Symbol

Symbol

Overview
A symbol is something which represents an idea
Idea
In the most narrow sense, an idea is just whatever is before the mind when one thinks. Very often, ideas are construed as representational images; i.e. images of some object. In other contexts, ideas are taken to be concepts, although abstract concepts do not necessarily appear as images...

, a physical entity
Entity
An entity is something that has a distinct, separate existence, although it need not be a material existence. In particular, abstractions and legal fictions are usually regarded as entities. In general, there is also no presumption that an entity is animate.An entity could be viewed as a set...

 or a process
Process (philosophy)
In philosophy and systems theory, basic processes, or logical homologies as they were termed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, are unifying principles which operate in many different systemic contexts. For example, feedback is a principle that figures prominently in the science of cybernetics...

 but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals
Numeral system
A numeral system is a writing system for expressing numbers, that is a mathematical notation for representing numbers of a given set, using graphemes or symbols in a consistent manner....

 are symbols for number
Number
A number is a mathematical object used to count and measure. In mathematics, the definition of number has been extended over the years to include such numbers as zero, negative numbers, rational numbers, irrational numbers, and complex numbers....

s. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose symbolizes love and compassion.

In cartography
Cartography
Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.The fundamental problems of traditional cartography are to:*Set the map's...

, an organized collection of symbols forms a legend, or key.

The word symbol came to the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 by way of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

, from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

, from Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 σύμβολον (sýmbolon) from the root words συν- (syn-), meaning "together," and βολή (bolē), "a throw", having the approximate meaning of "to throw together", literally a "coincidence", also "sign, ticket, or contract".
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Encyclopedia
A symbol is something which represents an idea
Idea
In the most narrow sense, an idea is just whatever is before the mind when one thinks. Very often, ideas are construed as representational images; i.e. images of some object. In other contexts, ideas are taken to be concepts, although abstract concepts do not necessarily appear as images...

, a physical entity
Entity
An entity is something that has a distinct, separate existence, although it need not be a material existence. In particular, abstractions and legal fictions are usually regarded as entities. In general, there is also no presumption that an entity is animate.An entity could be viewed as a set...

 or a process
Process (philosophy)
In philosophy and systems theory, basic processes, or logical homologies as they were termed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, are unifying principles which operate in many different systemic contexts. For example, feedback is a principle that figures prominently in the science of cybernetics...

 but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals
Numeral system
A numeral system is a writing system for expressing numbers, that is a mathematical notation for representing numbers of a given set, using graphemes or symbols in a consistent manner....

 are symbols for number
Number
A number is a mathematical object used to count and measure. In mathematics, the definition of number has been extended over the years to include such numbers as zero, negative numbers, rational numbers, irrational numbers, and complex numbers....

s. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose symbolizes love and compassion.

In cartography
Cartography
Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.The fundamental problems of traditional cartography are to:*Set the map's...

, an organized collection of symbols forms a legend, or key.

Etymology


The word symbol came to the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 by way of Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

, from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

, from Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 σύμβολον (sýmbolon) from the root words συν- (syn-), meaning "together," and βολή (bolē), "a throw", having the approximate meaning of "to throw together", literally a "coincidence", also "sign, ticket, or contract". The earliest attestation of the term is in the Homeric Hymn
Homeric Hymns
The Homeric Hymns are a collection of thirty-three anonymous Ancient Greek hymns celebrating individual gods. The hymns are "Homeric" in the sense that they employ the same epic meter—dactylic hexameter—as the Iliad and Odyssey, use many similar formulas and are couched in the same dialect...

 to Hermes
Hermes
Hermes is the great messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and a guide to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Kyllini in Arcadia. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of the cunning of thieves, of orators and...

 where Hermes on seeing the tortoise
Tortoise
Tortoises are a family of land-dwelling reptiles of the order of turtles . Like their marine cousins, the sea turtles, tortoises are shielded from predators by a shell. The top part of the shell is the carapace, the underside is the plastron, and the two are connected by the bridge. The tortoise...

 exclaims "σύμβολον ἤδη μοι μέγ᾽ ὀνήσιμον", meaning "A sign/portent/encounter of joy to me!", before turning it into a lyre
Lyre
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later. The word comes from the Greek "λύρα" and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B syllabic script...

