The Science
& Cultural Interpretations of Signs
Binary Oppositions in Structuralism
langue, parole;
signifer – signified;
Diachronic – Synchronic;
Axis of combination - Axis of selection
Metaphor - metonymy
Language/Literature as an enclosed system
with two Axes
(narrative structure:
roles + actions);
Thematic structure:
Motifs, mythemes,
metaphors, etc.
Roman Jakobson’s studies of poetry
and aphasia
metaphor – substitution
of one with something
similar –poetry –
metonymy –
replacement of one with
something close by
-- novel --Realism
Similarity disorder –
inability to deal with
relationships in language.
Contiguity disorder –
inability to organize
words into higher units
(e.g. sentence).
“The poetic function projects the principle of
equivalence from the axis of selection into the axis
of combination.” Jakobson
Jakobson’s six factors in speech and
their interactions
Context/Soceity, History
* Usu. in one speech event, one factor will dominate over the others.
For instance, the “emotive” intent of the address dominant his/her use of
code, the context as well as the contact.
C. S. Peirce: Three Kinds of Signs
Based on relations between signifier and signified
Icon – resemblance
(This refers to one’s home
thru’ resemblance, to websites’ homepage by convention. )
Index– factual/causal connection
Symbol -- rule of convention or habitual association
= love
The connection is the most arbitrary.
Examples: Iconic functions in poetry
The use of poetic form (iconic signs in poetry) to
refer back to itself.
Symbolic signs in poetry can be easily found;
how about indexical signs? Or maybe we can
say that the indexical signs—such as the
wreckage in “Ozymandias” take on symbolic
meanings in the poem. )
Example 1: e. e. cummings’ breaking the iconic
sign of sonnet
"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beautiful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"
e. e. cummings’ breaking the iconic
sign of sonnet
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
-- e. e. cummings; 1926
This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Example2: the “forming” of trivial
matter In daily life.
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
Roland Barthes: Production of Sign
and Myth
All social practices as sign-systems and thus
are open to cultural interpretation (or demystification).
e.g. the “langue” of clothes and food
system: a. blouse, shirt, T-shirt ; b. skirt,
sentence: an ensemble of blouse + skirt + high
heeled shoes X snickers
blouse + jeans + snickers Xnot for concert
Fashion and Myth
“The clothes for this summer is made
predominantly of silk.” (prescriptive rather than
“It’s nice to wear while walking on a dock with
your lover.”
Different levels of signification: primary
signification & secondary signification
a signifier + signified =
sign (full)--denotation
primary signification:
Secondary signification
Sign (empty)/
content = sign
Different levels of signification:
signifier (Rose) + signified (Flower)=
sign (full)--denotation
primary signification:
Secondary signification
content (Love)= sign
“Myth Today”
a second-order semiological system
regression from meaning to form, from the
linguistic sign
to the mythical signifier. ...the form does not
suppress the meaning, it only impoverishes it, it
puts it at a distance...
elements of an ad.
1. the slogan (or copy)
2. the visual image--with the slogan, it implies a
3. supplementary --color, design == where the
product, the words are placed
size and position,
celebrity endorsement
Ads: Example 1
Ads: Example 2
Ads: Example 3
Ads: Example 4
Ads’ languages
-- from Ways of Seeing
The romantic use of nature (leaves, trees, water)
to create a place where innocence can be found.
The posed taken up to denote stereotypes of
women: serene mothers (madonna), free
wheeling secretary (actress, king's mistress),
perfect hostess (spectator-owner's wife), sexobject (Venus, nymph surprised), etc.
The special sexual emphasis given to women's
Ads’ languages
-- from Ways of Seeing (2)
The materials particularly used to indicate luxury:
engraved metal, furs, polished leather, etc.
The physical stance of men conveying wealth
and virility.
The equation of drinking and success.
The man as knight (horseman) become
Key words for Structualist and
Semiotic approaches:
I. Following language as a model
II. Disclosing the deep/basic structure of a text,
which is a (combination or selection) system of
meaning composed of basic elements such as:
Reductive? Disregarding meaning, textual
complexities, or the author’s intention?
De-centering, dehumanizing?
Do we really think in terms of binaries?
How is our social existence modeled after
language as a system of relations?
From work to text (textuality);
From identity to system of relations;
From myth to ideology;
“Myth -- the complex system of images and beliefs
which a society constructs in order to sustain and
authenticate its sense of being.”
– From structuralism/semiotics to marxism
-- binaries, or semiotic rectangles,
-- roles/actant and functions, or narrateme,
-- story and discourse,
-- narrator- narratee,
-- metaphor and metonymy,
-- grammatical parts of speech, or lexemes,
-- signs or signification on different levels
(signifier and signified).