2. LZ411 Doing semiotics.ppt


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LZ411 Doing Semiotics

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  • We were saying last week that we can ask questions about readers, producers and texts. This week we are going to focus on the texts in other words the messages of communication. Rather than simply assuming that any message is simply sent out from the producer (sender) and transparently received by the receiver (reader), the approach called semiotics firmly centres on understanding how messages (in our case media messages) create meaning. So my ‘research question’ for this text is ‘How does this text create meaning’?
    Now from the reading last week. James Carey said “Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed” (p. 19).
    When I communicate you understand what I mean more or less. I create a message out of signs (that is the only way, there is no direct thought transference). Would anyone disagree? i.e. is there any kind of communication that could be done with mediation, in other words without recourse to words, images, gesture etc.
    So we have to use the sign systems available to us in our culture in order to communicate? We share in other words the same sign systems we can understand each other because we share the system of communication.
    In the language of semiotics we share the same codes. The more we share the same codes, the more we share the same sign systems, the closer the two meanings of the message are i.e. the message as intended and the message as understood.
  • Rather than thinking about communication as a flow from the sender to the receiver, however we are going to focus on the message as consisting of a structured relationship of elements that together create meaning.
    What is it that makes ink on paper (in this example) into something that makes meaning?
  • “It is … possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from Greek semeion, ‘sign’). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has the right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge”
    (Saussure, F. (1983) Course in general linguistics (trans. Roy Harris). London: Fontana Collins, pp15-16) quoted in Chandler, D. Semiotics The basics London: Routlege. Also available on the web at www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/
  • We’re going start by focussing on language but we will extend the discussion to all form of media in this module, including, still image and moving image.
    According to Saussure and structuralism – the sign systems that we use do not simply label a pre-existing reality. It’s not like all the ways that we divide up the world mentally actually exist out there which subsequent to their existence we then label so as to refer to them.
    Our perception and understanding of reality is constructed by the words and other signs which we use. Use the example of ‘child’.. What does this word mean? To what extent does it label a pre-existing reality and to what extent is the meaning of it culturally determined and therefore we can ‘see’ children because of the way they are labelled not the other way around. We see them and subsequently attach the sign.
    Culutre an society decide what the sign ‘child’ means, rathe rthan nature or biology. The reason child is meaningful, because it is not adult. It is not teenager. In other words its meaning arises because of its difference from other signs in the linguistic system of words which relate to different ages.
    Arguably then all our experience and all our thought the very sense of our own identities depends on the sign systems we have at our disposal.
    If we accept that the sign systems that we use create our realities, and that our reality does not pre-exist our sign systems then the study of semiotics encompasses questions of self, identity, reality and society.
  • Illustrate this by putting the word cat on the board. And point out that it refers to a furry animal but in a different langauge system the sign is different. Language communities agree on the signs they will use.
    Ask for all the different sign systems of cat and put on the board.
    The word cat is part of a whole system. I can combine it with other words so ‘the cat sat on the mat’. I have used my knowledge of the rules of language in order to create the sentence. Illustrate by referring to chess.
    We select from the system (langue) in order to create actual instances of speaking or writing (parole)
  • Does this mean anything to you? If yes, then it is a sign. If not, it’s not a sign.
  • To recap: The sign is something you can touch, see or hear, smell or taste. It has a material nature.
    The signifier is the sensory impression of the sign. The mental image of the words, picture, video inside your mind.
    The signified is the concept/meaning that the sign invokes. (e.g. ‘guineapigness’ or Englishness etc.). It will be broadly similar to all people in a culture sharing the same language.
    Note that none of these refer to the external world. The referent is outside the scope of this particular framework.
  • Godfrey Bloom just before the UKIP party conference 24th September made the comment that some female party activists were sluts because they don’t clean behind the fridge.
    slut (n.) 
    c.1400, "a dirty, slovenly, or untidy woman," probably cognate with dialectal German Schlutt "slovenly woman," dialectal Swedish slata "idle woman, slut," and Dutch slodder "slut," but the ultimate origin is doubtful. Chaucer uses sluttish (late 14c.) in reference to the appearance of an untidy man. Also "a kitchen maid, a drudge" (mid-15c.; hard pieces in a bread loaf from imperfect kneading were called slut's pennies, 18c.). Meaning "woman of loose character, bold hussy" is attested from mid-15c.; playful use of the word, without implication of loose morals, is attested from 1660s.