.

Psychoanalysis and archetypes


Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

, who studied archetype
Archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...

s, proposed an alternative definition of symbol, distinguishing it from the term sign
Sign (linguistics)
There are many models of the linguistic sign . A classic model is the one by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. According to him, language is made up of signs and every sign has two sides : the signifier , the "shape" of a word, its phonic component, i.e...

. In Jung's view, a sign stands for something known, as a word stands for its referent. He contrasted this with symbol, which he used to stand for something that is unknown and that cannot be made clear or precise. An example of a symbol in this sense is Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 as a symbol of the archetype
Archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...

 called self
Self
The self is an individual person as the object of his or her own reflective consciousness. The self has been studied extensively by philosophers and psychologists and is central to many world religions.-Philosophy:...

. For example, written languages are composed of a variety of different symbols that create words. Through these written words, humans communicate with each other. Kenneth Burke
Kenneth Burke
Kenneth Duva Burke was a major American literary theorist and philosopher. Burke's primary interests were in rhetoric and aesthetics.-Personal history:...

 described Homo sapiens as a "symbol-using, symbol making, and symbol misusing animal
Definition of man
Definition of Man, sometimes now referred to as Definition of Human, originated from a summary essay of Kenneth Burke which he included in his 1966 work, Language as Symbolic Action. Burke's work in communication has spanned many fields and focuses primarily on rhetoric...

" to indicate that a person creates symbols in her or his life as well as misuses them. One example he uses to indicate his meaning behind symbol misuse is the story of a man who, when told a particular food item was whale blubber, could barely keep from throwing it up. Later, his friend discovered it was actually just a dumpling. But the man's reaction was a direct consequence of the symbol of "blubber" representing something inedible in his mind. In addition, the symbol of "blubber" for the man was created by him through various kinds of learning
Learning
Learning is acquiring new or modifying existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves.Human learning...

. Burke emphasizes that humans gain this type of learning that helps us create symbols by seeing various print sources, our life experiences, and symbols about the past.

Burke goes on to describe symbols as also being derived from Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

's work on condensation and displacement
Displacement (psychology)
In Freudian psychology, displacement is an unconscious defense mechanism whereby the mind redirects effects from an object felt to be dangerous or unacceptable to an object felt to be safe or acceptable...

 further stating that they are not just relevant to the theory of dreams
Interpretation of dreams
Interpretation of dreams may refer to:* Dream interpretation is the process of assigning meaning to dreams* Oneiromancy, a form of divination based upon dreams* The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud's 1899 book about psychoanalysis and dreams...

, but also to "normal symbol systems". He says they are related through "substitution" where one word, phrase, or symbol is substituted for another in order to change the meaning. In other words, if a person does not understand a certain word or phrase, another person may substitute a synonym or symbol in order to get the meaning of the original word or phrase across. However, when faced with that new way of interpreting a specific symbol, a person may change their already formed ideas to incorporate the new information based on how the symbol is expressed to the person.

Jean Dalby Clift
Jean Dalby Clift
Jean Dalby Clift, an Episcopal priest and pastoral counselor in private practice, is the author of several books in the fields of psychology and spirituality. "Dr...

 says that people not only add their own interpretations to symbols, they also create personal symbols that represent their own understanding of their lives: what she calls "core images" of the person. She argues that symbolic work with these personal symbols or core images can be as useful as working with dream symbols in psychoanalysis or counseling.

Paul Tillich


Paul Tillich argued that while signs are invented and forgotten, symbols are born and die. There are therefore dead and living symbols. A living symbol can reveal hidden levels of meaning, and transcendent or religious realities to an individual. For Tillich, a symbol always "points beyond itself" to something that is unquantifiable and mysterious. This is the symbol's "depth dimension". Symbols are complex and their meanings can evolve as the individual or culture evolves. When a symbol loses its meaning and power for an individual or culture, it becomes a dead symbol. The Greek Gods might be an example of dead symbols that were once living for the ancient Greeks but whose meaning and power is now gone.

