Semiotics begins with the individual building blocks of
meaning called signs.
Semiotics studies the way in which signs are
combined into codes to transmit messages.
This is part of a general communication system using
both verbal and nonverbal elements that create a
discourse with different modalities and forms
Paradigm - a class of objects or concepts
Syntagm - an element which follows another in a
particular sequence
Meaning arises from the differences between signifiers; these differences are of two
kinds: syntagmatic (concerning positioning) and paradigmatic (concerning substitution).
These two dimensions are often presented as 'axes', where the horizontal axis is the
syntagmatic and the vertical axis is the paradigmatic.
The plane of the syntagm is that of the combination of 'this-and-this-and-this' (as in the
sentence, 'the man cried') The plane of the paradigm is that of the selection or
replacement of 'this-or-this-or-this.
Syntagmatic relations are possibilities of combination, paradigmatic relations are
functional contrasts - they involve differentiation.
Paradigm - a class of objects or
Syntagm - an element which follows
another in a particular sequence
Syntagms and paradigms provide a structural context within which signs make sense; they are
the structural forms through which signs are organized into codes.
In film and television, paradigms include ways of changing shot (such as cut, fade, dissolve
and wipe). The medium or genre are also paradigms, and particular media texts derive
meaning from the ways in which the medium and genre used differs from the alternatives.
Roland Barthes outlined the paradigmatic and syntagmatic elements of the 'garment system'
in similar terms. The paradigmatic elements are the items which cannot be worn at the same
time on the same part of the body (such as hats, trousers, shoes). The syntagmatic
dimension is the juxtaposition of different elements at the same time in a complete ensemble
from hat to shoes.
She selects signs from three paradigms (i.e. sets of possible signs - upper body
garments, lower body garments, and footwear). Each paradigm contains a possible set
of pieces from which she can choose only one. From the upper-body-garment paradigm
(including blouses, tee-shirts, tunics, sweaters), she selects one. These items share a
similar structure, function, and/or other attribute with others in the set: they are related to
one another on the basis of similarity. She further selects items related by similarity
from the lower-body-garment and footwear paradigms. A socially defined, shared
classification system or code shapes her selections.
2. She combines the selected signs through rules (i.e., tee-shirts go with sandals, not
high heels), sending a message through the ensemble - the syntagm. Selection
requires her to perceive similarity and opposition among signs within the set (the
paradigm), classifying them as items having the same function or structure, only one of
which she needs. She can substitute, or select, a blouse for the tee-shirt - conveying a
different message. The combination, tee-shirt, jeans, sandals, requires her to know the
'rules by which garments are acceptably combined... The combination... is, in short, a
kind of sentence'. The tee-shirt, jeans,sandals syntagm conveys a different meaning
(sends a different message) at the beach than at a formal occasion(context).
Spiggle 1998
A narrative is a concept, composed and delivered in
any medium which describes a sequence of real or
unreal events. It derives from the Latin verb narrare,
which means "to recount”.
The word "story" may be used as a synonym of
"narrative", but can also be used to refer to the
sequence of events described in a narrative. A
narrative can also be told by the character.
A narrative is a story or part of a story. It may be
spoken, written or imagined, and it will have one or more
points of view representing some or all of the
participants or observers.
Narratives can create a discourse with different
modalities and forms.
In verbal stories the person telling the story is the
narrator whom the audience can see and hear, and who
adds layers of meaning to the text nonverbally.
The narrator monitors the audience's response to the
story and can modify the manner of the telling to clarify
content or enhance the listener’s interest.
In the written form the author must anticipate the
readers likely reactions when they are decoding the text
and make a final choice of words to manipulate the
desired response.
Whatever the medium, content may concern real-world
people and events. This is termed personal experience
When the content is fictional, different conventions
apply. The text is projecting a narrative voice, but the
narrator belongs to an invented or imaginary world, and
not the real world.
The narrator may be one of the characters in the story.
Roland Barthes describes such characters as 'paper beings' and their narratives of
personal experience are fictional as created by the author.
When their thoughts are included, this is termed internal focalisation, i.e. when each
character's mind focuses on a particular event, the text reflects his or her reactions.
Tzvetan Todorov (1969) coined the term narratology for the structuralist analysis
of any given narrative into its constituent parts to determine their function(s) and
For these purposes, the story is what is narrated as usually a chronological
sequence of themes, motives and plot lines.
