THE SEMANTIC BACKGROUND 5
A sign indicates the existencepast, present, or futureof a thing, event, or condition. Wet streets are a sign that it has rained. A patter on the roof is a sign that it is raining. . . . The logical relation between a sign and its object is a very simple one: they are associated, somehow, to form a pair; that is to say, they :stand in a one-to-one correlation.3
.Symbols, on the contrary,
.are not proxy for their objects, but are vehicles for the conception of objects. To conceive a thing or a situation is not the same thing as to "react toward it" overtly, or to be aware of its presence. In talking about things we have conceptions of them, not the things themselves; and it is the conceptions, not the things, that symbols directly "mean" 4. . . The fundamental difference between signs and symbols is this difference of association, and consequently of their use by the third party to the meaning function, the subject; signs announce their objects to him, whereas symbols lead him to conceive their objects. The fact that the same itemsay, the little mouthy noise we call a "word"may serve in either capacity, does not obliterate the cardinal distinction between the two functions it may assume.5
Now semantics, according to my definition, has to do with symbols, not with signs. It is evident from the foregoing paragraph, therefore, that semantics is a complex affair in which
3. S. K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key (Cambridge, Mass., 1942), p. 57. Mrs. Langer's analysis of our present semantic problem is the most skillful one known to me.
4. One constantly uses the word "mean" in various ways. Thus in a psychological sense, a person may "mean" some referent (i.e., some object or state of affairs) by a term; or in a logical sense, a term may "mean" some referent to a person; or again, as in the quotation just cited, terms may "mean" conceptions of some referent to a person. In this book I do not aim at consistency in the use of this tricky word "mean," but rather hope that its uses will be sufficiently clear from their context. When speaking of the "meanings" of words, I am usually referring to both the referents and the conceptions
(i.e., to both the denotations and the connotations of words).
5. Langer, op. cit., pp. 60-61.