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Approaching Semiotics

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Matthew Sini

on 5 April 2017

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Transcript of Approaching Semiotics

Where we're going
Semiotics and signs.

Codes, Conventions, Connotations, Myth.

Putting it together: music video exercise.

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913)

Charles Pierce (1839-1914)

Roland Barthes (1915-1980)

Saussurean Linguistics
Course in General Linguistics
influential in its time and originates some of the base ideas in semiotics.

Semiotics or semiology (from the Greek
, a derivation of the verb
“to mark”) is study of the processes that involve signs, and the way they produce meaning.

Saussurean linguistics
Language is a system of conventions built around two relationships:

1. The difference between one signifier and another.

2. And the arbitrary nature between signifier and signified.

Denotation and Connotation
Saussure and Pierce both suggest that signs are there mostly to conceptualise the world.

They make meaning in naming things, describing things, interpreting things.

Roland Barthes introduced the idea that signs operate on separate levels of signification.

The first order of signification is
The second order of signification is

The Big Shave
Becoming Myth
See you next week
Approaching Semiotics
Understanding Sign Systems and Meaning
The 2 "fathers" and the "naughty son" of semiotics
Signs. What are they?
A sign is a unit of communication that produces a meaning.

It consists of two equally important, interdependent parts:

The signifier (the particular utterances or written marks that are used to convey a word. The form the sign takes.)

The signified (the concept evoked by the signifier. What the signifier "stands for")
Beyond Linguistics
The Genius Parrot
Charles Pierce's semiotic categories
Iconic: relationship between signified and signifier is based on resemblance.

Indexical: signs that indicate something else.

Symbolic: relationship between signified and signifier is arbitrary. Based on culture and convention.
Semiotic exercise - Beyonce's Formation
Codes and Conventions
Codes are the building blocks of signs. The standardised way for communicating meaning. (e.g. letters in language arranged into words ie the code for "tree" being t-r-e-e, the colours of traffic lights also codes).

Conventions are the ways you arrange signs together. Ways that communicate meaning that become common practice (e.g. grammar in language, the traffic rules).
"Barthes calls this social phenomenon, the bringing-together of signs and their connotations to shape a particular message, the making of 'myth.' Myth here does not refer to mythology in the usual sense of traditional stories, but to ways of thinking about people, products, places, or ideas which are structured to send particular messages to the reader or viewer of the text" (Bignell, 16).
When one text references, borrows or refers to a previous text. Or interpreting one text in light of other related texts.

Beyonce's music videos engage liberally in this,
is no exception.
As Barthes suggests, a semiotic examination can reveal the ideological underpinnings of many of our myths.

An interesting avenue would be the way that this music video redeploys ideologies about femininity and race.
Woman as object or subject?
Advantages of semiotics
Excellent method for unpacking signs. It breaks things down to the level of signification. Allows us to slow down and examine what goes on when we decode a sign.

Allows us to see the connections between signs and the texts that contain them. Shows us that meaning is socially produced.

Breaking things down into signifiers and signifieds and showing how something always stands in for something else, helps us understand that texts are not just representations of reality.
But what about "author" intention?
Roland Barthes had some ideas about that too.
Disadvantages of semiotics
It is not a comprehensive approach. For a comprehensive analysis, you will need to acknowledge factors other than signs (e.g. audience, institutions, history).

Codes and conventions can change, sometimes dramatically. So this must always be taken into account.

There are a lot of variables and Saussure's idea of a "science of signs" is not really possible due to the theoretically infinite and diverse meanings of any particular sign. Can work with 'preferred readings' and probabilities, but there are always other possible readings.
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