Lecture 5: June 6th
Continuation from last lecture... Chapter 4
Assignment #1 is Due next week Thursday June 13. It is out of 40. Need 4 scholarly articles,
textbook can be one of them. However, two articles for reading are not consider in 4 scholarly
articles, because they are not peer-reviewed. Check Blackboard today or tomorrow to see the
Rubric posted by Professor.
Language and Meaning
- Semiotics: The Science of produced meanings.
- From the Greek (semeiotikos), "observant of signs"
- Signs can be defined as: an intermediary between thought and things.
- Goal of semiotics is to unravel the meanings that are build into all kinds of human products ,
from words, symbols, narratives, symphonies, paintings, comic, books, etc...
- Denotation vs. Connotation
Denotation: to mark out, point out, specify, indicate. The literal meaning of a word or a
Connotation: refers to the associations that are connected to a certain word or the
emotional suggestions related to that word.
Connotations are constrained by culture.
Example #1: Cow
Denotative: the mature female of a bovine animal, especially of the genus Bos.
Slow : We could be waiting till the cows come home
Excitable: Don't have a cow man!
Food: Source of meat and milk..etc.
Cross Cultural Meaning - Sacredness --> Cows are sacred for Hindus.
Example #2: Rose
Denotative: Any of numerous shrubs or vines of the genus Rosa, having prickly stems,
compound leaves, and variously colored, often fragrant flowers.
Connotative: Love, Romance, Passion.
- Winston Churchill: Former president of Britain. Peace Sign as a symbol of Victory - John Leonard: Peace sign. Hippy- counter culture movement
- Random Woman: Symbolizes Girl Power (e.g., Spice Girls) or Powering Women.
Downward Triangle (V- Shape) represents female sexuality or female fecundity. Downward and
Upward Triangle together resembles Harmony between Men and Women.
- Last Supper by Leonardo DaVinci.
- Semiotics in Pop Culture: Dan Brown's character Robert Langdon is Professor of Religious
--> Solves crimes and mysteries by interpreting signs and symbols hidden in artwork, archi..etc.
--> E.g., Brown's interpretation of DaVinci's "The Last Supper".
The meaning of Language:
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) is widely considered one of the founders of the 20th
century linguistics and Semiotics
Binary Model of the sign --> Signifier and Signified
Signs are arbitrary.
The structure of Language
Language is made up of signs and every sign has two sides: Signifier and Signified
1) The signifier, the "Shape" of a word, its component, i.e. the sequence of phonemes
that make up a word.
2) The signified, the ideational component --> The concept or object that appears in our
minds E.g A tall woody plants with lateral branches.
Therefore Sign = Signifier / Signified
a) Concept/Sound-image. b) Signified/signifier c) tree/arbor
- The Concept of Arbitrariness
The relation between the signifier and the signified is "arbitrary", ie no direct
connection between the structure of a word and the concept it represents.
No natural connection between the sounds of a word and its meaning. Meaning comes
from convention - agreement (and learned) that these letters or sounds evoke a certain
The same object (tree) is referred to as arbre in French and baum in German.
The Same sounding word may have different meanings in different languages. E.g.,
IKEA Products. Check out the article on thestar.com. - Charles S. Pierce (1839-1913) - one of the founders of modern semiotics
Triadic model of the sign
--> Object, representamen, interpretant.
Signs vary in level of arbitrariness.
--> Icon, Index, Symbol.
- Object: refer to actual physical thing (actual physical tree)
- Representamen: refer to the image and symbol that represent some thing. E.g., Signifier
- Interpretant: image we get in our mind when we see a sign or symbol. E.g., Signified
- Icon: Share some of their physical form (shape, sound, etc) with the referent. No Smoking sign
is an icon...tell us not to smoke. It is not arbitrary, just an image telling us what not to do.
- Index: Indexes do not share any of their form with the referent. They "indicate" or point to
what they refer to. E.g. Danger sign: skull and 2 cross bones. It is indexing Death. Symbol of
death telling/pointing/indicating us what will happen.
- Symbol: Symbols have arbitrary relation to signified ("referent'). Connected only via the
system of conventional understanding. E.g. Red Octagon. It is telling us to Stop, thus refers as an
- Icon, Index, or Symbol?
1. That, there it, You, I: It is index, because it is pointing towards something.
1. Cat, dog, house, bird: They are symbols, because we decide what they are going to be called.
1. Bang, Boom, Splash, Buzz, Hiss: These are classified as Icon, they sound as what they
- Semantics refers to a language's meaning system.
- Ethnosemantics is therefore the study of how different cultures (ethnos) understand and attach
meaning to the world through language and symbols.
- The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the way in
which it speakers conceptualize their world, i.e. their worldview, or otherwise influences their
- Popularly known as The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Sapir and Whorf argued that the grammatical categories of particular languages lead their
speakers to think about the world in different ways.
(i) Strong version- language determines thought and that linguistics categories limit and
determine cognitive categories
(ii) Weak version- linguistics categories and usage