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Such a model can be seen as supporting the notion that language does not 'reflect' reality but rather constructs it. However, some have criticized its detachment from social context Gardiner Saussure also emphasized the arbitrariness of the sign though he was focusing on linguistic signs, seeing language as the most important sign system.

In the context of natural language, he stressed that there is no necessary connection between the signifier and the signified: the relationship is purely conventional and arbitrary. Each language involves different distinctions between one signifier and another e. Peirce's triadic model of the sign is complex, and will not be discussed in detail here see Sturrock or Zeman for an introduction to Peirce's semiotics.

However, note that the interpretant is itself a sign in the mind of the interpreter. Variants of Peirce's triad are often presented as 'the semiotic triangle' as if there were only one version. The notion of the importance of sense-making which requires an interpreter - though Peirce doesn't feature that term in his triad has had a particular appeal for media theorists who stress the importance of the active process of interpretation, and thus reject the equation of 'content' and meaning. Many of these theorists allude to semiotic triangles in which the interpreter or 'user' of the sign features explicitly in place of 'sense' or 'interpretant'.

This highlights the process of semiosis which is very much a Peircean concept. Whether a dyadic or triadic model is adopted, the role of the interpreter must be accounted for - either within the formal model of the sign, or as an essential part of the process of semiosis.

David Sless argues that 'statements about users, signs or referents can never be made in isolation from each other.

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A statement about one always contains implications about the other two' Sless 6. Note that semioticians whether Saussurean or Peircean make a distinction between a sign and a 'sign vehicle' the latter being a 'signifier' to Saussureans and a 'representamen' to Peirceans. The term 'sign' is often used loosely, so that this distinction is not always preserved even Saussure and Peirce were sometimes guilty of this. In the Saussurean framework, for instance, the distinction between the sign and the signifier can become unclear. Based on the ideas of Peirce, three modes of relationship between sign vehicles and their referents are commonly referred to.

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I have chosen Terence Hawkes's term 'modes of relationship' Hawkes rather than the conventional 'modes of signs' for reasons explained below. The terms 'motivation' and 'constraint' are sometimes used to describe the extent to which the signified determines the signifier. The more a signifier is constrained by the signified, the more 'motivated' the sign is: iconic signs are highly motivated; symbolic signs are unmotivated.

The less motivated the sign, the more learning of an agreed convention is required. Fiske points out that:. Convention is necessary to the understanding of any sign, however iconic or indexical it is. We need to learn how to understand a photograph Convention is the social dimension of signs Note that Peirce categorized a photograph as an index rather than an icon: 'photographs, especially instantaneous photographs, are very instructive, because we know that in certain respects they are exactly like the objects they represent.

But this resemblance is due to the photographs having been produced under such circumstances that they were physically forced to correspond point by point to nature. In that aspect, then, they belong to the It is easy to slip into referring to these three forms as 'types of signs', but they are not necessarily mutually exclusive: a sign can be an icon, a symbol and an index, or any combination. Film and television use all three forms: icon sound and image , symbol speech and writing , and index as the effect of what is filmed ; iconic signs dominate, although some filmic signs are fairly arbitrary, such as 'dissolves' which signify that a scene from someone's memory is to follow.

James Monaco suggests that 'in film, the signifier and the signified are almost identical The power of language systems is that there is a very great difference between the signifier and the signified; the power of film is that there is not' Monaco Iconic and indexical signs are more likely to be read as 'natural' than symbolic signs since they are less arbitrary. In being less reliant than writing on symbolic signs, film, television and photography suggest less of an obvious gap between the sign and its signified, which make them seem to offer 'reflections of reality'.

Roland Barthes argued that such media serve an ideological function because they appear to record rather than to transform or signify Woollacott 99; see also Hall Signs are organized into codes in two ways: by paradigms and by syntagms. The distinction between paradigmatic and syntagmatic structures is a key one in structuralist semiotic analysis. These two dimensions are often presented as 'axes', where the vertical axis is the paradigmatic and the horizontal axis is the syntagmatic. The plane of the paradigm is that of selection whilst the plane of the syntagm is that of combination these terms were introduced by Roman Jakobson.