The plot represents the logical and causal structure of a story, explaining why
the events occur. The term discourse is used to describe the stylistic choices that
determine how the narrative text or performance finally appears to the audience.
One of the stylistic decisions may be to present events in a non-chronological
order, say using flashbacks to reveal motivations at a dramatic moment.
Todorov argued that all stories begin with an 'equilibrium' where any potentially
opposing forces are 'in balance'. This is disrupted by some event, setting in train
a series of other events, to close with a second but different 'equilibrium' or status
quo. His 'equilibrium' labels a state of affairs, a status quo. and how this is 'set up' in
certain ways~ and not others.
There are five stages the narrative can progress through.
1. A state of equilibrium (All is as it should be.)
2. A disruption of that order by an event.
3. A recognition that the disorder has occurred.
4. An attempt to repair the damage of the disruption.
5. A return or restoration of a NEW equilibrium In these stages, narrative is not seen as a
linear structure but a circular one. The narrative is driven by attempts to restore the
equilibrium. However, the equilibrium attained at the end of the story is not identical to the
initial equilibrium.
Todorov argues that narrative involves a transformation. The characters or the situations are
transformed through the progress of the disruption. The disruption itself usually takes place
outside the normal social framework, outside the normal social events (e.g., a murder happens
and people are terrified or someone vanishes and the characters have to solve the
In summary:Narratives don’t need to be linear.
The progression from initial equilibrium to restoration always involves a
The middle period of a narrative can depict actions that transgress everyday habits and
There can be many disruptions whilst seeking a new equilibrium (horror relies on this
Todorov's greatest contribution to literary theory was his defining of the fantastic, the
fantastic uncanny, and the fantastic marvelous.
Todorov defines the fantastic as being any event that happens in our world that seems
to be supernatural. Upon the occurrence of the event, we must decide if the event was
an illusion or whether it is real and has actually taken place.
Todorov uses Alvaro from Cazotte's Le Diable Amoureux as an example of a fantastic
event. Alvaro must decide whether the woman he is in love with is truly a woman or if
she is the devil.
Upon choosing whether the event was real or imaginary, Todorov says that we enter
into the genres of uncanny and marvelous. In the fantastic uncanny, the event that
occurs is actually an illusion of some sort. The "laws of reality" remain intact and also
provide a rational explanation for the fantastic event. Todorov gives examples of
dreams, drugs, illusions of the senses, madness, etc. as things that could explain a
fantastic/supernatural event.
In the fantastic marvelous, the supernatural event that occurs has actually taken place
and therefore the "laws of reality" have to be changed to explain the event.
Vladimir Propp,born April 29,1895 was a Russian structuralist scholar who analysed
the basic plot components of Russian folk tales to identify their simplest irreducible
narrative elements.
His Morphology of the Folk Tale was published in Russian in 1928 and influenced
both Claude Levi-Strauss and Roland Barthes.
It was generally unnoticed in the West until it was translated in the 1950s. His
character types are used in media education and can be applied to almost any film,
television programme and story.
By breaking down a large number of Russian folk tales into their smallest narrative
units - narratemes - Propp was able to arrive at a typology (the study of types)of
narrative structures. By analysing types of characters and kinds of action, he
concluded that there were thirty-one generic narratemes in the Russian folk tale.
