Sign, signifier, signified, “objects”

The word “word” is ambiguous. Sometimes we mean the form that we see, the surface form. Other times we mean the definition or meaning or concept of the form. Both are correct in some ways. They highlight the fact that words have two components — the form and the meaning.

Saussure made this clear with his signifier and signified distinction. A sign is the combination of signifier and signified.

But as linguists or even just as ordinary folk we can choose to talk about the sign, the signifier or the signified. We can talk about any of these as though they are objects. Ordinarily, objects have spatial and temporal location. And in bring so they have behave according to the laws of physics that govern them. But objects like the sign, signifier and signified are not located in space and time as such. The laws of physics do not apply. And even though they are beyond spatial temporal reality we talk about them in relation to space and time. Or we relate them to each other like space and time bound objects.

This trick is necessary otherwise such mental objects cannot been made sense of.

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