A paradigm is a set of associated signs which are all members of some defining category, but in which each sign is significantly different. In natural language, the vocabulary of a language is one paradigm, and there are grammatical paradigms such as verbs or nouns. The use of one paradigm e. Note that the significance of the differences between even apparently synonymous paradigms is at the heart of Whorfian theories about language.

In film and television, paradigms include ways of changing shot such as cut, fade, dissolve and wipe. Fiske and Hartley 52ff show how the medium or genre used by a particular media text are also paradigms which derive meaning from the ways in which they differ from alternative media or genres: as they put it, 'although the signifier remains the same, the sign itself is altered' by a change of genre or medium ibid. Marshall McLuhan's notion that 'the medium is the message' can thus be seen as a semiotic concern: to a semiotician the medium is not 'neutral'.

A syntagm is an orderly combination of interacting signs which forms a meaningful whole sometimes called a 'chain'. Such combinations are made within a framework of rules and conventions both explicit and inexplicit. In language, a sentence, for instance, is a syntagm of words.

Paragraphs and chapters are syntagms too. In a photograph or painting syntagmatic relationships are spatial Silverman Syntagms are created by the choice of paradigms from those which are conventionally regarded as appropriate or which may be required by some rule system e. Roland Barthes outlined the paradigmatic and syntagmatic elements of the 'garment system'.

I Was an Under-Age Semiotician - The New York Times

The paradigmatic elements are the items which cannot be worn at the same time on the same part of the body such as hats, trousers, shoes. The syntagmatic dimension is the juxtaposition of different elements at the same time in a complete ensemble from hat to shoes. In the case of film, our interpretation of an individual shot depends on both paradigmatic analysis comparing it, not necessarily consciously, with the use of alternative kinds of shot and syntagmatic analysis comparing it with preceding and following shots.

The same shot used within another sequence of shots could have quite a different preferred reading. A syntagmatic analysis of a media text usually involves studying it as a narrative sequence, although with a single image such as a poster or photograph it involves the analysis of spatial relationships Silverman Narrative theory or narratology is a major interdisciplinary field in its own right, and is not necessarily framed within a semiotic perspective.

For accounts of narrative theory related to the mass media see: Kozloff ; Tilley ; Alvarado et al. Semiotic narratology is concerned with narrative in any mode - literary or non-literary, verbal or visual - but tends to focus on minimal narrative units and the 'grammar of the plot' some theorists refer to story grammars. In a highly influential book, The Morphology of the Folktale , Propp interpreted a hundred fairy tales in terms of 31 'functions' or basic units of action see Berger ; Fiske 8.

Umberto Eco interpreted the James Bond novels one could do much the same with the films in terms of a basic narrative scheme:. In film and television, a syntagmatic analysis would involve an analysis of how each shot, scene or sequence related to the others. However, Metz's 'grande syntagmatique' has not proved an easy system to apply to some films.

In their study of children's understanding of television, Hodge and Tripp 20 divide syntagms into four kinds, based on syntagms existing in the same time synchronic , different times diachronic , same space syntopic , and different space diatopic. They add that whilst these are all continuous syntagms single shots or successive shots , there are also discontinuous syntagms related shots separated by others.

A paradigmatic analysis of a text studies patterns other than internal relationships sequential or spatial within a text. Semioticians often focus on the issue of why a particular paradigm rather than a workable alternative was used in a specific context: on what they often refer to as 'absences'. John Fiske argues that 'the meaning of what was chosen is determined by the meaning of what was not' Fiske Some semioticians refer to the 'commutation test' which can be used in order to identify distinctive paradigms and to define their significance.

To apply this test a particular paradigm in a sign is selected. Then alternatives which are appropriate to the context are considered. Each must be capable of occupying the same structural position as that which appears in the sign. The effects of each substitution are considered in terms of how this might affect the sense made of the sign. This might involve imagining the use of a close-up rather than a mid-shot, a subtitution in age, sex, class or ethnicity, substituting objects, a different caption for a photograph, etc.

