Signification of signs and signifiers originates with linguistic theory and was applied to literary theory. In linguistics, the study of signs and signifiers is called semiotics. In literary theory, the analysis of signs and signifiers falls under the theoretical approach of literary deconstruction. In The Signifying Monkey, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. applies signs and signifiers and signifying to what he refers to as Afro-American vernacular.
In his study, Gates talks about the "black tradition" that has developed its "own theories of its nature and function within elaborate hermeneutical and rhetorical systems." In relation to this, Gates states that black vernacular language of African Americans is their valued "ultimate sign of difference." In this context, "signifying" is a complex language construction of ruses meant to confuse and overwhelm the opponent. In other words, signifying is a verbal challenge that may make fun of, deceive, irritate, in general win out against the one viewed as the victim of signifying.