After the initial situation is depicted, the tale takes the following sequence
1. A member of a family leaves home (the hero is introduced)
2. An interdiction is addressed to the hero ('don't go there', 'go to this place')
3. The interdiction is violated (villain enters the tale)
4. The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance (either villain tries to find the
children/jewels etc; or intended victim questions the villain)
5.The villain gains information about the victim
6.The villain attempts to deceive the victim to take possession of victim or victim's
belongings (trickery; villain disguised, tries to win confidence of victim)
7. Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy
8. Villain causes harm/injury to family member (by abduction, theft of magical agent,
spoiling crops, plunders in other forms, causes a disappearance, expels someone,
casts spell on someone, substitutes child etc, comits murder, imprisons/detains
someone, threatens forced marriage, provides nightly torments) Alternatively, a
member of family lacks something or desires something (magical potion etc)
9. Misfortune or lack is made known, (hero is dispatched, hears call for help etc/
alternative is that victimised hero is sent away, freed from imprisonment)
10. Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action
11. Hero leaves home
12. Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc, preparing the way for his/her receiving magical
agent or helper (donor)
13. Hero reacts to actions of future donor (withstands/fails the test, frees captive, reconciles
disputants, performs service, uses adversary's powers against him)
14. Hero acquires use of a magical agent (directly transferred, located, purchased, prepared,
spontaneously appears, eaten/drunk, help offered by other characters)
15. Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search
16 .Hero and villain join in direct combat;
17. Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf)
18. Villain is defeated (killed in combat, defeated in contest, killed while asleep, banished)
19 .Initial misfortune or lack is resolved (object of search distributed, spell broken, slain
person revived, captive freed)
20. Hero returns
21. Hero is pursued (pursuer tries to kill, eat, undermine the hero)
22. Hero is rescued from pursuit (obstacles delay pursuer, hero hides or is hidden, hero
transforms unrecognisably, hero saved from attempt on his/her life
23. Hero unrecognised, arrives home or in another country
24. False hero presents unfounded claims
25. Difficult task proposed to the hero (trial by ordeal, riddles, test of strength/endurance, other
26. Task is resolved
27. Hero is recognised (by mark, brand, or thing given to him/her)
28. False hero or villain is exposed
29. Hero is given a new appearance (is made whole, handsome, new garments etc)
30. Villain is punished
31. Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted).
Functions are sometimes inverted.
Propp said that all the characters could be resolved into only 8 broad character types in the
100 folktales he analysed
1.The villain struggles against the hero.
2.The donor prepares the hero or gives the hero some magical object.
3.The (magical) helper helps the hero in the quest.
4.The princess marries the hero, often sought for during the narrative.
5.Her father, Propp noted that functionally, the princess and the father can not be clearly
6.The dispatcher character who makes the lack known and sends the hero off.
7.The hero or victim/seeker hero reacts to the donor, weds the princess.
8.False hero/anti-hero/usurper takes credit for the hero’s actions or tries to marry the
These roles could sometimes be distributed among various characters, as the hero kills the
villain dragon, and the dragon's sisters take on the villainous role of chasing him.
Conversely, one character could engage in acts as more than one role, as a father could send
his son on the quest and give him a sword, acting as both dispatcher and donor
Claude Levi-Strauss was born Nov. 28, 1908) a French anthropologist who developed
structuralism as a method of understanding human society and culture.
Levi-Strauss is a reference for authors such as Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques
Derrida, and Jacques Lacan.
Levi-Strauss sees a basic paradox in the study of myth. The content of myth seems
completely arbitrary with stories that are fantastic and unpredictable, but myths from
different cultures are surprisingly similar.
Levi-Strauss proposed that universal laws governed mythical thought producing similar
myths in different cultures. Each myth may seem unique, but is actually just one particular
instance of a universal law of human thought.
Levi-Strauss tried "to reduce apparently arbitrary data to some kind of order, and to attain a
level at which a kind of necessity became apparent, consistent in all cultures and
underlying the illusions of the fantastic and unpredictable.
Levi-Strauss argued that an abiding structure of all meaning-making. not just narratives,
was a dependence on binary oppositions. or a conflict ,between two qualities or terms.
Less interested in the order in which events were arranged in the plot (called syntagmatic
relations). he looked 'beneath' them for deeper or paradigmatic arrangements of themes.
This theory was applied to the Western genre in the 1970s. Writers suggested that the
different sheriffs, outlaws and Native Americans not only existed in Proppian narrative
terms but could be seen as making up systematic oppositions, among others:
homesteaders Native Americans
inside society outside society
Structuralism as a term refers to various theories across the humanities, social
sciences and economics which share the assumption that structural relationships
between concepts vary between different cultures/languages and that these
relationships can be usefully exposed and explored.
It is an approach in academic disciplines that explores the relationships between
fundamental principal elements in language, literature, and other fields upon which
higher mental, linguistic, social, or cultural "structures" and "structural networks" are
built. Through these networks meaning is produced within a particular person,
system, or culture. Structuralism as a field of academic interest began around 1958
and peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Semiotics leads to a structural analysis of narrative and an increasingly influential
body of modern work that raises important epistemological questions: What is text?
What is its role in the contextual culture? How is it manifested as art, cinema,
theatre, or literature? How are poetry, short stories and novels different genres?
