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The Greek word ‘logos’ indicates a rational principle and order to explaining phenomena semiology Semiology seeks to identify how the content of media messages come to have significance and mean what they do ‘sem’ comes from the Greek for sign and is found in words such as semaphore and semantics
Semiology The study of meaning and the different systems that make meaning possible Images Colour Bodily gestures Music Media forms in all their variety
Rhetoric Draws our attention to what someone is saying, along with the setting, the way they speak, etc. Semiology Why do specific things (a ‘posh’ accent, a black face, a suit and tie, a grey backdrop, the street rather than the studio, mean what they do? How is meaning created? Not in the mind of the reader ... Not in the text ... In the interaction between reader and text
‘Psychologically, what are our ideas, apart from our language? They probably do not exist. Or in a form that may be described as amorphous. We should probably be unable according to philosophers and linguists to distinguish two ideas clearly with the help of language’ (Saussure, 1993) Language doesn’t describe the world ... it constitutes it!
Key thinkers Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914) Roland Barthes (1915-1980) Umberto Eco (1932 - )
Core ideas Media texts are constructions Not natural but manufactured Meanings are the result of social convention not any ‘essential’ property in things or the relationship of words or other signs to the things or concepts depicted Meanings are socially determined, the organisation and rules of language Meaning is as much a result of conventions as it is the intentions of those who produced the texts
The meaning of a song is not fixed by the songwriter or singer Meanings are produced by the conventions of used both by media workers and the listeners who consume it Hidden meanings/sub-texts
Why stop at red? Signs Signifier = physical properties of a sign Signified = the conceptual aspect of the sign
The picture of dog presents us with the sign ‘dog’. The signifier (the image itself, with 2D physical properties) presents the signified of both ‘dogness’ and this particular dog (Sparky) in the image.
I took my dog to the vets on Friday. I’m dog-tired. I’m going to kill that dog of a boyfriend of mine. Don’t focus on the analysis of signs at the level of signifier and signified as the basis of understanding. Stay at the level of the sign as a way of understanding how language works
From linguistics to media studies Saussure was a linguist who realised that his analysis of language could be applied to any form of communication or signifying system. So, we can extend the semiological approach to identify the signs in Computer games TV programmes Podcasts Magazine articles Adverts Films Pieces of music And this will take us deeper than rhetoric allowed
Semiology: tools & techniques Signs combine together to create meaningful text Single word signs – sentences – paragraphs – stories Written elements – typeface – images – photos Facial features – hairstyles – clothing – backgrounds Meaning is determined by the selection of signs and their combination in text Semiology makes sense of the process and the signifying results of that selection and combination
Langue Parole Paradigm or syntagm Synchronic diachronic The whole system of signification and its elements Any particular utterance derived from the system or langue Principles or rules of how language or any signifying system is put together. Paradigm is the vertical relationship: syntagm is the horizontal relationship Study or meaning making at a particular time Changes in language over time
Verbal and visual signs Don’t be fooled! Once an object is captured by a signifying system (a dog in digital photographic form or on filmic celluloid) it is no longer an innocent object. It now exists as a sign – something selected and embraced within a system of communication
Texts made out of complex signs What are the most significant elements of this text? Which signs are most meaningful and how are they meaningful in the hierarchy of the text?
Denotation & connotation Barthes took up Saussure’s work and used them to think about the social context and role of the media Any sign will be associated with an initial aspect of signification but that this will trigger further associations Literal meaning – denotation Further associative meanings - connotation
Sign-object relationships Pierce suggested three possible relationships between signs and the objects to which they refer: Iconic relationship Indexical Symbolic
Organisation of signs in texts Different signs combined differently create different readings – connotations change Inflection Reinforcement Transformation Polysemy – we read signs differently depending on our particular social context especially in relation to power
Eco and code Polysemous readings are possible because of the notion of ‘code’ a means of converting information into a special format in order to communicate it A set of rules for doing so If the code that is used by the reader is a different one to that used to create a text then a reading different to that intended by the creators will result. Preferred readings Aberrant readings Media producers want to keep aberrant readings to a minimum. How do they do that?
Semiological analyses How do you know that any such analysis is valid? Demonstrating inter-subjective reading Providing detailed structural support for our analysis Ultimately, how persuasive can we be?