A Basic Textbook in
Semiotics and Communication
Volume 1 in the series
Studies in Linguistic and Cultural Anthropology
Marcel Danesi, University of Toronto
Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.
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Messages, Signs, and Meanings: A Basic Textbook in Semiotics and Communication Theory, 3rdEdition
by Marcel Danesi
First published in 2004 by
Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.
180 Bloor Street West, Suite 801
Copyright 0 2004 Marcel Danesi and Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc. All rights reserved. N o part of this publication may be photocopied, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without the written permission of Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., except for brief passages quoted for review purposes. In the case of photocopying, a licence may be obtained from Access Copyright: One Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1E5, (416) 868-1620, fax (416) 8681621, toll-free 1-800-893-5777, www.accesscopyright.ca. Every reasonable effort has been made to identify copyright holders. CSPI would be pleased to have any errors or omissions brought to its attention.
CSPl gratefully acknowledges financial support for our publishing activities from the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP). National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Danesi, Marcel, 1946Messages and meanings : an introduction to semiotics /by Marcel Danesi - [3rd ed.]
(Studies in linguistic and cultural anthropology)
Previously titled: Messages and meanings : sign, thought and culture. Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-55130-250-0 (pbk.)
1 . Semiotics. I . Title. 11. Series.
Cover design by Hothouse Canada
Page design and layout by Brad Homing
Printed and bound in Canada by AGMV Marquis Imprimeur Inc.
All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
A s cience that studies the life of signs within society is conceivable. It would be part of social psychology and
consequently of general psychology. I shall call it semiology (from Greek semeion “sign”). Semiology would show what constitutes signs, what laws govern them.
Ferdinand de Saussure ( 1857-1 913)
Semiotics is the science that attempts to answer the following question: What does X mean? The X can be anything from a single word or gesture, to an entire musical composition or film. The “magnitude” of X may vary, but the basic nature of the inquiry does not. If we represent the meaning (or meanings) that X encodes with the letter Y , then the central task of semiotic analysis can :
be reduced, essentially, to determining the nature of the relation X = I Let’s take, as a first case-in-point, the meaning of red. In this case, our X constitutes an English color term. A s it turns out, there is hardly just one answer to the question of what it means. At a basic level, it refers of course to a primary color located at the lower end of the visible spectrum. However, that very color can have a host of other meanings. Here are few of them: If it appears as a traffic signal, it means “stop” to anyone facing the signal at an intersection.
If it is the armband color worn by someone at a political rally, then the wearer is perceived to be an individual who espouses a particular lund of political ideology, often labeled as “left-wing” or “radical.” -3-
MESSAGES, SIGNS, AND MEANINGS
If it is the color of the flag used by someone at a construction site, then it is a signal of “danger.”
If it is used in an expression such as “turning red,”...