Friday, November 16, 2012

Week 3: Semiotics Revisited

  Provide examples of signifiers, signifieds, and connotations

What is Semiotics? Simply, it is the study of signs. Signs are everywhere - in school, the clothes we wear, road signs and so on. It is when we find out meanings deep within the subject itself. According to Branston & Stafford (2006), semiotics is the "study of signs, or of the social production of meaning by sign systems of how things come to have a significance". This is why semiotics analysis is important as it helps us to understand meanings that are constructed by language and culture that makes up the social life. Everything has its own meanings but what makes up these meanings? This is where we come across terms like signified, signifier and connotation. 

A sign is made up of meanings and these meanings are concluded as a result of a relationship between a sign and the object namely the signifier and the signified. According to Griffins (2012), a sign is the inseparable combination of the signifier and the signified. A signifier is the physical form of the sign as we perceive it through our senses = an image, whereas a signified is the meaning we associate with the sign.

 For example: 

D O O R (signifier) gives a mental image of a: 

Now the mental image that we have in our minds is called the signified. How do we know that the signified is a door? It is because we as humans interpret this image or this object as a door. Anything that has a large surface with a door knob or anything turned or pushed to open the door is called a door. We know it is a door because it could be used as an entrance or an exit.

Another example:

The colour red with a slash across the action 'running', along with the word "NO" and "RUNNING" are the signifiers. The colour red and the word "NO" itself usually indicates "Do not" or "Stop". Therefore, these signifiers will signify "Do not run" or no running is allowed. Together, it becomes a sign. Saussure argues that the relationship between the signifier and the signified is motivated, meaning that there is no natural connection of concepts. . The colour red is red itself and the word "running" is just a verb. But by combining them, they actually produce another meaning.

According to Roland Barthes and Stuart Hall, connotation is interpreted meaning. It is the representation or concept of the sign. It is merely an assumption of what the sign represents. For example:

A Rolls Royce beats a Range Rover as much as a Range Rover represents wealth, a Rolls Royce is another higher level of wealth and luxury, not to mention success and an excellent taste. 
In conclusion, semiotics is important as it teaches us that reality is a system of signs. In a book compiled by Woo (2010), we become aware of reality as being constructed and of the roles of others and ourselves in constructing it. Studying semiotics is the study of construction and maintenance of reality and to refuse such study means leaving others to control the world of meanings in which we inhabit. In addition, Grossberg et. al (1998) states that semiotics can be quite useful in visual analysis as we usually assume what is seen are related to what we experience. 


Branston, G. & Stafford, R. (2006). The Media Students Book. 4th Ed. Routledge

Griffin, Em. (2012). A First Look At Communication Theory. 8th Ed. NY: McGraw-Hill

Grossberg, L., Wartella, E,. & Whitney, D. C. (1998). Media Making: Mass Media In A Popular Culture. USA: Sage Publications, Inc. 

Woo, Chris. (2010). Analyzing Visual Communication Reader. Brunei Darussalam: Universiti Brunei Darussalam

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