The Semantics of Artefacts How We Give Meaning to the Things We Produce and Use

Von Martin Siefkes

Broadly defined, every result of a human action is an artefact. In a narrower sense, the term is used for material things resulting from human actions; in this sense, all artefacts together form the realm of material culture. Although meanings play an important role in our daily interaction with artefacts, they have never been treated in a comprehensive and systematic fashion. In design theory, cultural semiotics, anthropology, and archaeology, different approaches to the semantics of artefacts have been taken. The article draws on these findings to build a generalized approach to artefact semantics that concentrates on the processes in which artefacts are connected with meanings (cf. section 3). In section 0 seven principles of semantization are proposed: semantization through (1) frame connection, (2) style, (3) iconicity, (4) individual experiences, (5) cultural allusions, (6) connection to social groups, (7) specific contexts. These principles explain semantization as causal process depending on certain conditions. In section 4.2, a notation system for representing processes of semantization is proposed that combines logical and semiotic notation. For each of the seven principles of semantization, the proposed notation and one example are given.