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Semiotics, narrative and genre lecture 1


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Semiotics, narrative and genre

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Semiotics, narrative and genre lecture 1

  1. 1. Semiotics, narrative and genre A course about media texts, how they signify, and the implications this has for society
  2. 2. Why semiotics? • 'semiotics tells us things we already know in a language we will never understand' (Paddy Whannel, in Seiter 1992:1)
  3. 3. Why semiotics? • “makes the world strange”: we no longer take reality for granted • What we experience as “reality” does not have an objective existence outside of human understanding or interpretation • Understanding how signs works is an act of intellectual and political emancipation
  4. 4. Semiotics helps us to • see that we collectively construct reality • understand that an event’s meaning (eg. an accident, or Nkandla, or a sports event) is not something that the media simply collects and distributes to an audience • see that we create meaning within sets of codes and conventions (unconsciously) • become aware of these codes and conventions
  5. 5. Denaturalising the sign • Signs are the means through which we organise and understand our world(s): signs “define” reality • Be becoming aware of the codes through which we “make sense” of the world, we become aware of how signs privilege certain world views • Awareness of codes assists in challenging power
  6. 6. Semiotics • The study of signs • How is meaning created within a language? • How do things in the world come to have social significance (meaning) • Verbal language one of many systems of signs – can you give examples of others?
  7. 7. Different approaches to language • Reflective: Language reflects the world its meaning • Intentional: Language reflects the intentions of the speaker • Social constructivist: Language is socially constructed to produce shared meanings
  8. 8. Exercise 1 – Look at something in this room – Do you “recognise” it? What is the basis of this recognition – what does “recognise” mean? – Close your eyes. Can you still “see” the object? What does this have to do with “recognising” it? – Look at me and tell me what the object is – say it aloud “It’s a lamp”.
  9. 9. Exercise 2 • What does each colour “mean” • What else could they mean? • Does it matter what colours we use? • Construct a set of traffic light rules using yellow, blue and pink
  10. 10. What can we learn from this exercise? • Signs are arbitrary: any colour will do if we agree to obey the rules • Meanings are fixed by codes (rules) • Anything can function as a sign if assigned a concept and a meaning within our cultural and linguistic codes • Signs create real effects (material and social consequences) in the world
  11. 11. de Saussure • Language is a system of signs • Sounds, images written words, paintings, natural objects function as signs “only when they serve to express or communicate ideas… [To] communicate ideas, they must be part of a system of conventions” (Culler 1976:19)
  12. 12. The sign • divided analytically into two parts: – Signifier (spoken word, image etc) – Signified (the mental concept) SIGN SIGNIFIER SIGNIFIED
  13. 13. Try this… • Write down a few words • Try to separate the word from its meaning – it can help by saying it over and over • How difficult is it to separate the word (signifier) from its signified (concept) • Look at the list again and contemplate the words as signs (combined signifier and signified) • Then put the list away and conjure up the concept or mental image • Try to explain to someone what you have done, using the terms “sign”, “signifier” and “signified”
  14. 14. The sign is the union of a form which signifies (signifier) and an idea signified (signified). Though we may speak... as if they are separate entities, they exist only as components of the sign [which is] the central fact of language” (Culler 1976:19)
  15. 15. The meaning is in the difference • There is no natural or inevitable link between the signifier and the signified • Signs do not possess a fixed or essential meaning • In the traffic light example, what signifies (means)is not red or green, but the difference between red and green
  16. 16. “Members of systems” • Signs are members of systems and are defined in relation to each other • Organised within “systems of differences”: it is the differences between signifiers that signify! – eg, father because not mother, not child etc • Binary opposites a simple way of marking difference – black/white – man/woman