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Derived from Ferdinand de Saussure's (1974) structuralist linguistics, signification is a useful concept in the study of language and culture, offering a theory of how meanings are produced and distributed and a method of analysing them. Saussure divides a sign into two component parts: the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the actual word – for example, the word ‘dog’ – and the signified is the concept or idea that this word refers to – in this case, a (usually) four-legged (usually) domesticated canine animal. The relation between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary (though this is not the case with icons), and together they make up the sign. Meaning is produced through a process of selection and combination, where signs are selected ...

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