Cognitive Semiotics


Role of signs in personal, interpersonal, and cultural dynamics

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is ... current scope of meaningful signification
  • Knowing is … using signs
  • Learner is … a system of meaning (person, social, or cultural)
  • Learning is … making meaning
  • Teaching is … N/A




Cognitive Semiotics is a theory of making meaning. Its unique contribution is to draw on and integrate varied insights and methods from both Semiotics and Cognitive Science. This blend entails analysis of how signs and symbols are involved in making meaning as well as experiment-based investigations, all aimed better understanding the role of signs in individual understandings, interpersonal communications, and cultural practices. Associated discourses include:
  • Edusemiotics (Educational Semiotics) (Andrew Stables, 2000s) – a frame in which learning is identified as co-extensive with living; both are construed as semiotic processes of creating meaning through responding to and interpreting signs. Formal education is thus interpreted as a co-option of learning (see Exaptation, under Universal Darwinism), whereby classical distinctions of knower–knowledge, mind–body, self–other, and so are reconceived as dynamic and co-constituting forms.


Cognitive Semiotics does not appear to have attracted much critical attention, apart from a few notes of disdain from “purists” who question the wisdom of combining the insights and methods of different academic domains without first contrasting and interrogating their foundational assumptions.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Thomas C. Daddesio; Juan Magariños de Morentin

Status as a Theory of Learning

In general, proponents of Cognitive Semiotics do not describe it as a theory of learning, but it has all the hallmarks of one. In particular, its foci on individual, collective, and cultural processes are precisely the topics addressed by most theories of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Cognitive Semiotics is not a theory of teaching, and it offer no advice (direct or indirect) on influencing learning. (That said, see Semiotic Pedagogy.)

Status as a Scientific Theory

Cognitive Semiotics appears to have a limited evidence base. However, it is bolstered by the rigor of the domains that it draws on.


  • Edusemiotics (Educational Semiotics)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2024). “Cognitive Semiotics” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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