Symbols and Semiosis

“Symbol – these signs have no logical connection between the sign and what it means. They rely exclusively on the reader having learnt the connection between the sign and its meaning” (Crow 33).

Crow also defines semiosis as “to describe the transfer of the meaning, the act of signifying.” He also states “…it is not a one-way process with a fixed meaning … The meaning of the sign will be affected by the background of the reader” (Crow 36).

My dad is a bowler and has bowled in leagues for years. Getting a split in bowling is not a positive game plan in bowling. Taking the same word, split, and transferring it to the dance world changes the meaning quite vastly. I have been a dancer and dance teacher for many years. The achievement of a split is something that dancers work years to accomplish. Once a dancer conquers a split, it is actually something to be quite proud of. A split to a bowler and a split to a dancer represent two very different symbols.

Photo by Lisa Root

Photo by Lisa Root


So, if a sign has no logical connection between the sign and its meaning and this is something we learn along the way, how do account for different backgrounds that will ultimately affect the meaning of a symbol? Advertisers creating billboards, commercials and print ads in magazines all must overcome this lack of shared meanings. How can they get us to think/feel/act the same when our backgrounds affect our interpretation of the symbol.


An experience as a child may create a negative impression or thought about a product that reminds me of that experience. Because of an event that happened some 20 years ago, I may not purchase a particular product. How do advertisers and salespeople conquer that obstacle? Background can be influenced by ethnic culture, regional culture, community culture and family culture. Everything from the country you were born in, to the state you grew up in, to the street you lived on with your particular family will affect the interpretation of symbols. No wonder there are so many misunderstandings in daily life!



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