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(semiotics) A relationship between the signifier and the signified in a sign (or in the signs within a code) which is dependent on variable social and cultural conventions rather than intrinsic or ‘natural’: for example, where the sound of a spoken word (or the shape of a written one) bears no relationship to what it represents. The conventional nature of codes means that they have to be learned (not necessarily formally). A traditional distinction between conventional signs (words) and natural signs (representational visual art) dates back to ancient Greece. Modern semiotic theory tends to emphasize that even the most realistic representational images do involve conventions and many semioticians refer to learning to ‘read’ photographs, television, or film, for instance. Compare arbitrariness.

Subjects: Media Studies.

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