Semiotics and Communication: Signs, Codes, Cultures

Semiotics and Communication: Signs, Codes, Cultures

Semiotics and Communication: Signs, Codes, Cultures

Semiotics and Communication: Signs, Codes, Cultures


Communication is, among other things, about the study of meaning -- how people convey ideas for themselves and to one another in their daily lives. Designed to close the gap between what we are able to do as social actors and what we are able to describe as social analysts, this book introduces the language of semiotics -- a language that provides some of the words necessary for discussion of these communication issues.

Presenting the basics of semiotic theory to communication scholars, this volume summarizes those aspects most relevant to the study of social interaction, in particular, signs (the smallest elements of meaning in interaction) and codes (sets of related signs and rules for their use) -- explaining how they come together within cultures. Three common social codes -- food, clothing, and objects -- serve as primary examples throughout the book.


The field of communication includes, among other things, the study of meaning, the study of how people convey ideas for themselves and to one another, whether through words, food, clothing, objects, or in other ways. Yet there are precious few words available to describe how exactly people convey meaning to themselves and others. Communication is not the only field to consider the study of meaning a central topic, and so when we want more vocabulary words than are available for discussing meaning, we can look to other fields for help, borrowing their words, adapting them to our own needs.

This volume proposes one such borrowing from another field. It suggests that semiotics has paid a great deal of attention to describing how people convey meanings and thus has developed a vocabulary we can borrow for our own uses. The point, of course, is not to use these new vocabulary words as trophies, for their own sake, to impress others with the obscure words we know but they don't. We borrow vocabulary only when it suits our needs better than the words currently available, and we stop borrowing when we have figured out how to say what is important.

This volume presents a set of terms as well as a set of ideas about how to use these terms and demonstrates what the terms permit us to do that we couldn't do so easily before. The goal is not to present vocabulary words for their own sake, for that would serve only to hide meaning, but rather to supply words for use in analyzing our own behavior and that of others. Because all words have their own history and because it seems to me inappropriate to borrow these words without understanding any of their history, some brief background is given for the field of semiotics from which the words are borrowed and for the traditional uses of each of the words discussed.

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