Semiotics is the study of signs and how meaning is created by them. There are three major types of signs which are detailed below.
Iconic signs: These are signs that physically represent what they mean, i.e: a picture of someone’s faces – although it is not directly that person, we know by seeing their face it is meant to represent that person. Pictures, drawings and photographs are usually iconic signs, as long as they look physically like the thing they are representing. Words that have sound behind them, i.e: ‘splash’, carry some type of iconic sign. The problem with iconic signs at times is that physical resemblance is hard to measure, how similar must a sign be for it to represent the object?
Icons can be influenced by cultural conventions. For example, if most people see a picture of a man on a door, we’d recognise that as a public restroom. To someone who lives in a remote tribe and South America, they would not be able to identify it as a restroom.
Symbolic signs: Symbolic signs do not look like the thing that they are representing. Examples of symbolic signs would be language (both spoken and written), gestures, facial expressions, etc. Symbolic signs require you to have learnt the meaning behind the sign. Symbolic signs do not necessarily mean the same thing for everybody, i.e: hand gestures in one country do not always mean the same thing in a different country. In summary, symbols are easily removable from their context and are closely associated with large sets of other words.
Indexical signs: are defined by some sensory feature (smell, sound, etc.) which correlates with a sign or memory. An example of this would be the smell of chlorine reminding you of holidays, where you are often surrounded by pools filled with chlorine, hence the link. For an indexical sign to work, you must first detect a trigger, and then by able to innately know it correlates to an event, person, place, etc. We often say that indexical signs have a causal link to what they signify, such as a smoke having a causal link to fire.
Indexical signs can be observed or inferred – there are natural signs, like smoke or footprints, medical symptoms, like pain or a rash, measuring instruments, like weathercock, thermometer or clock, signals, like a knock, pointers, such as pointing with your index finger and recordings, like a film.