The structuralist method employed by many semioticians involves the study of paradigms as binary or polar oppositions. These are seen as part of the 'deep [or 'hidden'] structure' of texts. Umberto Eco analysed the James Bond novels in terms of a series of oppositions: Bond vs. Soviet Union; anglo-saxon vs. Eco makes it clear how the textual oppositions are part of a wider ideological discourse see Woollacott John Fiske makes considerable analytical use of such oppositions in relation to mass media texts.

Critics of such structuralist analysis note that binary oppositions need not only to be related to one another and interpreted, but also to be contextualised in terms of the social systems which give rise to texts Buxton Furthermore, those who use this structuralist approach sometimes claim to be analysing the 'latent meaning' in a text: what it is 'really' about.

Unfortunately, such approaches typically understate the subjectivity of the interpreter's framework. The Russian linguist and semiotician Roman Jakobson introduced the theory of markedness which relates to the poles of a paradigmatic opposition. He argued that such paired paradigms consist of an 'unmarked' and a 'marked' form. These two forms are accorded different values. The unmarked form is typically dominant e. In relation to the English language, dog is both a class of animals and the term for the male animal of that species; a female dog is labelled differently - as a bitch.

Applying this concept to the mass media, Merris Griffiths, one of my own research students, has examined the production and editing styles of television advertisements for toys. Her findings showed that the style of advertisements aimed primarily at boys had far more in common with those aimed at a mixed audience than with those aimed at girls, making 'girls' advertisements' the marked category in commercials for toys.

Semioticians distinguish perhaps sometimes too tidily between denotation and connotation, terms describing the relationship between the sign and its referent. Roland Barthes introduced the notion that there are different orders of signification levels of meaning. The first order of signification is that of denotation: at this level there is a sign consisting of a signifier and a signified. Connotation is a second-order of signification which uses the first sign signifier and signified as its signifier and attaches to it an additional signified.

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A car can connote virility or freedom in Western cultures. The choice of words often involves connotations, as in references to 'strikes' vs. Dominic Strinati raises the issue: 'Is there such a thing as pure denotation? Is denotation just another connotation? In an important paper, the British sociologist Stuart Hall comments on this issue. The term 'denotation' is widely equated with the literal meaning of a sign: because the literal meaning is almost universally recognized, especially when visual discourse is being employed, 'denotation' has often been confused with a literal transcription of 'reality' in language - and thus with a 'natural sign', one produced without the intervention of a code.

From our point of view, the distinction is an analytic one only. It is useful, in analysis, to be able to apply a rough rule of thumb which distinguishes those aspects of a sign which appear to be taken, in any language community at any point in time, as its 'literal' meaning denotation from the more associative meanings for the sign which it is possible to generate connotation. But analytical distinctions must not be confused with distinctions in the real world. There will be very few instances in which signs organized in a discourse signify only their 'literal' that is, nearly-universally consensualized meaning.

In actual discourse most signs will combine both the denotative and the connotative aspects as redefined above. It may, then, be asked why we retain the distinction at all. It is largely a matter of analytic value. It is because signs appear to acquire their full ideological value So it is at the connotative level of the sign that situational ideologies alter and transform signification.

At this level we can see more clearly the active intervention of ideologies in and on discourse This does not mean that the denotative or 'literal' meaning is outside ideology. Indeed, we could say that its ideological value is strongly fixed - because it has become so fully universal and 'natural'. Hall Stuart Hall's observations here were very much a response to critics of some remarks by Roland Barthes see also Hall Barthes argued that in photography connotation can be analytically distinguished from denotation.

In Fiske's summary, 'denotation is the mechnical reproduction on film of the object at which the camera is pointed. Connotation is the human part of the process, it is the selection of what to include in the frame, of focus, aperture, camera angle, quality of film and so on. Denotation is what is photographed, connotation is how it is photographed' Fiske Victor Burgin argued with the notion that a photograph reproduces its object, insisting that 'the photograph abstracts from, and mediates, the actual' Burgin 61 : we do not mistake one for the other.

At the connotative level, signs are more 'polysemic', more open to interpretation. As Fiske puts it, 'it is often easy to read connotative values as denotative facts; one of the main aims of semiotic analysis is to provide us with the analytical method and the frame of mind to guard against this sort of misreading' Fiske Related to connotation is what Roland Barthes refers to as myth. Barthes argues that the orders of signification called denotation and connotation combine to produce ideology - which John Hartley has described as a third order of signification Hartley This is an ideological function.

