Trandall6’s Blog

Week 9: Semiotics

Posted on: May 15, 2009

Schirato & Yell, “Signs and Meaning”, in Communication and Cultural Literacy, Allen and Unwin, pp. 18-33.


Tim Randall




Hi this week I will be talking about the text “Communication and Cultural Literacy” by Schirato and Yell. The text is discussing the theory of semiology, the discipline of studying signs. The author while admiring the theories of Saussure is proposing some improvements.


The text firstly explains that communication is not controlled by the sender, and that it is interpreted according to context such as the receiver’s perspective on certain issues. It outlines Saussure’s theory of semiology that explains that there is no inherent meaning to a sign, it differs. There are three aspects of signs.

1. Signifier, the written or spoken form e.g. Tree.

2. Signified, what concept is invoked e.g. Concept of Tree, is green has leaves, etc.

3. Sign, the combination of Signifier and Signified.


He believes there is no reason or system between the signifier and what it signifies (it is arbitrary), as such there is no basis for argument to change what a signifier signifies. Therefore Saussure argues that there is an underlaying unchanging system of signs that people use everyday. Moreover these signs do not represent the world rather change the way we look at it as we often consider the signified concept when looking, for instance at a tree.


The author points out numerous problems with this theory. Firstly that a signifier simply signifies another signifier for instance a tree simply signifies the concept of a tree not the essence. I had never considered this and it makes me question where may of my signified concepts come from. Furthermore the belief that all signs are intentional communication is question as, for example you could wear your last clean T shirt not knowing that the print on the front is communicating something to someone. Finally the word may be arbitrary yet it may be aspiring to invoke/promote a certain concept.


The belief of Marxist Linguist Volosinov that any symbols meaning is the result of an ideological struggle is raised. The concept that is invoked from the signifier “woman” is used as an example of this. Concepts could be signified of either domestic housewife or adult female with a different role in society. Another example is given, a newspaper article on British colonisation in Australia emphasising a certain signified concept for the word “violence”. These examples raise the important question of where the meaning of symbols is derived from in the majority society, who has this power. Overall I feel the author’s argument is logically consistent and can be witnessed empirically such as the struggle to have derogatory signifiers of social groups lose their power. It is also very relevant for those that study media as it makes us aware that if we communicate to large audiences our words will be interpreted in different ways.


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