Semiotic function: definition and development

Semiotic function: definition and development

The semiotic function is the ability to elaborate representations.This skill is based on the management of signs and symbols, which are characterized by a distinct signifier and signified. But how does it really work?

To better understand the role of the semiotic function, one of the best examples is a painting by a famous Belgian painter, René Magritte. This artist drew a pipe and, below, wrote: "this is not a pipe ".In doing so, he clearly wanted to show that even though the drawing evoked a pipe,it was not really one.It would be, in this case, a symbolic representation of an object.

In this example, Magritte used the semiotic function to create art.All human beings continually use representations.This is why, in this article, we will talk about the different types that exist according to the signifier-signified relation.

The components of representations

The representations are part of our life.We constantly use signs and symbols that help us plan, communicate and guide our actions.They allow us to interact mentally with an element without having to do so in reality.

Each representation consists of two elements: the signifier and the signified.The first refers to the physical component of the representation. For example, the letters that make up a word or the pencil lines of a drawing. The signified, for its part, is the image that is created in our head when we see a certain symbol.

The use of representations opens the door to infinite possibilities in the field of psychological development. They allow the subject to move away from the present situation and open up to distant places in time and space.They also give us the ability to create fictional worlds that exist only in our imagination.

Types of representations

Saussure classified the representations into three distinct points.These are differentiated at the level of the degree of connection between the signifier and the signified:

  • Indices or signals.In this case, the signifier and the signified are not differentiated. They have a direct connection. For example, we can see food gnawed on the floor of our kitchen and deduce that we have mice in our house. The food remains, in this case, act as clues.
  • Symbols.Here, the signifier is independent of the signified. However, there is some relationship between the two. Drawings, paintings and photographs would be symbols of what they represent. For example, the drawing of a pipe is not like the real object but there is a great relationship between the two. This type of representation appears more indirectly in the "symbolic game"; for example, when a child uses a piece of wood as if it were a sword.
  • Signs.We give the name of signs to representations when the signifier is completely arbitrary. The relationship between the two elements is established through a long historical-social process. As a result, a person unrelated to this context could not interpret a sign. The clearest example of this situation is language. The letters of the word "computer" have no relation to what they represent, but they nevertheless evoke its image in our mind.

The appearance of the semiotic function

The ability to create representations is increasingly evident in the later stages of the sensorimotor period of human development. However, the appearance of the semiotic function is not abrupt. Step by step,the child will use more semiotic representations and behaviors.

From this step,we can find many examples of semiotic function in children's behavior:

  • Imitation deferred.It consists of the imitation of something that is not present. It appears as a preamble to the capacity of representation because it constitutes an imitation of material acts and not of thought. It is considered one of the first semiotic behaviors that appear in the child's life cycle.
  • Symbolic game.This is a typical activity of childhood. Participants use items as if they were other items (for example, sticks as swords). By doing this, they use the semiotic function.
  • Drawing.Another way in which the child begins to demonstrate his representational capacity is drawing. It must be remembered that this activity is much more than a copy of reality. In drawing, we represent an internal image: what the child reproduces is normally what he knows of the object he sees.
  • Language.This is the semiotic behavior par excellence. When the child begins to speak, we observe how he uses arbitrary signs, completely separating the signified from the signifier.

To conclude, it is important to emphasize that the semiotic functionis one of the most important abilities of the human being.Thanks to her, we were able to create a communication system. It has allowed us to create a culture and a story, leading to the progress and survival of the human being.

Studying and carrying out research on the development of semiotics has consequentlyhelped to understand more deeply what this capability entailedin the lives of people.

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