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Ikon (pronounced [ɪkoːn], gen. Of the icon , pl. The icon ; from the Greek εἰκών Eikon "Bild" about English icon ), even iconic sign is one of Charles S. Peirce introduced terminus of the theory of signs ( semiotics ) and Linguistics (Linguistics) and means a sign whose sign function is based on the fact that it has a perceptible similarity to the designated object ( reference object ). The similarity can be visual, aural or other, but must be distinguished from a purely arbitrary designation in each case. Typical examples of iconic characters are images that depict motifs that are visually similar to real objects (e.g. portraits ).

As an adjective, iconic in the broader sense is also used synonymously for shaping , prototypical or archetypal .

Concept of the icon in semiotics

The concept of the icon was mainly coined by the American semiotic Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914), who distinguished between three forms of signs: icon, index and symbol .

In Peirce's terminology, the icon differs (ideally) from the symbol , which is a sign whose relationship to what is designated is purely conventional and is based “neither on similarity nor on a cause-and-consequence relationship”. Defined positively, an icon is a sign in which “an image relationship, a similarity can be established” between the sign and what is designated. The icon in the Peirce sense is largely synonymous with the symbol in the tradition of European terminology.

Peirce saw pictures as a separate group of characters and called them “icons”. In the more recent image studies, however , the term icon plays an important role as a synonym for “image”. For example, the growing importance of images in modern media societies and the corresponding reorientation of the previously linguistically oriented cultural studies (“ linguistic turn ”) towards greater concern about the imagery of our culture is often referred to as the “ iconic turn ”.

Charles W. Morris introduced the term iconicity for the degree of similarity between the icon and its reference object .

One speaks of iconification ( Rudi Keller ) when another character type becomes an icon. This is how an index (symptom) can iconify.

In the critique of Peirce's theory of signs as being merely representational, an icon is defined as follows within the framework of an instrumentalist theory of signs: "What makes an icon an icon is not the similarity, but the method of interpretation, the associative conclusion". An icon acts as an “association impulse”.

Use of iconic characters

Many ancient scripts used icons, e.g. B. the hieroglyphs or the cuneiform script . In the spoken language there is something comparable, the so-called onomatopoeia . It should be noted that some of these characters only contain the original information in very rudimentary form (and are therefore already close to the conventionally defined symbol ). A bird hieroglyph perhaps no longer stands for the depicted animal itself, but for the abstract principle “lighter than air”, or it can be a reference to a bird deity and then stands for its function, such as death / dying.

Nowadays, icons are used in a wide variety of ways, including in the form of pictograms . Examples of this are traffic signs , care instructions on textiles , toilet pictograms, prohibition signs (showing crossed-out cigarettes, dogs or cell phones) or information boards and maps. In the computer sector, too, icons are a common means of simplifying the design of graphical user interfaces (e.g. in the form of a wastebasket or a briefcase). In general, such pictograms are used to provide quick and uncomplicated information, which is a prerequisite that the presentation of the stylized image is familiar to the viewer and the sign is therefore intuitively understandable.

Further examples of icons are: Diagrams in the media, information and traffic signs, maps, site plans, musical reproduction of noises; Wax figure in the panopticon; Photos, paintings, maps; Drawings; also onomatopoeic words like "Kikeriki!" or "Tschack!"

See also


  • Umberto Eco (2000): Characters. Introduction to a concept and its history (first v .: 1973), Ed. 895, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 11.
  • Charles S. Peirce : Phenomenon and Logic of Signs [1903], Frankfurt a. M .: Suhrkamp 1983

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ernst, Pragmalinguistik (2002), p. 75
  2. Kocsány, Piroska: Basic Linguistics: a workbook for beginners. - Paderborn: Fink, 2010, p. 42
  3. ^ Trabant, Semiotik (1996), p. 32
  4. ^ So Kjørup, Søren: Semiotics. W. Fink, Paderborn 2009, p. 10
  5. Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (iconicity).
  6. ^ Keller, Rudi: Character theory. Francke, Tübingen u. a. 1995 (UTB; 1849), p. 162
  7. ^ Keller, Rudi: Character theory. Francke, Tübingen u. a. 1995 (UTB; 1849), p. 125 (citing Goodman)
  8. ^ Keller, Rudi: Character theory. Francke, Tübingen u. a. 1995 (UTB; 1849), p. 125
  9. Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (Ikon).
  10. ^ Menne (logic), 12
  11. Brekle, Semantik, 3rd ed. (1972), 38
  12. Brekle, Semantik, 3rd ed. (1972), 38