It’s a sign…

Signs. All around us, all of the time. One of the key reasons I chose to study English is because there are so many things we use everyday that we don’t even realise. The study of semiotics is the study of signs. There are so many signs we see on a daily basis and we don’t fully acknowledge them. There are four different types of signs: regulatory (traffic signs), infrastructural (water, power supplies), commercial (Company adverts) and transgressive discourses (signs in the wrong place).  Even if you didn’t know this, you would know that a sign in the shape of a triangle on a country road has a very different meaning to a sign on a toilet door. It seems we take many things for granted- signs being one of them.

I travel to Uni by train and the term “tannoyance” is so fitting for the endless train announcements. “Tannoyance” is the frustration caused by announcements and endless signs. Sometimes I feel signs point out the obvious. If there is a hole in the pavement it’s not as if we are going to clamber over the barrier, jump in the hole, climb out and back over the barrier (although this has potential for a pretty awesome game).  We are quite simply going to walk around the hole. By the time the builders have put all the signs up they could have already finished the job.


 Once the volume of signs we see everyday has been pointed out to you, you begin to realise their importance. During my train journey today I tried to imagine not having the voiceover. Strangely it made the journey seem longer and there was a level of uncertainty even though I know the journey inside out. In some ways signs act as a reassurance.


I love commercial signs especially sarcastic signs like those placed outside pubs. I walked past a hairdressers today and on their billboard was the question “Love your hair?  yes, walk on past, if no, come in and see us”.  I think it is colloquial language we can relate to the best. Perhaps trains should say “we are nearly at…” rather than “this train is now approaching….”. It would make the people behind the voice seem a bit less direct!


Interestingly we choose to listen to ‘top down’ signs from officials but we usually ignore ‘bottom up’ signs by individuals.  Since my lecture I now realise the importance of ‘bottom up’ signs. Graffiti can either be viewed as art or as damage to property. How do we decide? Personally I think it is the meaning behind the sign that is important.

This got me thinking about the other meanings of the words sign. Signs have a deictic meaning, put simply they ‘point’ to other things. My friend bought me a coffee and I saw that as a sign of friendship. When there are grey clouds we see it as a sign of rain. When people kiss, it is a sign of love.  We take into account so many things as a sign they are crucial to our everyday life. We couldn’t survive without them, we certainly wouldn’t know which direction we were travelling in either.



2 thoughts on “It’s a sign…

  1. This is great. Fab examples. I really like the semiotic analysis at the end. I have a book on my shelf I haven’t got round to yet all about the history of the kiss (in films I think) and how it changed as a sign. You’ve made me want to put it at the top of my reading pile.


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