When a symbol becomes identified with the deeper reality to which it refers, it becomes idolatrous as the "symbol is taken for reality." Here, the symbol itself is substituted for the deeper meaning it intends to convey. The unique nature of the symbol is that it gives access to deeper layers of reality which are otherwise inaccessible.

Role of context in symbolism



A symbol's meaning
Meaning (non-linguistic)
A non-linguistic meaning is an actual or possible derivation from sentience, which is not associated with signs that have any original or primary intent of communication...

 may be modified by various factors including popular usage, history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, and contextual intent.

Historical meaning


This history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 of a symbol is one of many factors in determining a particular symbol's apparent meaning. Consequently, symbols with emotive power carry problems analogous to false etymologies.

For example, the Rebel Flag of the American South predates the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. An early variant of the crossed bars resembled the Scottish Flag.

Context


The context of a symbol may change its meaning. Similar five–pointed stars might signify a law enforcement
Law enforcement agency
In North American English, a law enforcement agency is a government agency responsible for the enforcement of the laws.Outside North America, such organizations are called police services. In North America, some of these services are called police while others have other names In North American...

 officer or a member of the armed services
Armed Services
Armed Services is a collective term that refers to the major organisational entities of national armed forces, so named because they service a combat need in a specific combat environment. In most states Armed Services include the Army also known as Land Force or Ground Force, Navy also know a...

, depending the uniform
Uniform
A uniform is a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization's activity. Modern uniforms are worn by armed forces and paramilitary organizations such as police, emergency services, security guards, in some workplaces and schools and by inmates...

.

See also



  • Adinkra symbols
  • Alchemy
    Alchemy
    Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

  • Alphabet (computer science)
  • Applied Drama
    Applied Drama
    Applied Drama is an umbrella term for the wider use of drama practice in a specific social context and environment. This practice doesn't have to take place in a conventional theatre space...

  • Asemic writing
    Asemic writing
    Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means "having no specific semantic content". With the nonspecificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. All of this is similar to the way one would...

  • Check (mark)
  • Computer icon
    Computer icon
    A computer icon is a pictogram displayed on a computer screen and used to navigate a computer system or mobile device. The icon itself is a small picture or symbol serving as a quick, intuitive representation of a software tool, function or a data file accessible on the system. It functions as an...

    s
  • Dramatic symbol
  • Emblem
    Emblem
    An emblem is a pictorial image, abstract or representational, that epitomizes a concept — e.g., a moral truth, or an allegory — or that represents a person, such as a king or saint.-Distinction: emblem and symbol:...

  • Font
    Font
    In typography, a font is traditionally defined as a quantity of sorts composing a complete character set of a single size and style of a particular typeface...

  • Glyph
    Glyph
    A glyph is an element of writing: an individual mark on a written medium that contributes to the meaning of what is written. A glyph is made up of one or more graphemes....

  • Grapheme
  • Icon
    Icon
    An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

     (religious) and secular icon
    Secular icon
    A secular icon is an image or pictograph of a person or thing used for other than religious purpose. -Icons versus symbols:...


  • LGBT symbols
    LGBT symbols
    Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Genderqueer communities have adopted certain symbols and symbolates for which they are identified and by which they demonstrate unity, pride, shared values, and allegiance to one another. LGBTQ symbols also communicate ideas, concepts and identity both...

  • Letter frequencies
    Letter frequencies
    The frequency of letters in text has often been studied for use in cryptography, and frequency analysis in particular. No exact letter frequency distribution underlies a given language, since all writers write slightly differently. Linotype machines sorted the letters' frequencies as etaoin shrdlu...

  • List of symbols
  • Logo
    Logo
    A logo is a graphic mark or emblem commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition...