Roland Barthes
5 Narrative Codes
1 - The hermeneutic code refers to those plot elements that raise questions on the part of the
reader of a text or the viewer of a film. For example, in the Star Trek: TNG episode, Cause and
Effect, we see the Enterprise destroyed in the first five minutes, which leads us to ask the reason
for such a traumatic event. We are not satisfied by a narrative unless all such "loose ends" are
Another good example is the genre of the detective story. The entire narrative of such a story
operates primarily by the hermeneutic code. We witness a murder and the rest of the narrative is
devoted to determining the questions that are raised by the initial scene of violence.
2 - The proairetic code on the other hand, refers to mere actions—those plot events that simply
lead to yet other actions. For example, a gunslinger draws his gun on an adversary and we
wonder what the resolution of this action will be. We wait to see if he kills his opponent or is
wounded himself. Suspense is thus created by action rather than by a reader's or a viewer's wish
to have mysteries explained.
3 - The semic code focuses upon the pieces of data the text provides in order to
abstract concepts (connotative meaning).
4 - The symbolic code identifies details in the story that are interpreted on a figurative level
(denotative meaning).
5- The cultural code refers to common bodies of knowledge. By referencing easily-identified
traditions could be scholarly, historical, mythological or stereotypical.
The term narration describes how stories are told, how their material is
selected and arranged in order to achieve particular effects with their
Plot and story are key terms here, though another useful distinction is
the one used by Russian theorists in the 1920s between syuzhet and
Story, or fabula 'the set of all the events in the narrative, both the ones
explicitly presented and those the viewer infers, compose the story’
This would include routine events, like a daily shave, which we assume
carryon happening during a story but would be tedious as part of the
plot. It may also include material we find out only by the end of the
story, having been busy trying to piece things together throughout, such
as Norman Bate’s mental condition in Hitchcock’s Psycho.
'The term plot is used to describe everything visibly and audibly present in
the film. It is the knowledge which the reader/viewer has compared to the
characters in th e film.
Is it the same, or more? When? How much more?
At the end of a good detective story or thriller the reader/viewer should feel
pleasurably puzzled, so that the solution, piecing together the story in its
proper order out of the evidence offered by the plot, will come as a
pleasure. We should not feet that the plot has cheated; that parts of the
story have suddenly been revealed which we couldn't possibly have
guessed at.
Another part of the construction of narratives involves the 'voice' telling the
story, A first-person narration will use 'I' as the voice of the
teller, and should not give the reader access to events that ‘I’ could not
have witnessed, or known of.
A third-person or impersonal narration refers to a story which seems to
‘get itself told’ , as in 'Once upon a time there was a kingdom ...',
In film narration, a viewer constructs the fabula (or story) based on the way the plot
elements are organized in their own specific way within a picture (syuzhet).
In more precise terms, ‘the fabula embodies the action as a chronological, causeand-effect chain of events occurring within a given duration and a spatial field',
while ‘the syuzhet (usually translated as "plot") is the actual arrangement and
presentation of the fabula in the film.
Modes of Address - Interpellation - media texts always address somebody they invite the R/V ( reader-viewer ) to participate.
The way an audience is addressed and defined is influenced by institutional &
economic factors and by the codes of the particular form of media being used
Modes of Address - direct ( broadcasting ) indirect ( cinema )
Interpellation a process in which an address is made to an individual who , perhaps for just a moment , responds.
All media texts are involved with some kind of attention grabbing to appeal the
potential customer
Cinema audiences are a captive audience - the cinema experience
(other than home-video ) is public - contained - and theoretically devoid of distraction.
Para-Social Interaction - between the institution ( cinema maker & parent company )
and its audience.
Films,like classic novels,operate as "classic realistic texts" in which there is a
hierarchy of discourses.
The perspective adopted or personified by different characters in the narrative will
always be subject to evaluation through a metalanguage, which in novels are
carried by the voice of the narrator or authorial voice which addresses the reader directly.
In film the camera draws the spectators attention to details the characters may have
To this extent the spectator may come to occupy a position of superior knowledge
with respect to the characters in the film.
This is a position of Dominant Specularity.
Embedded narratives are narratives about other narratives in the text - termed
Flashback - the earlier narrative (chronologically) informs & comments upon the present one.
The 180° Rule
This schematic shows the axis between two characters and the 180° arc on which cameras may be
positioned (green). When cutting from the green arc to the red arc, the characters switch places on the