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(not to be confused with randomness)

1. In classical Greek philosophy, the issue of whether there was a natural connection between words and what they represent or whether the relation between them was merely a matter of convention. See also conventionality.

2. For Saussure, a fundamental principle referring to the purely conventional nature of the relationship between the signifier and the signified in the sign—at least in linguistic signs (words). The word ‘apple’ (whether spoken or written) does not resemble an apple, and speakers of different languages refer to it by other names.

3. For Hockett, this same quality was a fundamental design feature of human language that contributed to its power and flexibility, in this case a feature shared with the communication systems of other primates.

4. In structuralist semiotics, a principle that all signs (not just linguistic ones) are to some extent arbitrary and conventional (and thus subject to ideological manipulation)—a notion that has been applied to the mass media, for instance. See also conventionality; motivation.

5. For Peirce, the degree of arbitrariness involved in different kinds of signs. See relative arbitrariness.

Subjects: Media Studies.

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