CATS – Semiotics Task – (18/10/13)

A follow up of our CATS session we was given a task to complete which would test our understanding of semiotics and get us to do our own reading of an image. This is the Worksheet we was set:

  1. Definitions – Note down the definitions of key terms from today’s session in your log book. For example: Semiotics, signifier, signified, denote, connote Etc…
  2. Key Thinkers – Note down a short biography and key ideas associated with Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Sanders Peirce, Roland Barthes.
  3. Find one example of an “Icon”, a “Symbol” and an “Index.”
  4. Find an example of Contemporary Advertising and undertake a semiotic reading of your image.

So first off we have the Definitions of Key Terms we learned in todays semiotics session:

  • Semiology – The study of signs, signals, symbols, gestures and messages.
  • Semiotics – The study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.
  • Signifier – A sign’s physical form (such as the image, mark, sound, written word Etc…)
  • Signified – This is the mental concept we have for what the Signifier stands for, it could be a concept, object or emotion. This is to what the Signifier refers to.
  • Denote – Basically a Simile.
  • Connote – Basically a Metaphor.
  • Arbitrary – Based on random choice or personal whim, rather that any reason or system.
  • Polysemy – The coexistence of many possible meanings of a word or phrase.

Semiotics gives you the ability to decode an image and identify a hidden meaning within a particular section of that image.

Ferdinand de Saussure – In 1907, Saussure began teaching the Course of General Linguistics at the University of Geneva. His teachings where so monumental, following his death in 1913, his students published a document on them using their lecture notes. Saussure was interested in the state of language, moreover, an understanding of of the conditions for existence of any language and the nature of the linguistic sign.

So why is Saussure so important, Saussure argued that the linguistic sign or unit was a two-sided entity, he called this Dyad. On one side you have the Signifier (See definition above) and on the other side you have the Signified (See definition above). For example if I am talking about my “CAT” (Which you have all never seen) The Signifier is the word “CAT” and the Signified is what image is provoked in your mind, not “My CAT” but a mental concept of “Catness” (Feline, Meows, Wiskers, Fish, Milk, Mice, Fur Etc…)

Dyad, Ferdinad de Saussure
Dyad, Ferdinad de Saussure

So this brings me onto my next Key Thinker: Charles Sanders Peirce. Peirce developed many of Saussure’s ideas however he argued that rather than being a Dyad, the linguistic sign consists of a triple relation between the sign, object and interpretant (The sign in the Mind).

Peirce proposed that we can identify 3 categories concerned with the relationship between signs and objects:

  • An Icon – “Where the sign relates to its object in some resemblance with it, i.e. a Photograph”. It physically resembles what it stands for.
  • A Symbol – “Where the sign relates to its object by means of convention alone, i.e. Word, a flag”. Relates to via social convention.
  • An Index – “Where the sign relates to its object in terms of causation, e.g. sundial, paw print, medical symptom”. It correlates with or points to.

Peirce indicates that signs can thus be Iconic – resemble the referent. Indexical – give evidence of the referent (Sweat = Effort or Smoke = Fire). Symbolic – Arbitrary representations to the referent (Logos).

So this brings me to our final Key Thinker: Roland Barthes. Barthes was interested in connotations (Connote, see above for definition) of meaning, in 1957 he published a key text titled “Mythologies”, based on a series of articles called “Mythology of the Month” published in a French Journal. He explored the “Denotations” (Denote, see above for definition) in the signs of French popular culture, he argued that certain signs betrayed their convention as they are myths – their connotations are generated by the larger sign system in which they exist. Connotations can thus be constructed.

An example of an icon would have to be people that inspired others and changed a generation. A scientific icon would be Albert Einstein, a theoretical physicist who developed a general theory of relativity, alongside quantum mechanics.

An example of a symbol to me would have to be Santa Claus, whenever you think of Santa Claus you think of Christmas time, Big Red Suit, Reindeer, Elves Etc…

Finally an example of an index is where the sign relates to its object in terms of causation, a medical symptom, it correlates or points to a diagnosis or ailment.

Advert we was given in lesson
Advert we was given in lesson

Here is the advert I will be undertaking my semiotic reading on. First of all we have a smoking advert, the company will be wanting to promote their product and bring people in “Come to where the flavour is” – This quote is clearly aimed at a target audience of people who already smoke and know the taste of smoking. “Come to the Marlboro Country” – is indicating that there is a community of people that smoke and that you are welcome if you use this product. The text all reinforces that this product is good or the best in the market, however the gentleman in the picture tells us a different story. You can see he is an older gentleman and that is creating a subtle age to target the product at you can see that his body language is relaxed, calm, cool, makes you feel like “Yes i wanna be in the marlboro country with him.” The big red barn like structure behind him, Red indicating danger, warning meaning our product can be bad for you health. The Badge on the packet of cigarettes gives you a feeling of royalty, this coupled with the gold band makes you feel like this product is truly premium. Without the use of semiotics on this advert a lot of people would have just dismissed the meaning implied, It’s saying that Marlboro is good but its also dangerous for your health. With all this in mind I think that semiotics will help me in designing games and planting images with meaning behind them to give my games more depth and a sense of realism, but to also portray a message if needs be.


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