it stands for. For example, a picture of your face is an iconic symbol for you. Similarly, a picture of the ocean is an iconic symbol of the sea. Some more examples of iconic signs include statues, portraits, drawings, cartoons, sound effects, etc. All these signs bear a strong resemblance to the things they represent. Although words are not considered as iconic signs, onomatopoetic words such as splash, hiccup, whoosh, etc. can be described as iconic signs.
What is a Symbolic Sign?
A symbolic sign, also known as symbols, have an arbitrary relationship between the signifier and the signified. This is the opposite of iconic signs. The signifier and the signified bear no resemblance; the connection between them is culturally learned since it stems from the conventions of language. Letters of the alphabet and the numbers are examples of symbolic signs; they bear no resemblance to the sounds they represent. Thus, words in a language are also symbolic signs. For example, the word “flower” has no intrinsic relationship with the notion of flowers. In another language, its symbolic sign might be “fleur” (French), or “bolem” (Dutch).
In addition to words, we also associate some images with mental concepts that bear no inherent relationship with them. Given below are some examples of such symbols.
- The cross – Christianity
- Bald Eagle – The United States of America
- Swastika – Nazism
- Skull – Danger
What is the difference between Iconic and Symbolic Signs?
Iconic vs Symbolic Signs
|Iconic Signs are signs where meaning is based on the similarity of appearance.||Symbolic Signs are signs where meaning is not based on the similarity of appearance.|
|Relationship Between Signifier and Signified|
|The signifier and the signified bear a strong physical resemblance.||The relationship between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary.|
|Statues, photos, drawings, etc. are examples of iconic symbols.||Letters of the alphabet, numbers, religious symbols, famous trademarks are some examples of symbolic signs.|
|Iconic Signs are also known as icons.||Symbolic Signs are also known as symbols.|
Summary – Iconic vs Symbolic Signs
The difference between iconic and symbolic signs is the relationship between the signifier and the signified. In iconic signs, the signifier bears a strong resemblance to the signified; however, in symbolic signs, there is no inherent relation between the two. The relationship between the signifier and the signified in symbolic signs have to be learned through conventions of language and culture.
1.Port, R. “Icon, Index and Symbol: Types of Signs.” www.cs.indiana.edu. Indiana University, 4 Sept. 2000. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.
2.Bradely, Steven. “Icon, Index, and Symbol – Three Categories of Signs.” Vanseo Design. N.p., 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.
3.Lanir, Lesley. “Peirce’s Symbolic Iconic and Indexical Signs: Semiotics.” Decoded Science. N.p., 19 July 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.
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