Semiotics & Structuralism

In semiotics you could have an apple.  A photo of a apple is not an apple but it makes you think of an apple, the word apple printed on a bit of paper also makes us think of an apple.  A toy apple is not an apple but again makes you think of an apple. These are all medias that convey a message to an audience or a “sign” to represent an apple.

In the lecture the example used was the film Jaws, the film conveyed Steven Spielberg’s story of a shark.

• Fear of nature?
• Fear of the sea?
• Fear of the unknown?
• Triumph of good over evil?
• Triumph of man over nature?
• Science vs Experience?

The above could be some of the messages conveyed during the film, you may have your own idea of what the message was if you’ve seen the film.

word > media >audiance.

When you see a picture of a shark does it make you think of the film Jaws, or are you a  Marine Biologist and a picture of a shark makes you think in a completely different way and not the film Jaws. The meaning comes from your own individual experiance. The shark YOU see will likely be different to the shark someone else sees. (if thats what it makes them picture)

A sign has a form, called a signifier.  e.g. a football, a figner print, or even a picture of an apple. The signified is not a real thing in the world, but an idea.

Signifier > Signified, refers to the reference  ie real apples.

picture (signifier) > apples (signified) > real apples (reference)

Arbitrary Signs
these signs have no direct connection with their meaning. e.g. words written on paper of say the word Shark.

Iconic Signs
these signs resemble what they signify. e.g. a photo or drawing of an apple, as they would resemble an apple.

Indexical Signs
these signs act as evidence of something. e.g. smoke from fire.

Symbolic Signs (assumed to mean certain things)
these signs have an arbitrary link. e.g. a national flag. (what do the colours or images on a flag represent)

Structuralism stresses that our perception of reality is itself constructed and shaped by the words and signs that we use, in various social contexts. It is thought that, signs and words divide the world into imaginative categories. By doing so language determines much of our sense of things, not just labelling objects.

e.g. Snow

The english language only uses a handful of terms such as snow, slush, sleet, in reference to snowy conditions. However the Inuit Eskimos have a much closer relationship to snow, and have a language that reflects this. They have detailed distinctions for types of snow – ‘light’, ‘soft’ ‘packed’ ‘waterlogged’ ‘shore fast’ ‘lying on surface’ ‘drifting on surface’. By having so many more words available within the language the Inuit perception of snow – and therefore the world around them is expanded – an English person would just see snow, whereas an Inuit would see a differing rolling landscape.

Meaning is related to your specific culturaland social perspectives. Meaning is formed in aperson’s head, communicated by media andconstructed by a number of stimuli – effectivelysigns. If the most effective signs have been selected themessage will be clear and powerful. If ambiguous signs have been selected then themessage is prone to misinterpretation.

Binary Opposites “defined by the lack of the other”
Good / Evil
Half empty / Half full

S. Freud – Psyche. Affects how we see things.
K. Marx – Production, how we see labor.


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