Semiotic & Feminist Analysis

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Media Analysis Project 1|
Semiotic Analysis & Feminist Analysis|
Ellen Gough|

Part One: Semiotic Analysis
Defining and Explaining Semiotics
1. What is meant by Semiotics?
Semiotics is the science of signs. It helps us better understand how messages are constructed through different media forms like still images, film, television and other works of art. It is the study of social production of meanings using sign systems which helps us understand how certain things come to have certain meanings. Semiotics was developed as a method of analysis by 20th century by linguistic theorists such as Saunders Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure and Roland Barthes. According to Saussure, the fundamental unit of meaning was the “sign”, which is anything that makes a meaning. There are two elements of a sign, the “signifier”, and the “signified”. The signified is the object, image, word etc. that signifies. The signified then is the concept conjured up or suggested by the signifier. For example, seeing an image of a red rose (the signifier) might make one think of St Valentine’s Day (the signified). The most basic form of sign is “denotation”, the literal meaning of a sign, e.g.: the word “rose” signifies an actual flower. “Connotation” then is when a signifier is used for a second or third signified. Signs can link or “connote” something by association. A second signified for the red rose might be romance. If you changed the colour to white, then the signified could be marriage. Finally you have the “referent”, which is the actual physical object referred to by the signified and signifier together. The American linguist CS Pierce later added to Saussure’s theories. He defined a sign as a “stimulus pattern that has a meaning” (L103, 2000) by identifying three Sign types: * Symbol: a signifier that doesn’t have any resemblance to the signified. This means that the relationship between the two is arbitrary and has to be learned before it can be understood: e.g. languages, numbers, national flags, road signs, etc. * Icon: a signifier that’s perceived as being similar to or imitating the signified, as in looking, smelling, sounding, feeling or tasting like it: e.g. cartoons, paintings and portraits, metaphors, onomatopoetic words like “splash”, “pop”, or “bang” or sound effects. * Index: a signifier and a signifier which are directly connected to one another in some physical or casual way. For example, a red traffic light indicates that you need to stop your car, pain in your body means you are unwell, a clock will indicate what time it is, etc.

2. Semiotics in Print Advertising

Advertising uses semiotics to construct an image of a product and present it in a way that appeals to us, the consumer. The consumer world is a web of meanings among consumers and marketers woven from signs and symbols ensconced in their cultural space and time” (Mick, 1986). Within any advert you have logos, brand names, packaging designs, etc., which all have layers of meaning and signs. Semiotics is what we use to study these signs ad meanings and interpret the message of the ad from them. All adverts have a surface and an underlying level to them. Signs are used on the surface level of the ad to create a certain and easily recognisable image for the product in the ad. In the underlying level you have logos, colours, images, words and slogans all combining to create hidden meanings that we as the consumers must learn to interpret. An example of this is the Special K ad below. In all their advertising campaigns and in all their branding, Special K make use of the colour red, so they’ve constructed over time a certain and easily recognisable image for their product. They achieve this also with the distinctive font for the letter K in their logo, and the red colour also serves to catch the audience’s eye and draw them in. The image in the ad shows a woman in a close-fitting formal red dress. She’s slim, young, attractive...
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