Introducing Social Semiotics

By Theo Van Leeuwen | Go to book overview
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Information linking

Linking items of information

Information is often thought about in terms of 'bits', morsels of fact which have value in themselves, without reference to other pieces of information, and which are the more valuable the more information they pack in. Maruyama (1980) sees this 'isolationistic' view of information, as he calls it, as symptomatic for an equally isolationistic view of society, in which 'only the individual elements are real', 'society is merely an aggregate of individuals', and 'each question has its answers, unrelated to others'. It can also be linked to the increasing tendency in all information media to package information in strongly framed, individualized, bite-size morsels. The magazine genres discussed in chapter 6 are one example of the tendency.

In what Maruyama (ibid.: 29) calls 'contextual information', on the other hand, the value of information lies in its relation to its context: information can only be interpreted in the context of other pieces of information and of specific communicative interests and purposes. In this chapter I will explore how items of information, whether verbal, visual or otherwise, can be and are meaningfully linked to other items of information. In relation to the new media, 'links' are often seen as having value in themselves, again in terms of 'the more information, the better'. But the links between items of information not only have cumulative but also cognitive value. They link information in terms of such cognitive categories as causal or temporal relationships, and it is these categories that make items of information meaningful in relation to each other.

Different communicative situations require different understandings and uses of information. The items of information in 'how to do' texts - for instance, recipes - may have some meaning on their own but the information only becomes relevant if the items are linked in terms of the needs of people who want to find out how to do something - for instance, prepare a particular dish - and that means that they have to be placed in the chronological temporal framework of a step-by-step procedure. Without a temporal connection between the separate items of information, the recipe is, in practice, meaningless.

Divide the mixed berries between two cocktail glasses

(next event)

Pour half the pink champagne or cava into a pan and bring to the boil


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Introducing Social Semiotics


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