British news programmes, for instance, allude to the myth that 'we all favour moderation'. Susan Hayward offers a useful example of the three levels of signification in relation to a photograph of Marilyn Monroe:. At the denotative level this is a photograph of the movie star Marilyn Monroe.

At a connotative level we associate this photograph with Marilyn Monroe's star qualities of glamour, sexuality, beauty - if this is an early photograph - but also with her depression, drug-taking and untimely death if it is one of her last photographs. At a mythic level we understand this sign as activating the myth of Hollywood: the dream factory that produces glamour in the form of the stars it constructs, but also the dream machine that can crush them - all with a view to profit and expediency. Hayward Some key terms from literary criticism and rhetoric are widely used by semioticians.

Connotative meaning is often generated by the use of metaphor or metonymy. Metaphor expresses the unfamiliar known in literary jargon as the 'tenor' in terms of the familiar the 'vehicle'. The tenor and the vehicle are normally unrelated: we must make an imaginative leap to understand a fresh metaphor. As Fiske notes, 'the visual language that most frequently works metaphorically is that used by advertisers' Fiske In film, 'metaphor applies when there are two consecutive shots and the second one functions in a comparative way with the first' Hayward Metonymy involves the invocation of an idea or object through the use of an associated detail so 'the crown' invokes the notion of monarchy.

In film, 'metonymy can be applied to an object that is visibly present but which represents another object or subject to which it is related but which is absent' Hayward Unlike metaphor, metonymy is based on contiguity: it does not require transposition an imaginative leap as metaphor does. This difference can lead metonymy to seem more 'natural' than metaphor. Any attempt to represent reality can be seen as involving metonymy, since it can only involve selection and yet such selections serve to guide us in envisaging larger frameworks.

Synecdoche is a form of metonymy in which a part stands for the whole or vice versa a policeman is 'the law'; London is 'the smoke'; workers are sometimes called 'hands'; 'I've got a new set of wheels'. It is not easy to make a sharp distinction between metonymy and synecdoche. A typical instance of this was the furious argument they had about the Silk Cut advertisement Every few miles, it seemed, they passed the same huge poster on roadside hoardings, a photographic depiction of a rippling expanse of purple silk in which there was a single slit, as if the material had been slashed with a razor.

There were no words in the advertisement, except for the Government Health Warning about smoking. This ubiquitous image, flashing past at regular intervals, both irritiated and intrigued Robyn, and she began to do her semiotic stuff on the deep structure hidden beneath its bland surface.

It was in the first instance a kind of riddle. That is to say, in order to decode it, you had to know that there was a brand of cigarettes called Silk Cut. The poster was the iconic representation of a missing name, like a rebus. But the icon was also a metaphor.

The shimmering silk, with its voluptous curves and sensuous texture, obviously symbolized the female body, and the elliptical slit, foregrounded by a lighter colour showing through, was still more obviously a vagina. The advert thus appealed to both senual and sadistic impulses, the desire to mutilate as well as penetrate the female body.

Vic Wilcox spluttered with outraged derision as she expounded this interpretation. He smoked a different brand himself, but it wasas if he felt his whole philosophy of life was threatened by Robyn's analysis of the advert. Silk Cut. It's a picture of the name. Nothing more or less. He forced a laugh to cover his embarrassment.

You're always trying to find hidden meanings in things. A cigarette is a cigarette. A piece of silk is a piece of silk. Why not leave it at that? Semiotics teaches us that. The way the tobacco leaf is cut.

Semiotics Lesson

Like "Player's Navy Cut" - my uncle Walter used to smoke them. It's a metaphor, a metaphor that means something like, "smooth as silk". Somebody in an advertising agency dreamt up the name "Silk Cut" to suggest a cigarette that would'nt give you a sore throat or a hacking cough or lung cancer. But after a while the public got used to the name, the word "Silk" ceased to signify, so they decided to have an advertising campaign to give the brand a high profile again. Some bright spark in the agency came up with the idea of rippling silk with a cut in it.

