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Language & Culture

Chapter 7
by

Samuel Sloan

on 2 August 2016

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Transcript of Language & Culture

Chapter 7
Language and Culture
Today, we are going in depth on the concept of
SEMIOTICS
What is the study of semiotics?
The study of the Structure of Language
It attempts to understand the connections between words and their meanings, regardless of context.
A focus on the
symbols
that make up words and how they generate
meaning
for different people.
"Word Science" - a scientific or objective way of understanding language usage.
Considers how formal rules and norms shape our language use.
SEMIOTICS
Why do we call a chair, "chair"?
Arbitrary
- At some point, the
words we use were randomly selected
.
(In English, we might have called a cat "gata," in Spanish; "feles," in Latin; "chat," in French; or "katta," in Greek; or a Meowser or a "pisser face" or a fuzzy-faced milk drinker)

Ambiguous
-
Any Given Word can represent a wide array of things
.
(When I say "dog," I might mean: my Schnauzer, your Poodle, a German Shepard, the Saluki Mascot, a Golden Retriever, my best friend, any canine-looking creature (like a wolf), a derogatory term for an unattractive person, a verb meaning to slow someone down, or a guy who is being sexist ).

Abstract
-
Words are not the things they represent
.
According to a semiotic perspective,
Language has Three Qualities
:
C. H. I. P. M. O. N. K.
What is this?
Painting by
René Magritte
, famous Surrealist Artist
This is not a pipe.
Rather, it's a picture of a pipe. Actually, it's poor copy of a digital reproduction of a famous painting of a pipe that is sitting in a museum somewhere.
Can't smoke it, can't touch it, it's older than me, it may never have existed as depicted, and yet there it is.
It's not even "real," but the answer to the question "What is it?" is . . . "It's a pipe"
This is what is known as a
slippery signifier
, the word has a recognizable meaning, but in different contexts it may or may not be "
felicitous
" or "true-meaning"
What is this?
ALSO NOT A PIPE.
This not a pipe, it's a cup.
(or is it a candle holder?)
This IS a pipe, but it's also a clue.
This is not a pipe, it's a banana.
Or a Graffiti banana in the style of the famous painting.
The Treachery of Images
This actually is a photo. But the mind-bender... Is the actual painting lying?
Is it a pipe?
Is it still a pipe if it's stuck to a frame or if you can't smoke from it?
This brings us to the study of
Post-Semiotics.
When I say the word "Liberty," what does it signify for you?
How about "freedom?"
What about "terrorism?"
What might these words signify in different eras of time?
We have competing frames of reference and competing power structures that change how we think of words.
If words have definite signifiers, signifieds, and signs in a semiotic regime, then
in a post-semiotic perspective meaning is more slippery, challenging
Words are not merely representational
- (We can't "understand" meaning in a formal sense, outside of language, language literally constructs the world)
We experience language Holistically
- (if you break down language into tiny pieces and study those pieces, you'll miss the overall picture or
gestalt
)
Words Build, Sustain, and Challenge Power
- (Power is literally inscribed with words, and in many early Western cultures, the impetus for having written language was to give the State ruler legitimate power& control. BUT! Power exists because Language does)
Language is Socially Constructed and Words are Inter-dependent
- (Words use other words for meaning, as in a dictionary, and that meaning is generated and influenced by everyone)
Language is Never Neutral or Objective
-
(Words always have a shade of meaning, and people will interpret your words choices, whether they are "intentional" or not. Using Queer VS GLBT VS "gay" VS non traditional sexual orientation, etc.)
Some tenets of
Post-Semiotics
:
Signifier
-the words and symbols used
Semiotics:
breaks language into 3 Parts:
"C O M -
P U T E R"
Signified
-meanings we associate with the word
Laptop, Desktop,
Tower, Tablet, game system, robot, chip, Smartphone, electronic brain, person who does math, etc.
+
=
Sign
-the likely preferred meaning
- My computer tower at home
- Image you might think when I say the word "computer"
Signifier
-the words and symbols used
Signified
-meanings we associate with the word
Sign
-the likely preferred meaning
+
=
Let's try to do another word:
PAJAMAS
MAIL
CAMERA
Many of these points are summarized by this theory:
The Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis:
Thoughts Shape our Reality
Language Shapes our Thoughts,
Language Shapes our Reality
Words make possible what we can and cannot understand
Think about this: "What we can think about is limited to the words we know"
Because, the world is determined by what we can think, and what we think and say becomes our reality.
This theory also points out that every instance of language has an embedded value system.
(Words to describe a painting, weather, food, etc.)
Denotative -

Connotative -
So, Words have two different kinds of meanings:
Dictionary definition, literal, objective, determinate, "fixed"
Affective (emotional) associations people have with a word
undocumented immigrant VS illegal alien
handicapped VS person with a disability
Geek VS Enthusiast
Garbageman/woman VS Waste Engineer
A "used car" VS one that's just "pre-owned"
Liberty VS Freedom?
On the left side,
come up with names for:
So to look at this phenomena, let's do a quick activity:
PROMISCUOUS
WOMEN
On the right side,
come up with names for:
PROMISCUOUS
MEN
What are the major differences between these two lists?

If our reality is socially constructed through language (and since these terms should be
denotatively equivalent
), then what do these differences have to say about the way we construct gender for each other in society?

What is the difference, in relationship to power and gender?

Why is this important as a public speaker?
-Not adjectives,
think of nouns
This is a CLUE.
OR, is it just a pawprints?
Signifiers Explained:
This next video is rather silly - a faux art critique, but pay attention to how Ze Frank uses heightened language to get at the
Slipperiness of Semiotic Meanings:
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
tells us that,
t
o some degree, our language makes possible what we
can
and
cannot
understand about the world
art critic
this guy is lost
in a museum
Articulate Contact:
An approach to understanding Post-Semiotics, by John Stewart (1941)
"Because language is a living process that requires speakers to negotiate with each other to make meaning, we cannot reduce language to its component parts and still understand it effectively."
(Potentially End Here)
Full transcript