The UVic Writer's Guide


In its specific literary meaning, sign is a term used in modern critical approaches derived from the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure. The sign is the basic building-block of communication, a word, sound, or symbol, for example.

Each sign consists of two parts: the signifier, which is the hearer's psychological impression of the the marks on the page, or the sound in the air; and the signified, which is the concept communicated by the signifier. Thus the letters c-a-t are the signifier for the concept of an animal that is furry and purrs when fed. The actual animal, which may or may not be sitting on your lap as you read this, is the referent.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 23, 1995