Lecture 1: Structure of the Sign: De Saussure and Peirce

Nike Just Do it Commercial (I’m Not a Soldier)

  • Various signs used to portray a message: images, texts, music
  • Use of semiotics to sell their products
  • Also the use of famous figures and athletes such as Michael Jordan
  • Signs are indirect everywhere in movies, video games, commercials (Ex. If you buy running shoes, you will run this way). Thus, there is indirect use of signs to sell the product
  • Signifier in the Nike ad includes a flower blooming, which signifies development
  • Another signifier is nature, which signifies how everyone can do it
  • Nothing in media is RAW. It is all put together to target the audience
  • Icon / Iconic: The main song imitates the signified in the commercial. Trying to target audience by stating that you are a soul. Capable of accomplishing what’s in the ad if you buy Nike product

What is Semiotics?

  • According to Ryder, semiotics is a branch of communication theory that investigates sign systems and the modes of representation that humans use to convey feelings, thoughts, ideas, and ideologies
  • Semiotics is like a system, which is interpreted into our culture through movies, videos, commercials
  • Simply put, a sign is something that stands for something or someone else in some capacity
  • Signs take the form of words, images, sounds, odours, flavours, acts or objects
  • Signs have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning. We give signs meanings, without us they don’t have meanings solely
  • We are driven to make meanings for these signs that surround us in our daily lives

Ferdinand de Saussure

  • He uses the two part model and defined a sign as being composed of a signifier and signified
  • Signifier: The form which the sign takes. It can be physical or non-physical
  • Signified: The concept it represents. It refers to the sense we make out of the signifier
  • Therefore, the sign is the whole that results from the association of the signifier with the signified (Ex. A sign that reads "Open". The word open is the signifier, which signifies the concept that the shop is open for business)
  • Remember that you as the shopper / the person have invested it with meaning

Value of the Sign

  • Value of the sign depends on its relations with other signs within the system
  • In other words, Saussure believes that a sign has no absolute value independent of this context
  • Chess Game Analogy: Pieces on a chess board only work once they come together. This displays the value of the signs (each chess piece)
  • What is signified then clearly depends on the relationship between two parts of the sign, the value of a sign is determined by the relationships between the sign and other signs within the system as a whole
  • Signs therefore are given meaning, whether by individuals or within a culture
  • Arbitrariness of the Sign: Saussure argues that there is no necessary, intrinsic (natural), direct or inevitable relationship between the signifier and the signified. One little change in the signifier could change the meaning entirely
  • Once signifiers come to agreed in society, they are hard to change
  • One little change in the signifier could change the meaning entirely
  • This does not suggest that all signifying systems are socially or historically arbitrary (random)
  • The sign is arbitrary (random) a priori. But it ceases to be arbitrary, a posterior, after the sign has come into historical existence it cannot be arbitrarily changed

Pierce and the Three Part Model

  • The Representamen: The form which the sign takes (not necessarily material). It is similar to Saussure’s signifier
  • Interpretant: Not an interpreter but rather the sense made of the sign
  • Object: An object to which the sign refers (not in Saussure`s model). The object is the reaction. Pierce argued that there is more than just a signifier and signified, and that is the object (the reaction)
  • Consider the sign as a WHOLE. He said that it’s not simple as a signifier or signified, there is also a reaction in the end (Ex. A traffic light signal for "stop". The red light facing the traffic is the representamen. The idea that red indicated that vehicles must stop is the interpretant. The vehicles that are actually stopping are the objects / reaction)
  • Remember, the object does not have to be real or physical
  • Symbol / Symbolic: A mode in which the signifier does not resemble the signified but which is fundamentally arbitrary or purely conventional, so that the relationship must be learnt (Ex. Language, alphabetical letters, numbers, Morse code, traffic lights, national flags)
  • Icon / Iconic: A mode in which the signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified. It sounds, feels, tastes, looks, smells like it, being similar in possessing some of its qualities (Ex. A portrait or imitative gestures such as putting your hand up indicating “stop”)
  • Index / Indexical: A mode in which the signifier is not arbitrary (random) but is directly connected in some way to the signified. This link can be observed or inferred (Ex. Smoke is index to fire, whereas pain is an index to illness)

What is Semiosis?

  • The interaction between the representamen (the form of which the sign takes), the object (the object to which the sign refers to) and the interpretant (the sense made of the sign) is referred to by Pierce as Semiosis

Semiosis then is the comprehension and production of signs

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