Semiotics is the study of signs. Humans communicate with signs and signs are communication.
From the stand point of semiotics anything made by people communicates something and is therefore a sign. A stop sign is a sign.
The street light is a sign. But a banana is not a sign, unless it has been put in a meaningful place such as a get-well fruit basket.
Then it is part of a sign that says "I care". A rock is not a sign unless it has been placed in a cairn.
Then it is part of a sign that says someone was here and stacked up rocks for some reason. The meaning of signs is dependent on culture and context.
The cairn may be burial mound or it may be historical marker or it may be a simple expression of human’s need to alter their environment.
The word “dog” is a sign because it is synthetic. It is synthetic because it was made by people.
The word dog means a four legged mammal that likes to lick peanut butter off of a spoon and gets it’s mouth all gummed up.
Many people find this behavior amusing so they keep dogs as pets. But is a dog this dog or that dog.
Does the word dog mean that dog Spot or that dog Fido or my dog Gretta? Dog can be any one of these dogs. It is not a specific dog.
So the word dog means the concept of “dogness”. Fido is a dog because Fido has all the properties of dogness.
Dog is a blueprint for all dogs and any dog is an instance of that blueprint.
The most widely used semiotic model and terminology is based on linguistic theory developed by Ferdinand de Saussure.
In the Saussurean Model of Semiotics a sign has constituent parts. The signifier is the physical aspect of the sign. The word dog is a signifier.
The signified is the concept of the sign. The concept of dogness is the signified. A specific instance of the concept is the referent.
Fido is a referent for the word dog. So The signifier performs the act of signification and signifies the signified which refers to the referent.
Simple. But Chien also signifies the concept of dogness. And pero signifies the concept of dogness. Different words can signify the same concept.
This means that the signifier and the signified are not inextricable in other words the symbol and the idea are two different things
in other word the signifier and the idea can be separated in other words the word and it’s meaning are not permanently bound
in other words I can use other words to mean the same thing.
The concept is not tied to the words or symbols that communicate the concept. In semiotic terms the signifier is arbitrary.
But it would be disingenuous to argue that symbols are always completely arbitrary.
In the case of traffic lights one could argue that red is the color of blood .:. Red is a warning to stop or die a bloody gruesome death.
But then why not use orange as a warning to stop or die a fiery death? Or why not use yellow because it is the color most readily perceivable by the eye?
Often we can only guess at the genesis of signifiers, and so, in effect they are arbitrary.
Spoken words are abstractions made of sounds. Those sound abstractions signify actual things or concepts.
And written words signify spoken words that signify the actual concept or thing. So written words are two abstraction layers away from the actual thing or concept.
The natural genesis of some spoken words is obvious, like "woof", "meow" and "splash". The sound of word "woof" is meant to imitate the sound that a dog makes.
The sound of the word "splash" is meant to imitate the sound of a rock plunging into water at speed.
Onomatopoeia is the word that means when the sound of a word imitates the sound of the thing that it represents.
Although the genesis of many (or perhaps originally all) words may have been an imitation of natural sound, most all have evolved into abstract sounds.
They are now, in effect, arbitrary. Ironically Onomatopoeia is a word that has evolved beyond recognition of its original genesis.
As a signifier it has become an arbitrary sound.
There are cultural spins to a onomatopoeia. English speaking roosters say "cock-a-doodle-doo".
We [english speakers] feel that those phonemes are accurate imitations of the sound that a rooster makes.
Spanish speaking roosters say "qui-quiri-quí" and French speaking roosters say "co-cori-co". Each language has their own pet phonemes that imitate rooster speach.
Is this due to cultural perceptions or are these words in the early stages of evolution away from onomatopoeia or do Spanish roosters have a spanish accent
and French roosters a french accent and so on...?
Some people think that when dogs bark they say "woof", but some people think that when dogs speak they say "bark".
I am not going to admit that I watch funny pet videos on YouTube, I only notice them because someone else regularly watches them.
But I know that the sound articulations of dogs are well documented on youtube and that dogs can be very articulate.
This means that there can be many phonetic constructions that serve as onomatopoeia for the speech of dogs: "woof", "growl", "grrr" and "bark".
But dogs do not construct very complex language with their articulations. And the sounds that they articulate probably do not signify complex concepts.
When a dog says "bark" he is probably not signifying a part of a tree. Humans are unique in the complexity of both language structures and conceptual structures.