primacy of the signifier

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(semiotics) The prioritization of the form of the sign (the signifier) over what it signifies (the signified). This is the basis for the argument that ‘reality’ or ‘the world’ is at least partly created by the language we use—i.e. that the signified is shaped by the signifier rather than vice versa. Lévi-Strauss emphasized the primacy of the signifier, initially as a strategy for structural analysis. Poststructuralist theorists such as Lacan, Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault have developed this notion into a metaphysical presupposition of the priority of the signifier, but its roots can be found in the bracketing of the referent by Saussure. Critics attack this stance as idealism. CompareSapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Subjects: Media Studies.

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