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A Semiotic Analysis Of Diesel Print Ads

Merris Griffiths

Traditionally, it is believed that semiological analysis was pioneered by two men : the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure [1857-1913] and American philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce [1839-1914] [Berger [1982], cited in Boyd-Barrett, 1987 : 133]. On the most basic level, Peirce constructed a triangular model to illustrate theinteraction between what he termed sign-object-interpretant. In this context, a 'sign' refers to anything from which meaning is generated. Saussure, meanwhile, saw the sign as a physical object with meaning, consisting of what he termed the signifier and the signified. The signifier is a term for the sign itself; the image as we, the audience, perceive it. The signified, in contrast, refers to themental concept, which is said to be broadly common to all members of the same culture, who share the same language [Fiske, 1990 : 43]. Perhaps the most famous definition of what semiotics comprises is offered by Saussure, who wrote :

We can therefore imagine a science which would study the life of signs within society... We call it semiology, form the Greek semion ['sign']. It would teach us whatsigns consist of, what laws govern them. Since it does not yet exist we cannot say what it will be, but it has a right to existence; its place is assured in advance. [in Fiske, 1990 : 51/2]
Before embarking upon a semiotic analysis of any kind, I feel that it is first appropriate to discuss some of the most basic concepts of semiotics, and to become familiar with the usage of jargon in thisnotoriously technical field of media theory. The framework of semiotics can be summarised into three main areas of study as follows :

The sign itself. This consists of the study of different varieties of signs, of the different way that these signs convey meaning, and of the way they relate to the people who use them. For signs are human constructs and can only be understood in terms of the usespeople put them to.
The codes or systems into which signs are organised; that to which the sign refers. This study covers the ways that a variety of codes have developed in order to meet the needs of a society or culture, or to exploit the channels of communication available for their transmission.
The culture within which these codes and signs operate; the users of the sign. This in turn depends onthe use of these codes and signs for its own existence and form.
[Fiske, 1990 : 40]
It thus becomes clear that semiotics seems to define a form of social interaction that places the individual as a member within the wider social spectrum. The actual message therefore refers to the way in which a construction of signs produce meanings as a direct result of their interaction with the receivers,as Peirce's triangular model illustrates. The main emphasis is placed on how a text is 'read', implying that reading is the process of discovering meanings that can only occur when the individual negotiates or interacts with the text. As Fiske [1990 : 3] stresses, negotiation takes place as the reader utilises aspects of his/her own cultural experience to understand the codes and signs that make upthe text. The various aspects of so-called 'decoding' or 'meaning making' are divided into specific categories that combine to form the frame for a comprehensive semiotic analysis of any text.

Initially, Saussure defined two ways in which signs, or units of meaning, can be organised into codes. He coined the term paradigm to refer to a sign that forms a member of a defining category [Chandler,WWW]; a set of signs from which the one to be used is chosen. The set of shapes for road signs, as one example, forms a paradigm, as does the set of symbols that may be found within each shape [Fiske, 1990 : 56]. Saussure further used the term syntagm to refer to the orderly combination of interacting signs with a meaningful whole [Chandler, WWW]; the message into which the chosen signs are...
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