Sign, The (1989 words)

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay

  • John Phillips (National University of Singapore)
  • Chrissie Tan (National University of Singapore)


Even in the most naïve sense, without qualification, the term sign poses great difficulties. The word designates any thing, whether gesture, mark, token, symbol or even natural event, that expresses, indicates or refers to a meaning or to something else. Yet even that most general and innocent statement offers at best a futile answer, as if to a question that already presupposes it: “what does the word sign designate?” The presupposition of a prior meaning infects all interpretations of the word sign, which is always thus figured as a latecomer, standing in for something, a thing or a concept that precedes it. But the concept sign, if it does refer back to a prior meaning, refers back only to …

Phillips, John, Chrissie Tan. "Sign, The". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 17 May 2005
[, accessed 21 October 2016.]

Related Groups

  1. Poststructuralism and Deconstruction
  2. Structuralism