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The Characteristics Of Semiotics

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Understanding the way signs work

Ever wonder what the study of signs and symbols and the relationship between them mean? Imagine having a picnic with a friend and you hear a buzzing noise you automatically come to the conclusion that the buzzing noise signifies that there is a bee nearby. This is called Semiology better known as Semiotics, “this is concerned with anything that can stand for something else.”(p. 320). Roland Barthes, a French Literary critic and sociologist wrote that his understanding of semiotic can work by “ interpreting both verbal and nonverbal signs, and how the verbal side is called linguistics. Barthes became interested with this theory because signs that are “ seemingly straightforward”. Over time he changed his mind on this theory because he was influenced by the work of Swiss Linguist Ferdinand De Saussure who was the one that advocated the study of Semiology more specifically the sign and signifier and sifnigided concept, which then lead to his study. Adding on Barthes came to understand that the concept of semiotics is that signs initially describe this theory as myths; and that signs is the combination of its signifier and signified. Throughout this Semiotic analysis the theory would be broken down in order to provide a better understanding on how a sign implies to the world we live in.

To begin with what exactly is semiotics? This is the study of codes or languages and signs from which they assemble or the overall interpretation of the signs or symbols we see in media or overall. As mentioned before this implies verbal and nonverbal interpretation. For example we’re all familiar with the head shaking of yes and no therefore when we see someone shaking their heads we know they mean yes or no. Therefore the semiotics of what we do provides or gives current details or information to the viewer . Now that we understand the concept of signs it’s now time to understand what theorist Roland Barthes and Saussure understanding of myth and the signifier and signified describe.

Sign, Signifier, Signified

Moving forward, we to Signs which follows the following concepts of denotation and connotation sign system or in other words the myth and language if the sign. Before we get into this system we must understand how the signs are interpreted. “ Most of them contain greater amounts of meaning of and by themselves. According to Ashley Montagu, an anthropologist, defined a sign as a ‘concrete denoter’ possessing an inherent specific meaning, roughly analogous to the sentence ‘This is it; do something about it!’ The most common signs encountered in daily life are pictures or drawings, although a human posture like a clenched fist, an outstretched arm, or a hand posed in a ‘Stop’ gesture may also serve as signs.” ( Additionally, the concept of signs is broken down into two parts which involve the Signifier which is the visible part of the sign and then Signified, which is the idea or concept of what the signifier represents. Or as mentioned before does the signifier of sound associated with or image of something and the signified is the idea of the thing. According to Barthes on his example of wrestlers is that the image of the wrestlers figure is the signifier. Then the concept of baseness is the signified. With both of these concepts it combines the two and the villainous body is the sign “ ( pg. 321) So we believe that the wrestler body is the sign however Barthes only considered a body part of the overall meaning of the sign and which gives us the signifier which is not the sign of the signified but instead all three of these concepts. They all work together in a way that they will all interpret a connection with each other that will make up the structure of the sign. Now going back to denotative sign system which mean “ a descriptive sign without ideological content., for example a Cat which defined we would know its animal that represents a demitocacte pet, when it meows, or knead it’s either a representation of them feeling happy which lets us know its a cat. Connotation Sign system is a mythic sign that has lost statistical reference form without substance ( p. 324-325) or in other words an overall hint connected with a sign. An example of connotation is if someone where to see a picture of a clown, for some one it will remind them of their 5th birthday while for some it will remind them of the time they were scared by a clown on Halloween when they were younger.

Another great example is by Donald and Virginia Fry of Emerson college who wrote in their article American Journal of Smeitocits, stated the the display of the yellow ribbons during the 1980 which represented the iranian hostage Crisis due to the film Argo. Moving forward the yellow ribbon provided a three element sign system due to Tie a Yellow ribbon. Barther breaks down the explanation of the diagram in the Communication Theory textbook, which breaks down Denotative Signs System as the image of the yellow ribbon in 1972 it represents a song as the signifier. The Signified includes the conviction of a crime or a term in jail and then passmehgers are enlightened by the sight of an oak tree awash in yellow ribbons (p. 324) Then it moves to the denotative sign which represents the forgiveness, which the yellow ribbon is the meaningful sign but the symbol soon changes after the Connotation Sign System of the yellow ribbon no longer describes what it first represented which was the song or in other words the fleeing or emotional attachment to the word. Overall Barthes concept of the semiotic systems is that Denotation system provides the signifier which at this moment is the ribbon and then secondly the signified which describes the “ convicted prison term repentant forgiven relief” and then the third being the sign which stands for the forgiveness of stigma.( p. 324) Now the sing becomes the signifier in the connotation system because it changes its meaning over time this then changes the signified and the sign. We can’t forget the Secondary connotative which basically represents the welcome home yellow ribbon “ which is paired with the mythic concern of the signified. Then because the yellow ribbon is a symbol it supports a myth and then loses its historical background, due to the different indications that was provided in the diagram.

