Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


The science of communication studied through the interpretation of signs and symbols as they operate in various fields, esp. language. (Oxford English Dictionary)

The most influential semiotician in recent literary studies is the French structuralist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), who detached the study of words or signs from any direct association with their meanings.

Instead structuralism associated the functions and meanings of words with each other.


For instance, we say "cat" NOT because

the word /kaet/ =


We could just as well use the word "cat" for


As a further example, other languages have other names for cats: Sp. el gato, la gata; Fr. le chat or la chatte


Since words don't gain meaning from their connections to what they signify, they gain meaning by their differences from each other.

That is, we know what a cat is because it is not a bat (speaking only of the words, though makes sense with meaning too).





ing the , the sign is completely arbitrary, i.e. there was no necessary connection between the sign and its meaning.





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