“A sign is anythat can be used to tell a lie” – Imberto Eco, n.d.

Semiotics is the word given to the meanings that are made through the interpretation of signs; semiology is the study of this. Semiology was a theoretical framework coined by Ferdinand de Saussure, a swiss linguist aropund 1907-11, although the theory was based more on language that any visual representation; which gives the use of ‘sign’ a broad area to work over, as it can mean literally anything from language, images, objects. This is because a sign is something with a meaning, hence anything can be percieved as one as we give them the meanings through our experiences and thought processes.
However the term ‘semiotics’ was coined by American philosopher C.S.Pierce, who claimed we only really think in signs, although the term is applied across the board. Roland Barthes, however, is claimed as key thinker in the progression of semiotic theories, as he relates the theory to art work and images of the 1950’s and the laguage of mass culture. It was explained that he aimed to take in signs and their limits and cross connect them to each other.

Saussure defined a sign as being compossed of; a Signifier – the form the sign takes, and a Signified – the concept it represents. There isnt a sign that has only one, as any sign is the whole that results from two being associated.

Pieres, split the concept of a sign into three different parts; a Symbol – where the signifer does not resemble th signified but fundamentally arbitrary or conventional, meaning that the relationship must be learnt; an Icon – where the signifer is percieved as resembling of indicating the signified, it is common sense that provides the meaning; and the Index – where the signifer is not arbitary but is directly connected to the signified and can be either obsevered or inferred.

The other things about signs is that they often have more than one meaning, there is the Denotation – a simple first meaning, commonly the literal or otherwise most obvious meaning; and then there is a Connotation – a second meaning that is often hidden, as they are usually constructed by human intervention (normally soci-cultural associations). Although is should not be taken to be understood as that all connotations are the same for each sign, with each viewer; as each viewer will not have the same experience or understanding of each seperate sign as each seperate human.

The easiest example of this is the Pioneer Jaques from 1971, they are engravings that were attached to ‘pioneer I’ and ‘pioneer II’ spacecrafts, the first explaining what and where earth was and what humans were, the second explaining how to play information based on a cd; all through pictorial representations. However this was rather ill-made due to large amount of assumptions they have made; that they have eyes for starters- if they exsist, that they have the same meaning to pictures as we do – which is not very likely as most humans do not even have the same meanings to pictures as others humans do, and that they understand scale as each engraving has different scaled images all over each one- meaning they would have to know what scale is and how to seperate each image.

Then there is perceptual codes, Derrida claims that our perception of the everyday world around us involves a code. That is that there are certain universal features in human visual perceptions, which means in semiotic terms as consituting a perceptual code. The media this universal feature or sign is representated in, contributes to this code.

The last thing we talked about was ‘culture jamming’ which is often referred to as “semiological guerella warfare”, namely meaning that it is used to manipulate and subvert the meaning of a certain area (cororations, social situations or even just the media). The only thing culture jamming really needs is a recognisable image to change, even if the chance is slight- just changing the text will do sometimes. The point of it is that it interrupts the normal social cultural experience by consumerism.


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