Deconstruction, Ideology

Next, we have a theory on Deconstruction which is the “ process of unmasking contradiction within a text, debunking” ( p.326). According to Lucie Guillemette and Josiane Cossette from the Universite De Quebec A Trois- Rivieres, and theorist Jacques Derrida who focused their research theory on the fitting of signs and how whether it appears or not. “Refers to a critical perspective that emerged during the seventies which has dethroned structuralism as the dominant trend in language and textual theory.” (Derrida, ). Ideology supports sing that have transformed over history. Going back to the example of the wrestler we are left with the idea about what our sign and signifier and signified are, but the social contrastacion is ignored in other words the old representation is given a different concept. According to Barthes Ideological signs “ enlights support for the status quo which transforms history into believing in something that is true yet know it’s not necessarily true.

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Myth (Connotation)

Myth concept was used by Bathers who indicates the “ connotative meaning that sings carry wherever they go: myths makes what is culture seem natural” ( pg 321) or in other words to show or hide the truth when seeking to depart from reality. A good example of this is the film Cinderella a poor girl who is a servant to her stepmother and stepsister and the overall interpretation of her life is living in a house that makes her feel horrible and miserable. Throughout the film we see her get things together so she can attend the ball with her stepmother and sisters; however, things took an unexpected turn for Cinderella when her sister ruined her dress and her plans to attend the Ball . After this happened Cinderella cries until her fairy godmother appears who then grants her a wish to attend the ball with a dress that stole the attention of the entire ball including the Prince they both danced the night away until it struck midnight. Which then lead the famous part of the film where Cinderella lost her shoe, the overall story goes she was saved by her Prince Charming and she no longer had to live with her evil stepsisters and a stepmother and no longer has a miserable life. Since she marries the prince she now has a rich man. The overall point of this movie provided a fairy tale understanding of men being portrayed as men will save the day suppose to women who are objective roles. With this in mind this shouldn’t affect how we view things “ We all create a context for what we are seeing throught interxual referncing” ( Fishke, 2013). John Fiske theory focused on examining how our culture construct the meaning of signs. He strongly suggested that “ People naturally categorise events that take place in their reality in reference to texts they have experienced in the past, and we all create a context for what we are seeing through intertextual referencing. People tend to believe that genre is based on real life, however, the human mind tends to give real life events context and genre based on those created in texts. This can apply to generally speaking, any genre,” ( Fiske, 2013)

This response perfectly fits back to the example of Cinderella myth. The Myth concept can be applied to any film, horror, action, crimes and romantic films, yet it’s not always a myth. Adding on Barthe’s Conception of Myth, for him provides a more deeper meaning, he believes that “ as long as there is a language, there will always be myth, therefore stating that myths will corrupt human understanding of the world via lamague” ( Barthe’s Conception of Myth ) In other words, the concept myth can also be interpreted into different meanings to someone, myth is part of the whole concept of the Sign and the signifier and the signified. Another concept that encourage the belief of barthes myth theory involves De Saussure Nature of Linguistics sign which basically represents the lingual signs which over all stands for does the sign or language stated have an overall interpretation with what they are trying to say. ( Barthe’s Conception of Myth ). To add on another myth example involves the well known film Legally Blond, the charter name Ella Woods ( played by Reese Witherspoon) will do anything to keep her former boyfriend Warner Huntington III, it turns from a miserable relationship to leading to their breakup while they’re attending dinner. Throughout the film ella is in a vulnerable state of mind as she tries to gain the love of her ex boyfriend, which then hits her that she will never be good enough for him until she her journey through Harverd. Where she meets this guy later inspires her to stay in the field of law. Which see does and ends up with the guy of her dreams, the myth of this is that she’s a vulnerable girl who was dumped by her ex boyfriend which later earned her the engagement of Emmett Rihards who is her hero and saved her from a broken heart and other reasons. Now that we have more understanding on the Semiotic theory, let’s provide more depth in how it implies in the real world.

