VIN Entry #1 – Linguistic Signs and Duality

4 Sep

Linguistic signs are comprised of two parts: the signifier and the signified. The signifier refers to the word used in a language to describe an object or idea. Thus, the object or idea being described becomes the signified. We know the image below, for instance, is of a bird because we have associated the word “bird” (signifier) with the idea of a bird (signified).

Line art bird I designed for a band flyer

Line art bird I designed for a band flyer

However, even though we call that “bird,” there is nothing about the word “bird” besides our own cultural and linguistic connotation that has anything to do with our idea of the flying creature. This idea is called duality: words and the things they represent have an arbitrary relationship.

Charcoal snake scanned out of my sketchbook

Charcoal snake scanned out of my sketchbook

Because of duality, the image above is not of a snake. It could be of a serpiente in Spanish, or a schlange in German. The name is arbitrary to the idea; it is based upon linguistic and social context, and phonetically and symbolically has nothing to do with a snake. The words used to describe it are simply culturally specific signifiers for a universal idea. Thanks to an understanding of linguistic signs and duality, designers can convey ideas without using words. To see these images of a bird and a snake not only conjure their names in our minds, but also certain emotional responses based on personal experience.

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