Signs, symbols and language Essay Example

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Signs, Symbols and Language

Signs, Symbols and Language

A sign (singular) when used in the context of language and communication can be defined as a gesture or an act of conveying an idea, command, desire or information. It denotes an outward hint of the presence or existence of something not immediately plain as the nose on your face. This means that a sign is an impression symptomatic of something else (Weiten, 2012). In the conventional human signs language, the signs they commonly use would only have meaning to those people who have been trained in their use whether they are hearing impaired or not and that is why it has been commonly accepted that this signs has to be universal in order to be understood mostly by those whose ears are impaired.

Still, a sign can represent or stand for something else and still communicate a message to the recipient. Universally, there are some symbols which are also used to identify or mark different areas or facilities of interest. This could be knife and folk which indicates a restaurant, a drawing of a man or a woman denoting a rest room in public places or a handset denoting a telephone (Jean, 1998). These signs therefore stand for other different things but are able to communicate the required information to those decoding them.

Other signs include symptoms which denote medical conditions and signatures which are used to identity one’s agreement with some certain writings or agreements. Signs are therefore part of human language that is supposed to communicate some information with meanings to those recipients who are able to decode the meaning. If it can not be decoded by the one whom the message is intended to, then the sign loses its effect in communication.

Though in general use symbols are confused with signs, the latter are literal while symbols are not. A symbol has more meaning than it literally says. It could look very simple but have more than one layer of further meaning. In real meaning, a symbol often refers to something that stand for and/or identifying or representing something else. It can also be referred as an object that stands for, represents or suggests an idea, belief, visual image or action. They take the form of visual images, words, gestures or sounds and are used to convey beliefs and/or ideas. A case in point and universally acceptable is a red rose which symbolizes love and compassion.

Another very valid definition is that which refers symbol as an item which suggests or stands for something else by association, relationship, accidental resemblance or convention. It is visible sign representing something invisible like the lion being the symbol of courage.

Symbols have three different kinds of association: personal which is associated with experience; cultural, with each symbol denoting a completely different meaning from one culture to the other; and universal, where a symbol is almost globally acceptable in carrying a common meaning. These associations are acquired through our life habitually without being aware that one is acquiring them. So when we speak, dream, read or write, the attachment we put on the symbols are there naturally and almost unavoidably in our work (Weiten, 2012). It is due to this that there is surplus meaning that exceed what was supposed to be conveyed or consciously intended and thereby carrying several layers of meaning.

Symbolism can no longer be referred to as corrupt degeneration or mere idle fancy as it is intrinsic in the very grain of human life. Language is itself a symbolism (Goldstein, 2007).


This can be said to be any method where human being communicate by either speaking or writing and it consist the use of words in a structured and conventional way. This can also include any and/or all nonverbal methods of expression like gestures or motions and facial expressions to communicate. So we can say that people speak the same language by understanding one another because of shared values or opinions.

Language consists of signs and symbols for conveying meaning together with rules for combining them. This can them be used to generate a variety of messages to express our thoughts, feelings experiences and ideas (Weiten, 2012). All language consists of wordings and sounds, meanings, naming for common things, rhythm and syllabic articulation and melody. Incidentally, almost all of the above aspects differ from one language to the other as is obvious with different naming of things and also sounds and words.

Language can also be universal to every human being in expressing one’s emotions. In expressing anger and/or joy one does not necessarily need to open his mouth; neither do we need to be told in audible language when one is in a fit of rage. So is the language of the hearing impaired where symbols are universally used in an acceptable way; they are able to understand one another by use of acceptable signs and symbols. It is the only human mechanism of breaking communication barrier between individuals.


Goldstein, E. B. (2007). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research and everyday

experience. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth. Pp. 357-363

Jean, G. (1998). Signs, symbols, and ciphers. New York: Harry N. Abrams. Pp. 54-61.

Weiten, W. (2012). Psychology: Themes and variations. Belmont, Calif: Cengage/Wadsworth.

Pp. 584-615