The original metaphor is now represented literally. Whether they conciously intended or not doesn't really matter. It's a good example of the perpetual sliding of the signified under a signifier, actually. Wilcox chewed on this for a while, then said, 'Why do women smoke them, then, eh? One of the fundamental tools of semiotics is the distinction between metaphor and metonymy. D'you want me to explain it to you?

In metaphor you substitute something like the thing you mean for the thing itself, whereas in metonymy you substitute some attribute or cause or effect of the thing for the thing itself'.


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The bottom bit is called the drag because it's dragged across the floor and the top bit is called the cope because it covers the bottom bit. What you didn't tell me was that "drag" is a metonymy and "cope" is a metaphor. I thought you were interested in how things work. That's probably why you smoke them, actually. A cigarette is a cigarette as far as you are concerned.

It establishes a metonymic connection - completely spurious of course, but realistically plausible - between smoking that particular brand and the healthy, heroic, outdoor life of the cowboy. Buy the cigarette and you buy the lifestyle, or the fantasy of living it. I'm scared to go into a field with a cow in it. Self-reliant, independent, very macho. The metonymy attributes value to the testicles whereas the metaphor uses them to degrade something else. Just a plain, ordinary cigarette? Understanding such codes, their relationships and the contexts in which they are appropriate is part of what it means to be a member of a particular culture.

Indeed, Marcel Danesi has suggested that 'a culture can be defined as a kind of "macro-code", consisting of the numerous codes which a group of individuals habitually use to interpret reality' Danesi 18; see also Nichols These conventions are typically inexplicit, and we are not normally conscious of the roles which they play. Their use helps to guide us towards what Stuart Hall calls 'a preferred reading' and away from what Umberto Eco calls 'aberrant decoding', though media texts do vary in the extent to which they are open to interpretation see Fiske 86ff; The 'tightness' of semiotic codes themselves varies from the rule-bound closure of logical codes such as computer codes to the interpretative looseness of ideological codes.

John Corner suggests that loosely-defined 'codes' may not be usefully described as codes at all. Codes are not static, but dynamic systems which change over time, and are thus historically as well as socio-culturally situated. The way in which such conventions are established is called by Giraud codification. John Fiske 78ff distinguishes broadcast codes from narrowcast or restricted codes. A broadcast code is shared by member of a mass audience; a narrowcast code is aimed at a more limited audience. Pop music is a broadcast code; ballet is a narrowcast code.

Broadcast codes stress the similarities amongst "us" the majority ' Fiske 81 and tend to be simpler. Broadcast codes are learned through experience; narrowcast codes often involve more deliberate learning Fiske a: A distinction is sometimes made between digital and analogue codes. Analogue codes, such as visual images, involve graded relationships on a continuum. Digital codes, such as written language, involve discrete units. Fiske notes that 'turning nature into culture and thus making it understandable and communicable involves codifying it digitally' Fiske a: Bill Nichols adds that it is often difficult to say what analogue codes mean because trying to put their meaning into words breaks up the continuum Nichols And if so, how does it take place?

These are the two essential questions which have occupied a whole school of semioticians who following the work of Birdwhistell. Elam also attempts to provide a model, based on Umberto EcO'5 communications model in A Theory of Semiotics, which can be applied to the theatre pp. Once again it becomes clear that it is absolutely necessary for the theatre to be continually evolving. Nor can it be made to repeat itself in order for us to understand its subtleties and structures more easily. From what he has defined as "dramatic and theatrical sub-codes" the same distinction he had made at the beginning of the book.

Elam draws up an impressive chart of all of the possible levels on which a play may be understood: systemic,linguistic, intertextual, formal, epistemic, aesthetic, logical, ethical, ideological, psychological, and finally, historical pp. The advantage of this table is that it shows us the extremely complex networks which a simple perfonnance sets up in the theatre. The theatrical event is constantly shifting and changing, and for anyone who tries to comprehend it in its totality, it turns out to be the crossing-point of multiple systems, codes, and signs, all impossible to isolate, continually influenced by various factors, originating both within and beyond the petfonnance.

It is a mechanism which can be grasped only while it is in motion, and falls apart as soon as it stops. Elam next turns his attention to the dramatic text, as indicated Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves.

Semiotics 1980

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