The Semiotics

Semiotics applies to everything in the world, whether that’s in films designer clothes or brands, “ The advertisement that make commercialtevelvison so profitable also creates layers of connotations that reaffirm the status quo.” ( p. 327) An example to support this claim involves Katherina, a student whose goal was to find a semiotic analysis and found the connotative sign system that involves the famous icon Micheal Jordan. Basically he is well known for his mouth being open and sticking out his tongue while dunking the basketball during games. Which represents the overall signifie of him and is known to do this but even if he’s known for this its not the cause of his talent and therefore the concept of myth is implied with this explanation.

Moving forward with semiotics being implied into films, it was previously mentioned how Cinderella story was a myth and why it seems to be that way. By now we are familiar with the sign and how its broken down into two parts which involves the combination of the signified and signifier. In the concept of signifier introduces three more signs first, the Symbolic Sign referring to the object that has no correspondence, for example,a redlight on a traffic signal, is then there’s Iconic sign where an object that was portrayed for example, cartoons and and lastly the indexical sign.the cause and effect, for example “ smoke as a sign of fire, fever as a sign of illness. ( p. 328). Back to how this implies to films, is that directors have this vision on how it will come across sign, but more focused on how it will signifie. A popular film that came to mind was the Harry Potter movies which provides more of a fantasy world than a realistic world. Other films such as The Avatar, Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel films are other great examples of how “ the interpretation of life which makes it difficult for views to resist” (p. 329) The over theory of semiotics has brought though who come across it to have mixed reviews with Barthers research. His theory was only charging to those somehow believe this theory but as an overall audience, yet this theory is semiotics is not taken to its full understanding of its concept in other words are ignored or are hesitant of believing it besides Barthes and other theorists such as Pierce and Eco who believe semiotics is a well put together concept. Critics are willing to accept the idea that “ all representations is a capitalistic plot or that the familiar we know so well of a visual sign can be used to promote resistance to dominant cultural values ( Barthes, p 329). Moving forward, for those who don’t believe in the semiotics theory or Barthe’s claim of “ connotation signs reinforce dominant values, and that his theory is focused more on the media culter of things

To Conclude this theory, we covered theorist Barthes, and Saussure who was the one that advocated the study of Semiology more specifically the sign and signifier and sifnigided concept, which then lead to his recent study of this theory. That this overall theory involves the sign and is broken down even further with the signifier and signified. Following with further combination of the classification of a sign which falls under signifier ( Symbolic Signs, Iconic signs, Indexical signs). On top of that the overall meaning of a sign can be interpreted into a different throughout the years or that were accustomed to a family sign that we stick to the concept of it, which then leads to the myth aspect of this theory which focuses on show or hide the truth when seeking to depart from reality, in the media culture. Perfect examples that was provided was the Cinderella myth and Legally blonde and “ Not all semiological systems are mythic, just like how not very sign carries ideolciall bagge, and how one sign can remain neutral while other signs acquire powerful attention that involve connotations of people. “ ( P.322)

Yet the denotative sign system and Connotation play a part of the semiotic theory process. Then Semiotic as a whole is the study of codes of nonverable and verbal languages of signs or symbols that we see in the media, semiotics is not taken to its full understanding of its concept in other words are ignored or critics are hesitant in believing it besides Barthes and other theorists who also researched on this theory. If we were to really think about it the semiotics is a circle of concepts that despiste there different understand the meaning or image is more significant than what it meant years or ago or what it represents now.


  1. Barthes, R. (1968). Elements of semiology, A. Lavers & C. Smith (trans.). New York: Hill and Wang.
  2. de Saussure, F. de. (1966). A course in general linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  3. De Saussure – The Nature of the Linguistic Sign – summary. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  4. Fiske’s Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  5. Griffin, E. A., Ledbetter, A., & Sparks, G. G. (2019). A first look at communication theory
  6. Marchand, M.-A. (n.d.). Deconstruction and différance. Retrieved from
  7. Roland Barthes – Myth Today – Summary, Review and Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  8. Yellow ribbon in connotative semiotics system: Donald Fry and Virginia Fry, “ Continuing the Conversation Regarding Myth and CUlture: An Alternative Reading of Brother,”American Journal Of Semiotics, Vol.6 ,No. 2⁄3,1989, pp.183-197pdf. (n.d.).

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The Characteristics Of Semiotics. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
“The Characteristics Of Semiotics.” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022,
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