    Our little girl Susan is a most admirable slut, and pleases us mightily. [Pepys, diary, Feb. 21, 1664]
    Sometimes used 19c. as a euphemism for bitch to describe a female dog. There is a group of North Sea Germanic words in sl- that mean "sloppy," and also "slovenly woman," and that tend to evolve toward "woman of loose morals" (cf. slattern, also English dialectal slummock"a dirty, untidy, or slovenly person," 1861; Middle Dutch slore "a sluttish woman").
  • Innocent mistake in the use of a word he thought was in the grouping of words for cleanliness, received by some (all?) to be in the grouping of words for sexual activity and in that code, the meaning is derogatory.
  • Image of peter andre = iconic sign composed of signifier, (mental image of picture), signified (mential concept of peter andre in our minds), referent (the real peter andre walking about in the world)
    Heat = symbolic sign = signifier (the letters h – e –a – t) , signified (mental concpet of the magazine publication or possible the publisher) – referent the real magazine in the world, or the publisher possibley the editorial team
  • Examples from this front cover of NOW magazine.
    Single = denotation – one thing. Not in a relationship. Connotations = available (sexually available)
    Scary = denotation – frightening, inducing a feeling of being scared or frightened. Connotations = mad, to be avoided. E.g. lock up your sons!
    Visual signs – image of ‘Jordan’ – denotation – the concept of the woman named Katie Price. Referent is in the real world (katie price) denotation = glamour model persona of katie price. It is a complex sign. Connotations = glamour, scandal, sexual activity (glamour modelling), e.g. think about what values and atrributes the image can stand in for.
  • “Myth, as Barthes uses the term, means things used as signs to communicate a social and political message about the world. The message always involves the distortion or forgetting of alternative messages, so that myth appears to be simply true, rather than one of a number of different possible messages.” (Bignell 2010: 21)
    Consider the denotations first – a picture of jordan with two men. She’s dressed in an outfit which is quite revealing of her body. Underneath is a picture of her on a beach in a provocative pose. In the second – descirbe the denotation.
    In considering myth, the actual details of the images used in particular are emptied out of their meaning. For example, what really was happening in the first picture? How did the photo come about? Who are the men? What are they saying? Etc etc. In other words the context and history of these photos are left almost empty. Instead they are used to mean something else – the mythic meanings fo the piece.
    In fact the images through their mythic meanings appear to be used as a way of justifying or acting as evidence for the claim ‘single and scary’.
    There is an equivalence (actually a metaphor) that she is ‘on the market’ like a product or an object. There is a mythic meaning of her as object, and that a single woman is scary. This relates to fears in society about vunerable men and predatory women. In other words this pre-existing social meaning (the basis of film-noir etc.) bis both present here and is reinforced here. Is it reinforced here?
  • In production, ‘prevailing cultural myths’ taken for granted, common sense, naturalised meanings will inform the manner in which the meanings are hierarchically organised in the text. What connections are being made between the product and values, lifestyles, ideas, meanings?
  • 2. LZ411 Doing semiotics.ppt

    1. 1. LZ411 – Critical Media Theory LZ411 – Critical Media Theory Semiotics: The critical analysis of media Aims today … 1.Introducing semiotics as a structural approach to media analysis 2.Applying semiotics to visual and verbal language 1
    2. 2. Media and meaning Questions about ‘the text’? (representation, narrative, genre) How does this text create meaning? According to Carey (2009:19), “communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed”
    3. 3. Media and meaning What is it that makes ink on paper (in this example) into something that makes meaning? Messages as ‘structured relationships of elements’ Semiotics: the study of these elements and structured relationships. The study of signs and how they create meaning.
