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UTEL

Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown

Symbol / symbolization:

A term used by Charles Sanders Peirce to describe the sign proper, wherein the relation between signifier and signified is entirely arbitrary and conventional. Unlike the icon, the symbol bears no natural resemblance to what it signifies, and unlike the index, it has no causal connection with what it signifies. A map of a country is iconic, smoke as the sign of fire is indexical, but the word "map" and the word "smoke" are symbolic. The two words signify because a language user can differentiate them acoustically and conceptually from, say, "mop" and "stoke." Such differentiations are arbitrary and conventional. (See also Semiotics.)


© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
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Last modified: March 31, 1997