When Ferdinand de Saussure was formulating his two part ‘dyadic’ model of the sign, consisting of a ‘signifier, or the form that a sign takes, and the ‘signified,’ or concept it represents, American, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) was theorizing his own model of semiotics and signs. In contrast to Saussure’s model, Peirce formulated a three-part triadic model consisting of an interpretant, representamen, and an object.
Peirce’s Triadic Model – Interpreting Signs
Having an interpretant as part of his semiotic model was Peirce’s new and distinctive addition to understanding and defining signs. Peirce did not believe that signification was a straightforward binary relationship between a sign and an object, and he viewed this innovative part of his triad as how we perceive or understand a sign and its relationship to the object it is referring to.
A critical point in Peirce’s theory is that the meaning of a sign is created by the interpretation it stimulates in those using it. He reiterates this in his comment that “a sign … addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign.”
So an interpretant is the sense we make out of the sign, similar in meaning to Saussure’s ‘signified’ except that it is a sign in the mind of the interpreter. The element of interpretation in Peirce’s theories also emphasized his claims that semiosis is a process, whereas Saussure’s emphasis was always on structure.
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