Semiotics is the study of signs. Semitocs studies all kinds of signs: from road signs to music to art to human language, and possibly to programming languages as well.
It is... possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, 'sign'). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge. (Ferdinand de Saussure)
Semiotics is currently very poular with the post-modernism crowd, and one should be careful not dismiss the whole subject because of the low signal to noise ratio.
Even so, I think we can get some interesting ideas from checking out some of the more insigtful ideas in semiotics (remember that I think we should also check out things like the linguistic relativity hypothesis).
Semiotics is usually divided into syntactics (the study of synatx - the way signs relate to each other), semantics (the study of meaning), and pragmatics (the study of the use of signs in context). In PL we are very fond of syntax and semantics but the study of pragmatics lags far behind, for fairly obvious reasons.
This site is an online book on semiotics, mostly not extremely useful for PL research, but some of it interesting none the less. The site includes many links to other semtioc resources.
Posted to general by Ehud Lamm on 4/13/01; 2:22:21 PM