Definitions

sign

sign language

The alphabet and the numbers 0–10 in Amer. Sign Language.

Any means of communication through bodily movements, especially of the hands and arms, rather than through speech. It has long been used by speakers of mutually unintelligible languages—for example, various Plains Indian tribes in 19th-century North America communicated via a sign language—and is widely used for communication by the deaf. Charles-Michel, abbé de l'Épée (1712–89), developed the first sign language for the deaf in the mid-18th century; his system developed into French Sign Language (FSL), still used in France. Transported to the U.S. in 1816 by Thomas Gallaudet (1787–1851), it evolved into American Sign Language (ASL, or Ameslan), now used by more than half a million people. These and other national sign languages generally express concepts rather than elements of words and thus have more in common with each other than with their countries' spoken languages.

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In marketing and advertising, a device placed on or before a premises to identify its occupant and the nature of the business done there or, placed at a distance, to advertise a business or its products. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks used signs for advertising purposes, as did the Romans, who also, in effect, created signboards by whitewashing convenient sections of walls for suitable inscriptions. Early shop signs were developed when tradesmen, dealing with a largely illiterate public, devised certain easily recognizable emblems to represent their trades. Modern sign designers use various forms of animation and light.

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A sign is an entity which signifies another entity. A natural sign is an entity which bears a causal relation to the signified entity, as thunder is a sign of storm. A conventional sign signifies by agreement, as a full stop signifies the end of a sentence. (Contrast a symbol which stands for another thing, as a flag may be a symbol of a nation)

The way in which a sign signifies is a topic in philosophy of language, see also Meaning (linguistic).

Any given signifier or symbol is dependent upon that which is intended, expressed, or signified in a semiotic relationship of signification, significance, meaning, or import. Thus, for example, people may speak of the significance of events, the signification of characters, the meaning of sentences, or the import of a communication. These different relationships that exist between sorts of signs can help people and sorts of things that are signified can be called the modes of signification.

The range of uses of signs are varied. They might include: the indication or mark of something, a display of a message, a signal to draw attention, evidence of an underlying cause (for instance, the symptoms of a disease are signs of the disease), a character for a mathematical operation, a body gesture, etc.

Nature of signs

Semiotics, epistemology, logic, and philosophy of language are concerned about the nature of signs, what they are and how they signify. The nature of signs and symbols and significations, their definition, elements, and types, is mainly established by Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. According to these classic sources, significance is a relationship between two sorts of things: signs and the kinds of things they signify (intend, express or mean), where one term necessarily causes something else to come to the mind. Distinguishing natural signs and conventional signs, the traditional theory of signs sets the following threefold partition of things:

  1. There are things that are just things, not any sign at all;
  2. There are things that are also signs of other things (as natural signs of the physical world and mental signs of the mind);
  3. There are things that are always signs, as languages (natural and artificial) and other cultural nonverbal symbols, as documents, money, ceremonies, and rites.

Thus there are things which may act as signs without any respect to the human agent (the things of the external world, all sorts of indications, evidences, symptoms, and physical signals), there are signs which are always signs (the entities of the mind as ideas and images, thoughts and feelings, constructs and intentions); and there are signs that have to get their signification (as linguistic entities and cultural symbols). So, while natural signs serve as the source of signification, the human mind is the agency through which signs signify naturally occurring things, such as objects, states, qualities, quantities, events, processes, or relationships. Human language and discourse, communication, philosophy, science, logic, mathematics, poetry, theology, and religion are only some of fields of human study and activity where grasping the nature of signs and symbols and patterns of signification may have a decisive value.

Types of signs

A sign can denote any of the following:

See also

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