Key Difference – Signifier vs Signified
Signifier and signified are two words that are commonly used in semiotics. The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure was one of the founders of semiotics. According to Saussure theory of signs, signifier and signified make up of signs. A sign is composed of both a material form and a mental concept. The signifier is the material form, i.e., something that can be heard, seen, smelled, touched or tasted, whereas the signified is the mental concept associated with it. This the key difference between signifier and signified.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is a Signifier
3. What is a Signified
4. What is the Relationship between Signifier and Signified
4. Side by Side Comparison – Signifier vs Signified
What is a Signifier?
All signs have a signifier and signified. The signifier is the material form of the sign. This is the element that we can see, hear, taste, touch or smell. In other words, this is the physical form of the sign. For example, think of a red flag that is used to indicate danger. The red flag itself can be described as a signifier.
Although we always associate the term sign with road signs or warning signs, in semiotics, signs can refer to something that can be interpreted as having a meaning, which is something other than itself. Therefore, any unit of language can be also considered as signs since they are used to designate objects or phenomena of reality. The words we speak and write can be called signifiers since they are the material form of sign. However, a signifier cannot exist without a signified. For example, if the signs below have no signified concepts associated with them, there is no use in these signs; they would be just meaningless images.
What is a Signified?
Signified is the mental concept associated with a sign. In other words, it is the concept, meaning or the thing associated with the signified. If we look at a linguistic example, the word “Closed” (in reference to the open and close signs displayed at a shop), the sign consists of,
Signifier: the word “Closed”
Signified Concept: The shop is closed for business.
What is the Relationship Between Signifier and Signified?
A sign must always have both a signifier and a signified. Saussure named the relationship between signifier and signified as ‘signification‘. However, it is also important to notice that the same signifier can be used for different concepts. This is because the relationship between the signifier and the signified is sometimes arbitrary. For example, the word (signifier) pain has the meaning hurt, agony or discomfort, but in French, it refers to a loaf of bread. Signs can be classified into three groups based on this relationship between the signifier and the signified.
Types of Signs
The signifier and the signified bear a strong physical resemblance, i.e., signifier resembles what it stands for. For example, a picture of a tree stands for the concept of the tree.
The signifier has some relation to the signifier. It is in some way directly connected to the concept. For example, an image of smoke may represent a fire.
There is no inherent relationship between the signifier and the signified. This connection is culturally learned. For example, the fact that the sign of the cross is related to Christianity is culturally learned since the two concepts have no intrinsic relation.
What is the difference between Signifier and Signified?
Signifier vs Signified
|Signifier is a sign’s physical form.||Signified is the meaning or idea expressed by a sign.|
|Signifier can be a printed word, sound, image, etc.||Signified is a concept, object or idea.|
|A signified cannot exist without a signifier.||A signifier without a signified is noise (in spoken language).|
Summary – Signifier vs Signified
Signs are made up of both signifier and signified. Signified is the sign’s physical or material form whereas signified is the meaning conveyed by the sign. However, the relationship between a signifier and signified is arbitrary since various signifiers can be used to indicate the same signified concept.
1.Chandler, Daniel. “Semiotics for Beginners.” Stanley Kubrick Site. N.p., 07 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
2.”Signifier and Signified.” Changingminds.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
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