Tag Archives: symbols

Symbols and ideas

After finishing the readings of this week, I can learn the rudiments of semiotics and linguistics, by the summary of the major findings and the introduction of those abstract conceptions. Peirce illustrated three kinds of signs: icons, indicators and symbols, and he designated symbols as linguistic signs. At university, I learned English and French as my major, so I was introduced to linguistics and applied linguistics at the same time. That is the reason I want to demonstrate my understanding of semiotics by illustrating the comparison between different languages (English, French, and Chinese).

Color words are the signs to us, with the meaning of identifying the different colors. For example, when indicating black, a Mandarin-speaker will call it as “hei”, while a English-speaker will call it as “black”, and a French-speaker will call it as “ noir”. When they are addressing this color, they are not particularly indicating the blackboard’s black or the hair’s black, they are indicating the color extracted from the hair or the blackboard, which is an entirely abstract idea. This way of outputting can simplify the communication connected with color, by getting rid of the tangibility of the items with the specific color. SO that people can talk about this colorful world, without holding different carriers of different colors.

“After acquiring language and experiencing symbol structures in images, objects, and sounds in a culture, we also somehow know that things can mean something beyond their materiality as things or the mere perception of what strikes our eyes, ears, and other sense organs” ( The Grammar of Meaning Making: Signs, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics, Irvine, P4-5). Since people with different background were experiencing the different symbol structures, their understanding of same thing can be different. So except for indicating the color conceptions, the color words can refer to other ideas.

On the one hand, this color-conception correspondence can show people’s generality. Black, as one of the basic color word, except for indicating the black color, can have the meaning of evil, unfortunate, and sad. For example: (1) There are still some black sheep in our society.  (2) Experts fear that at least a quarter of those rocks are now missing, presumably stolen or sold on the black market. (3) 他总是让我给他背黑锅。(He always let me to be his scapegoat.) Here I think people’s fear of black can be tracked back to the ancient times, where there was no light at night. There is always a horrible and unknown world hidden in the darkness of night. So, facing black, even people from different backgrounds can have the same feeling.

On the other hand, color, as a carrier of culture, can show its own particularity of different culture. Yellow, as the most respected color for Chinese people, suggests the royalty and other good things. Because it is the color of plowland, which peasants lived their life on. There are words like 黄道吉日( a lucky day), and 飞黄腾达 (be successful), has the color of yellow. While in English, blue is used to denote the good things. Such as blue blood and blue book. The reason of using blue is because this is the color of respected sea.

This example is just intended to be the beginning of my understanding of semiotics. I hope it can help me to get booted up. Overall, I think semiotics is really an interesting field, worth digging in.



Irvine, Martin. “The Grammar of Meaning Making: Sign Systems, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics.” Google Docs. Accessed September 6, 2015. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eCZ1oAurTQL2Cd4175Evw-5Ns7c3zCxoxDKLgVE8fyc/edit?usp=sharing&usp=embed_facebook.

Irvine, Martin. “Signs, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiosis: Intro.” Google Docs. Accessed September 6, 2015. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eCZ1oAurTQL2Cd4175Evw-5Ns7c3zCxoxDKLgVE8fyc/edit?usp=sharing&usp=embed_facebook.