    4. 4. Semiotics the study of signs and meanings • Key figure in the study of language • Work inspired ideas of later writers in film theory, cultural studies and media studies • Important contribution – recognition of the nature of language as a relational system of signs Ferdinand de Saussure 1857 – 1913 Swiss Linguist
    5. 5. Signs and reality • Question– does language (a sign system) label our reality or does language ‘create’ our reality? BABY TODDLER CHILD ADULT ELDERLY PERSON • Sign systems give form and meaning to existence – they shape our reality AND they communicate our reality
    6. 6. SIGN SYSTEMS • Linguistic signs are arbitrary therefore used by convention • Langue and parole • Language is a system of differences – signs have value when they are recogniseably different from others
    7. 7. Components of the sign signification signifier signified A sign of a guinea pig Sign - physical existence (marks on paper, sounds in air, pixels on screen etc.) – anything which is meaningful to someone Signifier – sensory perception of sign (form) Signified – concept/meaning evoked by the sign (content)
    8. 8. Signs, signifiers and signifieds signified Sign - physical existence Signifier – sensory perception of sign (form) Signified – concept/meaning evoked by the sign (content) signification signifier
    9. 9. Signs, signifiers and signifieds signified Sign - physical existence Signifier – sensory perception of sign (form) Signified – concept/meaning evoked by the sign (content) signification signifier
    10. 10. An example • What’s ‘gone wrong’ with this act of communication? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics24222992 SLUT Slovenly, dirty, untidy Sexually promiscuous woman – a woman of low character
    11. 11. Codes • The systems in which signs are organised into groups are called codes • Codes organise signs into meaningful systems which correlate signifiers and signifieds. • Slut - sign in the grouping of words for cleanliness? OR a sign in the grouping of words for sexual activity?
    12. 12. Codes Codes organise signs into meaningful systems which correlate signifiers and signifieds. (Chandler 2002:147) So in the grouping of linguistic signs (code) for cleanliness, ‘slut’ signifies slovenly or untidy. In the grouping of linguistic signs (code) for sexual activity ‘slut’ signifies promiscuity with a derogatory meaning. Godfrey Bloom: mistaken codes or something more insidious? (i.e. an attack on women in politics)
    13. 13. Visual example Codes organise signs into meaningful systems which correlate signifiers and signifieds. (Chandler 2002:147)
    14. 14. Visual example Codes organise signs into meaningful systems which correlate signifiers and signifieds. (Chandler 2002:147)
    15. 15. Visual example Codes organise signs into meaningful systems which correlate signifiers and signifieds. (Chandler 2002:147)
    16. 16. Syntagm and Paradigm • A syntagm is an ordered array of signs combined according to certain rules Cat sat on the mat paradigmatic • A paradigm is a set of signs, any of which are conceivably interchangeable within a given context • • • • • • Cat sat on the mat Dog sat on the mat Cat stood on the mat Cat sat on the chair Cat sat under the chair Cat sat under a chair syntagmatic
    17. 17. Words and images • Anchorage – the way words are used to ‘tie down’ the meaning of an image • Relay – the complementary way words and images operate – meaning oscillating back and forth
    18. 18. Analysing signs and codes 1. Identify key signs in this magazine front cover. 1. How do selection (paradigmatic analysis) and combination (syntagmatic analysis) play a role in the generation of meaning? 2. How do words and images work together to create meaning? 3. What codes are in operation such that we ‘get’ the correct signifieds from the signifiers? (i.e. meaning)
    19. 19. Types of signs - iconic An icon (or iconic sign) bears a resemblance to the referent (the actual thing/person in the world A symbol (or symbolic sign) has a conventionalised connection between sign and referent.
    20. 20. Analysing visual signs Denotations – the literal meaning(s) of a sign Connotations – the cultural meanings of a sign
    21. 21. Myth What is this article’s way of representing ‘Jordan’? What wider social meanings are being made here? What meanings appear to be ‘naturally’ true?
    22. 22. Analysing for Myth signs Range of possible connotations What meanings are being taken for granted? myth A) What are the denotations of the signs? B) What ‘second-order’ system is in operation? i.e. what further meanings are being suggested? (connotations) C) What appears to be denotation but is actually connotation? – meanings naturalised, taken for granted.
    23. 23. Summary • Semiotics – the study of signs in society • Sign systems ‘create’ our reality • Originated in language study but now is applied to lots of other cultural activity – films, magazines etc. • Signs, codes, arrangment of signs, types of signs
    24. 24. Reading and blogging • Read pages 227-232 of the chapter by Gemma Penn called ‘Semiotic analysis of still images’. See my blog for guidance. • We will use the second half of the chapter next week to discuss advertising in the media. • Seminar – discussing reading, clarifying issues, further analysis, how to reference properly. See my blog.