Charles Sanders Peirce’s Semiotics – The Triadic Model


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Peirce’s Triadic Model. Image by Lesley Lanir

Semiosis of the Elements of the Triad

Peirce called the relationship and interaction between the representamen,  the interpretant  and object, “semiosis.”

For example,  in Peirce’s model, the stop sign, the representamen, consists of a red octagonal board mounted on a pole containing the word “stop” in white lettering.

The sign would be facing traffic at an intersection and the idea, the “interpretant,” or the way this sign would be understood to drivers and pedestrians is that traffic must stop at this junction.

The referent that the sign refers to is the action – stop. The act of drivers stopping their vehicles  is in this case is the “object” of this sign.

Peirce, known for his pragmatics, theorized that we interpret symbols according to a rule, a habitual connection.  ‘The symbol is connected with its object because the symbol-user and a sign exists mainly due to the fact that it is used and understood. Consider this, the next time you pull up at an intersection.


Peirce, C.  Collected Writings (8 Vols.). (1931-58). Ed. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss & Arthur W Burks. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Atkin, A. Peirce’s Theory of Signs. (2010). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Accessed December  27, 2012.

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