In his Course in General Linguistics, first published in 1916, Saussure postulated the existence of a general science of signs, or Semiology, of which linguistics would form only one part. Semiology, therefore aims to take in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment: these constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification . . . The Elements here presented have as their sole aim the extraction from linguistics of analytical concepts which we think a priori to be sufficiently general to start semiological research on its way. In assembling them, it is not presupposed that they will remain intact during the course of research; nor that semiology will always be forced to follow the linguistic model closely. We are merely suggesting and elucidating a terminology in the hope that it may enable an initial (albeit provisional) order to be introduced into the heterogeneous mass of significant facts. In fact what we purport to do is furnish a principle of classification of the questions. These elements of semiology will therefore be grouped under four main headings borrowed from structural linguistics: I. Language and Speech; II. Signified and Signifier; III. Syntagm and System; IV. Denotation and Connotation."--Roland Barthes, from his Introduction.
This text, as with all pure critical theory, is certainly dense--there is no getting around that. Barthes brilliantly strings together a concise and well-defined basis of semiology from its roots in Saussure's dyadic model for a more structuralist, synchronic form of linguistics to Hjelmslev's proposal of a second-order system. Contrary to what another reviewer has asserted, Barthes does rigorously elucidate fundamental, complex terms. This text will provide every reader with a solid semiological foundation upon which to build a more specific or extensive knowledge of structuralism, linguistics, or semiology. As such, it is a wonderful place to begin for one who wishes to grasp these essential elements.