Semiotics: The eye I can’t close

Semiotics. Semiotics. Semiotics.

It sounds complicated, but fear not! It’s all very simple, once you get down to it. At it’s most basic level, semiotics is the study of signs and their meanings. What do we mean by signs? Pretty much anything and everything! From the obvious examples, road signs and symbols, to things like linguistics and body language, pretty much every form of communication and media we encounter is fundamentally supported by semiotics.

Take for example the word: “hammock”

Upon reading that, what did you think of? Beaches, summer, maybe a cocktail in your hand, perhaps one specific hammock from that holiday you went on that one time? My point is, all it takes is one word and immediately and unconsciously your mind jumped to fill in the rest of the picture.

We can go again: “Transhimalaya”

Now, it’s likely that you may not have known what this was – but your mind may have tried to fill in the blanks anyway. Maybe it picked on certain parts of the word that sounded familiar. Maybe you did nothing at all and just kept reading. But for those who do know what this was – a mountain range in China that runs parallel to the Himalayan range – the corresponding imagery would have appeared in your mind. Since it still uses the roman alphabet, even if you are not able to comprehend the denotative meaning of the word itself, we can still try and interpret it as best as we can.

Let’s go a third time: “意大利面条

In this case, unless you can read Chinese, you wouldn’t have known what the above characters say. Despite all of that, even without knowing what it says, and even without knowing any Chinese at all – you probably would have recognized it as Chinese writing, and thus would have made associations of China and had a guess based on that, most likely oriental. Even though it in fact just says “spaghetti.”

Semiotics is something I’ve been studying as part of my course, and now that I’m aware of it I can’t stop reading into anything and everything. I went to see Wicked twice, and throughout the show I found myself deciphering why the set directors had chosen certain elements of the stage setting, the props, as well as the makeup and costumes.

I also felt a bit of my film analysis creep in, analysing the mise en scene of the show. I feel like the mise en scene and semiotics go hand in hand, that they both rely on each other. The mise en scene allows us to be given a certain message as decided by the director, and our understanding through semiotics is the way in which we are even able to pick up on these messages.

Where would we be without semiotics? I think that if we weren’t able to make these associations and understand implied meanings and set collective ideas, we would be nothing more than a robot with very limited capabilities. I would go as far as to say with that the improvement of technology, developers have begun to incorporate semiotics into programming. Google suggests searches based on what you’ve already typed, and related searches and selective advertisements are common nowadays where they were not before.

Just as an aside, I think that the real standout feature of any future artificial intelligence could be how well it grasps semiotics. If it’s able to create an understanding through intertextual knowledge of it’s own, not just from what it’s programmed to associate. But I digress.

Anyway. Semiotics is a vast area of study and I have only touched on a very small portion of it – so there’s a page I found below if you want to read more.

Further reading:


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