  • Logotype
  • Map-territory relation
  • Motif (narrative)
    Motif (narrative)
    In narrative, a motif is any recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative aspects such as theme or mood....

  • National symbol
  • Nsibidi symbols
  • Physical symbol system
    Physical symbol system
    A physical symbol system takes physical patterns , combining them into structures and manipulating them to produce new expressions....

  • Provincial symbols
  • Psychoanalysis
    Psychoanalysis
    Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

  • Punctuation
    Punctuation
    Punctuation marks are symbols that indicate the structure and organization of written language, as well as intonation and pauses to be observed when reading aloud.In written English, punctuation is vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences...

  • Religious symbolism
    Religious symbolism
    Religious symbolism is the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork, events, or natural phenomena, by a religion. Religions view religious texts, rituals, and works of art as symbols of compelling ideas or ideals...

  • Representation
    Representation (arts)
    Representation is the use of signs that stand in for and take the place of something else. It is through representation that people organize the world and reality through the act of naming its elements...


  • Second-order simulacra
    Second-order simulacra
    Second-order simulacra, a term coined by Jean Baudrillard, are symbols without referents, that is, symbols with no real object to represent. Simply put, a symbol is itself taken for reality and further layer of symbolism is added...

  • Semiotics
    Semiotics
    Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

  • Sign (linguistics)
    Sign (linguistics)
    There are many models of the linguistic sign . A classic model is the one by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. According to him, language is made up of signs and every sign has two sides : the signifier , the "shape" of a word, its phonic component, i.e...

  • Siglas poveiras
    Siglas poveiras
    The siglas poveiras is a proto-writing system that has been used by the local community of Póvoa de Varzim in Portugal for many generations. The siglas were primarily used as a signature for family coat-of-arms in order to mark family belongings...

  • Symbol (formal)
    Symbol (formal)
    For other uses see Symbol In logic, symbols build literal utility to illustrate ideas. A symbol is an abstraction, tokens of which may be marks or a configuration of marks which form a particular pattern...

  • Symbolic culture
    Symbolic culture
    Symbolic culture is a concept used by archaeologists, social anthropologists and sociologists to differentiate the cultural realm constructed and inhabited uniquely by Homo sapiens from ordinary "culture", which many other animals possess. Symbolic culture presupposes more than the ability to learn...

  • Symbol rate
    Symbol rate
    In digital communications, symbol rate is the number of symbol changes made to the transmission medium per second using a digitally modulated signal or a line code. The Symbol rate is measured in baud or symbols/second. In the case of a line code, the symbol rate is the pulse rate in pulses/second...

  • Symbol Grounding
    Symbol grounding
    The Symbol Grounding Problem is related to the problem of how words get their meanings, and hence to the problem of what meaning itself really is. The problem of meaning is in turn related to the problem of consciousness, or how it is that mental states are meaningful...

     Problem
  • Symbolism (disambiguation)
    Symbolism (disambiguation)
    Symbolism is the applied use of symbols. It is a representation that carries a particular meaning. It is a device in literature where an object represents an idea.A symbol is an object, action, or idea that represents something other than itself....

  • Table of mathematical symbols
    Table of mathematical symbols
    This is a listing of common symbols found within all branches of mathematics. Each symbol is listed in both HTML, which depends on appropriate fonts being installed, and in , as an image.-Symbols:-Variations:...

  • Typography
    Typography
    Typography is the art and technique of arranging type in order to make language visible. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading , adjusting the spaces between groups of letters and adjusting the space between pairs of letters...

  • Unicode symbols
    Unicode Symbols
    In computing, in addition to encoding characters for the various writing systems used throughout the World, Unicode also devotes several blocks of characters to symbols that have a well-defined place in plain text. In Unicode there is a main distinction between "scripts" and "symbols". A character...

  • Yantra
    Yantra
    Yantra is the Sanskrit word for "instrument" or "machine". Much like the word "instrument" itself, it can stand for symbols, processes, automata, machinery or anything that has structure and organization, depending on context....



External links