I've read somewhere that there are different types of signs like: natural signs (smoke as a sign of fire), arbitrary signs (language signs) etc. Could someone provide me with a complete list and explain them concisely?

(there aren't plenty of them, therefore don't mark the question as too broad please)

  • This question has been marked as too broad maybe you could elaborate on your question. Apr 16 '16 at 6:11
  • If you're referring to a specific author or a specific theory that would be enough to make it not too broad.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 17 '16 at 23:54

These are the creation of Charles Sanders Peirce.

From an encyclopedia entry on Peirce's Theory of Signs:

By 1903, for reasons related to his work on phenomenology, Peirce thought the central features of sign-vehicles could be divided into three broad areas, and consequently, that signs could be classified accordingly. This division depends upon whether sign-vehicles signify in virtue of qualities, existential facts, or conventions and laws. Further, signs with these sign-vehicles are classified as qualisigns, sinsigns, and legisigns respectively.

Examples of signs whose sign-vehicle relies upon a quality are difficult to imagine, but a particularly clear example, used by David Savan, is this:

[…] I use a color chip to identify the color of some paint I want to buy. The color chip is perhaps made of cardboard, rectangular, resting on a wooden table etc., etc. But it is only the color of the chip that is essential to it as a sign of the color of the paint. (Savan 1988, 20) There are many elements to the colored chip as a sign, but it is only its color that matters to its ability to signify. Any sign whose sign-vehicle relies, as with this example, on simple abstracted qualities is called a qualisign.

An example of a sign whose sign-vehicle uses existential facts is smoke as a sign for fire; the causal relation between the fire and smoke allows the smoke to act as a signifier. Other cases are the molehill example used earlier, and temperature as a sign for a fever. Any sign whose sign-vehicle relies upon existential connections with its object is named, by Peirce, a sinsign.

And finally, the third kind of sign is one whose crucial signifying element is primarily due to convention, habit or law. Typical examples would be traffic lights as sign of priority, and the signifying capability of words; these sign-vehicles signify in virtue of the conventions surrounding their use. Peirce calls signs whose sign-vehicles function in this way legisigns.

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