Lecture 3: Codes and Metaphors


  • The meaning of a sign depends on the code within which it is situated
  • Codes provide a framework within which signs make sense
  • Codes can be cultural, religious, gestures (Ex. Rolling your eyes, raising hands), smell, pitch in voice, clothing, appearance. Codes that we agree to as a culture
  • There are dress codes as well. The way we dress marks as a social background. Judgements in society can be based on the way someone is dressed (Ex. Men dressed as punk or men dressed formally indicating a businessman)
  • Codes can be verbal or non-verbal (Ex. Language, painting, music)
  • Encode: Using a code to create a sign
  • Decode: Deciphering (decoding) something on the basis of the code
  • Language is a system that has signs that we recognize, arranged with codes that we recognize
  • Those who avoid gaze of others tend to be nervous, shy. Those who do not tend to have self-confidence
  • Spatial Codes: Codes of touching, standing apart from another person in a particular distance

Semiotics of Food

  • Food is a survival substance (denotative on the nature level). We transform this into culture, based on how we make the food, what food we eat, what does it mean to us (Connotative on the culture level). We cook food to distinguish ourselves as humans. This symbolizes humans as men, not beasts. Cooking and feast are basic symbols to distinguish humans from animals. Foods vary from culture to culture. Celebrations, ceremonies are surrounded by foods
  • Food gives us the social language or codes of that particular society
  • Social Codes: Verbal language ( Ex. Phonological, syntactical, lexical, prosodic and paralinguistic sub-codes)
  • Bodily codes (Ex. Bodily contact, proximity, physical orientation, appearance, facial expression, gaze, head nods, gestures and posture)
  • Commodity codes (Ex. Fashion, clothing, cars)
  • Behavioural codes (Ex. Protocols, rituals, role-playing, games)
  • Textual codes: Representational codes
  • Scientific codes including mathematics
  • Aesthetic codes within various expressive arts (Ex. Poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, music)
  • For understanding certain codes, knowledge is required
  • You must have knowledge of the world (social knowledge)
  • Understand the medium and the genre
  • You need to have textual knowledge of what you are seeing (Ex. Understanding the movie you are watching)
  • Based on the two above, a modality judgement is constructed (Ex. You go watch and Romeo and Juliet, and they die in the end. You rely on social knowledge. The two can’t be together, therefore they both die in the end. The knowledge of the medium includes knowing that it is a play, a movie)
  • Modality: The reality status accorded to or claimed by a sign, text or genre
  • Modality Judgment: In making sense of a text, we make modality judgements based on our knowledge of the world and of the medium
  • The media which are typically judged to be the most ‘realistic’ are photographic, especially film and television. Believing in certain media being more realistic (modality judgement)
  • So we make a judgement using our knowledge of the world and of the medium
  • We also make judgements when we look at pictures or movies, so the media is known to be the most realistic. Even if we know something is there in real life, but in the picture it isn’t, we tend to trust the picture

Acura Advance Ad

  • The word Acura is culturally ambiguous (unclear). It is making association to Japanese words. Secondly, the word ends with Italian vowels
  • Reason for this is because Japanese tend to make latest technological, advance cars. You have Japanese manufacturing and engineering
  • Italian symbolizes style, luxury, similar to cars like Lamborghini, Ferrari
  • The name reflects that the company is offering a mix of both Japanese and Italianicity. This allows us to make mortality judgements
  • Oppositional Reading: I deny this ad because it is an example of consumerism

Stuart Hall

  • Dominant Reading: Intended meaning of the author. The reader accepts the text codes in the reading
  • Negotiated Reading: The reader negotiates with the text codes, therefore the codes are not natural
  • Oppositional Reading: The reader resists the dominant code even though he / she understands the code. Also, one can take the readings and make opposing statements towards them
  • Narratives: Narratives are texts. They are reconstructed (done over and over again) using specific codes
  • Make up of composite (complex) signifiers
  • Put together in terms of a specific code (Ex. The Superman code, where if you know the superman, you know the Kryptonite)
  • A lot of media is based on narratives, which use codes that we have prior knowledge of these codes. These codes are used to create new narratives
  • Metaphors: How we perceive the world, think about things, and act in a certain way is based on a conceptual system. This conceptual system tends to be metaphorical
  • Metaphor is the application of a name or descriptive term of phrase to an object or action to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable (Ex. Argument is War) 
  • It’s the connotative meaning that is evoked here
  • The metaphor is really a complex signifier that stands for an abstract signified by associating with something new
  • Abstract Signified: You have to feed yourself ideas, by studying and earning it
  • New metaphors give rise to new meanings

Metaphors are one of our most important tools for trying to understand partially what cannot be comprehended totally (Ex. Feelings, aesthetic experiences, moral practices, spiritual awareness)

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