|1 collect, document and systematically catalogue semiotic resources - including their history|
|2 investigate how these resources are used in specific historical, cultural and institutional contexts, and how people talk about them in these contexts - plan them, teach them, justify them, critique them, etc.|
|3 contribute to the discovery and development of new semiotic resources and new uses of existing semiotic resources.|
The first two of these activities will be discussed and exemplified in this chapter, the third in chapter 2, where I deal with semiotic innovation.
The term 'semiotic resource' is therefore a key term in social semiotics. It originated in the work of Halliday who argued that the grammar of a language is not a code, not a set of rules for producing correct sentences, but a 'resource for making meanings' (1978:192). In this book I extend this idea to the 'grammar' of other semiotic modes, and define semiotic resources as the actions and artefacts we use to communicate, whether they are produced physiologically - with our vocal apparatus; with the muscles we use to create facial expressions and gestures, etc. - or by means of technologies - with pen, ink and paper; with computer hardware and software; with fabrics, scissors and sewing machines, etc. Traditionally they were called 'signs'. For instance, a frown would be a sign of disapproval, the colour red a sign of danger, and so on. Signs were said to be the union of a signifier - an observable form such as a certain facial expression, or a certain colour - and a signified - a meaning such as disapproval or danger. The sign was considered the fundamental concept of semiotics. One of the most famous definitions of semiotics is that of Ferdinand de Saussure (1974 : 16) 'A science that studies the life of signs within society is conceivable … I shall call it semiology (from Greek semeion, “sign”).' In social semiotics the term 'resource' is preferred, because it avoids the impression that 'what a sign stands for' is somehow pre-given, and not affected by its use. As Hodge and Kress (1988:18) have put it, in a discussion of the work of Vološinov - an important precursor of social semiotics - 'signs may not be divorced from the concrete forms of social intercourse