Relationship Between Semiotics

Thursday 6th March 2014

Spencer Roberts Lecture

This lecture is a follow up from the previous, although last week we touched upon Semiotics, we didn’t go into much depth, therefore this lecture was all about semiotics and the relationship between- Ideology.

There are many different version of semiotics: Vocabulary, terminology, interpretative context.  Tools for taking apart images and tracing how they work in relation to broader systems of meaning. Why semiotics can be so difficult to understand? Because they are many different themes in which are explored in this lecture.

Saussure and Jargon

Associationist tendency- triggers association.  A trigger of associations can be a never ending chain.  For example


However sometimes you can find yourself going in a circle.


Saussure and Jargon like to explore linguistic structure, the structural language in a textual analysis as well as this production of association, which tends to reflect on deeper structures.

Associations- the implications of things, things that we cannot always see.

Symbol Systems- how an image can provoke actions and thoughts.  This is a stucturealist idea.  There is a structured dimension to semiotic thinking.

Social Constructivist

  • Aspect based on social conventions
  • Implies community
  • Will only make sense over community.
  • Cultural aspect- fluidity

For each language, there are its different words and sounds, this can also regard cultural experience- intrigued by semiotics. Signs are used all over the world in different countries by different languages.  They can cause anomalies without any use of text and prompt us, however not all the signs are the same, there is an irregularity. People see signs differently, but, manage to see the same, or similar outcome.

Saussure is an idealist and thinks that ideas/concepts have priority over material. There is the grid structure tendency in which means there a grid of possibilities, especially with language.  Saussure is not necessarily about the grid structure. With objects, they are fixed, a banana is a banana, a ruler is a ruler.  However, there are different names for an object according to that individual.  Languages are always expanding and changing- nothing is set, nothing stays the same.  The key to the system is difference and working from a multitude of positions. All of these terms used are in play, which makes semiotics so complex.

Signs. What do signs point at? Concept/Object.  Idealist or Materialist. It is all due to your classification and interpretation.  There are different types of signs and ways in which they can have meaning. Any one image, gesture, etc, can be classified within multiple definitions of icons or index, for example hand gestures.

Perice says there are 50,000 ways in which a sign can provoke a person.  A sign is a basic unit of language. There can be hidden structures whether linguistically, politically, etc. These can feed advertising practise. In terms of advertising, there are companies that specialise in semiotics- the manipulation of an image and softening the policy procedure. For example, using semiotics can create promotional videos.

Marxist Influence

Representation- structure of images and hidden interests.

Advertising will reflect ideological functions with embedded culture, justified with advertising itself. A structural dimension in which advertising takes part in are series of assumptions; connotations, links in which seduce the audience or viewer. This is imagistic seduction. With advertising it can implicate this idea of a circulation of possibilities.

Barbara Kruger- “I shop therefore I am”

post modern context, partly intended to trivialise and address cultural constructions of power, identity, and sexuality. Strongly implicated in behavioural quality. The use of text is used in a context of advertising practise with the image foregrounded.  The use of images that produce associations, and a behaviour that conforms intent behind a sign, drawing attention to a particular form.


Signified/Signifier. Concept of actual tree. Meaning of tree- general concept. Intimate relationship between concept of tree.  The combination of the signified and signifier is a basic unit of everything to do with language.

Relativity in cultures- Signifiers variability across cultures and social groups.  How is the relationship of the two set up? There is no necessary connection between the sound and word “tree”.

Another example is the word “baby”.  “Baby” being the signified, and the signifier would be the representation of “baby”- according to Saussure.  Baby is different according to the language you are speaking, for example:

“Baby” “Bimbo” “Bimba” Bambino”- there is no difference between the verbal connotations. “Baby” can be used in terms of an adult, the word stays the same, simply used differently pointing to a different thing.

Obvious connotations of word definitions

“Mouse” (Rodent) (Computer Device)

Saussure is interested in this idea of difference, especially in early semiotics- the notion of difference in which can only be amplified and lead to a radical change. Saussure doesn’t like everything to be labelled which the signifier kind of does. He wants to rid the idea of labels, semiotics cannot be done in a precise way.

System of Differences  

Lake, Ocean, River

The meaning of the words are somewhat similar, the difference distinguishes type- an ocean is an expanse of water that is not a lake or river. All three of are different, but similar. Whereas:

Fake, Bake, Make

These words sound different in sound, but similar, whereas the meanings are entirely different. The way in which a word can sound can effect the semiotics, concept differences. Peirce was a process pragmatist thinking of language and explored this multiplication of association.  The viewers interpretation of things becomes prominent and Peirce was interested in the relationship of the person at the receiving end.

With semiotics, they can have productive power of image.  The “object” can be what the representation is addressing, but can also be what provokes the sign. For example:

Producing the image to provoke the tree.

Provoked by tree to produce image.

Concept and association work through interpretation, and can provoke a behavioural response or a concept of how to do something. The interpretation of a subject can function itself as a representation which can result in this radical chain of association of multiple solutions. This is post modern territory.  This chain of association however does end, and will do so with an attached behaviour.