02 Language and Representation.docx

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Communication, Culture and Technology
Neil Narine

02 Language and Representation: The Arbitrariness of the Sign Today‟s Agenda  Language as Representation o During the holidays, we need to signify how our experiences were. We have to tell these stories and we have to resort to language. There is a whole system of rules, instabilities, exceptions to these rules, etc. in order to succeed  De Saussure, a linguist o His class was so into the lecture that they wrote a book, in his publication  The Sign and the Referent  The Arbitrariness of „the sign‟  The Brown Stocking and/or Stranger Than Fiction  TUTORIALS THIS WEEK Language and Representation  What is a signifier? (word-symbol)  What is the signified? (real thing-concept) o The thing, if it is not the actual thing, it can be the idea/concept of the thing. You call to mind a mental idea of the thing.  How is meaning generated between them? Saussure  The connection between the Signifier and the Signified in our minds produces a Sign  “Course in General Linguistics” published by his students o Saussure argued that signifiers have no natural relationship to signifieds (arbitrariness of the sign) o We hear “horse” we may all think of different horses o H-O-R-S-E is not  But, we must share some ideas about the signified – the thing or concept  We must share some ideas about what a tree is  This creates the meaning of T-R-E-E Sharing Meaning  According to Hall (2003): “Because we interpret the world in roughly similar ways we are able to build up a shared culture of meanings and thus construct a social world” (18). o Nodding and shaking their head are all signs in culture. Gestures are a form of communication in culture, but it is culturally specific and we need to share the meaning  We must share an idea of the signified o When someone says “car” we all have some sense of a vehicle  There are traits that we all agree on o We make sense and meaning out of words this way o We “share a conceptual map” (Hall 19)  But do these shared meanings suggest that „reality‟ is fixed and clear to us? o We are told that we are stuck in a chain of signifiers, but at the same time, through meaning, we can make reality o *Remember: Plato‟s cave o In our age: Pixels Dominate  Even old films are through computerized. These history films are constantly trying to use these effects to recreate history. I.e. clouds are fluffed up, extra sheep are created, etc.  So No! – Reality is not fixed – we use linguistic representation o Reality is always encoded, or rather the only way we can perceive and make sense of reality is by the codes of our culture. There may be an objective, empiricist reality out there, but there is no universal, objective way of perceiving and making sense of it. Fiske (1987 4-5) o Hall  We must use arbitrary signs (letters) to signify our experience  There is no single, clear way to represent the world  There is only a range of perspectives VIDEO: Stuart Hall  The word has a double meaning in common sense understanding.  Representation – standing in for  In the notion of representation, is the idea of giving meaning  If you think the meaning of giving is a distortion of what it is giving meaning to, there is a „gap of representation‟  Michael Jackson is himself a collection of signifiers. The critic is the idea of „whiteness‟ o Real even and becoming a headline 
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