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The Implication Of Semiotic In Improving Students’ Reading Comprehension

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This writing explains the symbols or signs in a short story, The Selfish Giant, written by Oscar Wilde, to explore the explicit meaning of the text. The writer chooses this short story, because the short story is used to examine students’ reading comprehension. This research applies Semiotic which discusses about symbols. The capabilities of students to identify the meaning of symbols help them to realize that signs and symbols in a text are a way to express human’s feeling or thoughts.


Language is an important part that cannot be separated from human lives. It is because language is a tool to communicate with another. Dechaine and friend (2012) suggest that language “is used to communicate concepts and intentions” (2012:10). People use language to express their thoughts and their feelings. As it is mentioned before, a language can be used to express human thoughts or feelings. There are several ways to do it such as; spoken, written and sign. This is in line with what Meyer states in his writing, “language exist in three modes: speech, writing and signs” (2009:1). For instance, when you go somewhere and you see your friend, then you wave your hands without necessarily saying anything. Waving hands is the way to do communication with your friend. It already shows that yo send the information to her.

Most of the people around the world unconsciously use those three ways to communicate. The first one, spoken, for instance, they use spoken language when they do conversation directly. The second, written, is when people write a message to the other. The last one is sign, such as gesture, symbol and some other things that are made between the locator and the interlocutor to understand each other. It can be seen by the definition of the sign which is “a discrete unit of meaning” (Dechaine, 2012, 11). Everything can be defined as a language if it has meaning and it can be understood.

Signs are usually influenced by a culture which is similar to literary work. Literary work is one of the instruments that are believed as something that has got impact from the culture. As it is mentioned in a website titled LanQua, “literature is needed to reflect the wider cultural horizon of text‐mediation” ( In this case, It is clearly seen that there is a relation between human and sign where literature is one of the ways to connect between them.

This research uses a children literature, written by Oscar Wilde The Selfish Giant from Oxford version that was published in 2012. This research investigates the meaning of signs in this work and the importance of the signs to understand extrinsic values in reading narrative text. This research uses Semiotic Approach. As a matter of fact, understanding semiotic and teaching it to the students is really important, because by understanding semiotic, students will find extrinsic meaning of narrative text easily.

Background of the Research

As it is known, in teaching a language, there are several skills that should be considered, one of them is reading. Related to reading, there are many English literary works that is often used by teacher to teach the students. For instance; teachers can use short story or narrative text. Moreover, in understanding short story, there are two elements that should be understood. They are intrinsic and extrinsic elements. Intrinsic element is describes about the text itself, while the extrinsic element pictures out of the text.

Most of teachers, in teaching a short story, only focus on the intrinsic element that is showed in the text. It is because understanding the intrinsic element seemed easier than teaching the extrinsic element of a story. As it is mentioned in the previous paragraph, the extrinsic is portraying everything that is probably giving issues to the text. To understand the extrinsic elements, the cultural knowledge is really needed. For instance, to find an explicit value of a short story, student needs to be detail to look on the story, what the symbols that are used by the writer, and find any information about the story. There are many things we can find from the story. Many kinds of symbols and pictures serve their own meaning. Those interesting things help reader to identify the explicit meaning of the story. Then, using one of linguistic features that will help students to find out the meaning of the symbols are by using Semiotic.

Theoretical Framework

Semiotic is one of the linguistic branches that examines the sign. This study was first constructed by Ferdinand de Saussure in his writing Course in General Linguistics (1916). He believes that the meaning of semiotic can be defined by sign. In defining semiotics as linguistics sign, Saussure divided semiotics as two, which are; signified and signifier. Signifier is about the sound or the written of image, while signified is about the concept. For examples; Cat (signifier) is animal that has four legs, beautiful eyes, to mew, (signified).

In the next era, there was a linguist that develops Saussure’s thought about semiotics, who is called Roland Barthes. Bouzida (2014) states that “Roland Barthes proclaimed that semiology ‘aims to take in any system of signs whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects ‘(Roland Barthes 1968)”. It can be seen that Barthes developed his new perspective about signs and tried to make it more complex as something from the Saussure’s thought.

Barthes introduced two terms; denotation and connotation as part of signs. ‘Connotation’ is applied only to the secondary signification of objects that are already signs in their own right. Barthes believes that signifier-signified are not only about language but also comes from a community, from a certain place in a certain era, to strengthen their beliefs and their identity (Barthes, 1964).

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Previous studies

To provide the research becomes systematic and scientific, the writer takes several writings that have been analyzed about Semiotic Approach from several viewpoints. It will be used for determining the significant point of this research. Those previous research are conducted by Rezaei and Kumral. Rezaei in his article entitled “Toward the application of a semiotic model’s elements in the courses of French language” assumes that it is very useful to understand semiotic in analyzing narrative text. Understanding semiotic can increase students vocabulary and also students reading skills. Rezaei in his study uses action-research as the method of the study. He uses this to “solve a real and tangible problem” (p.9). He found the lack of students analysis in writing the elements of narrative texts. In collecting the data, there are some steps that he did. First, he gave observation exercise and conduct it with the students by using three fables to explain the basic elements of semiotic analysis. Second, the researcher do a survey group to get students feedback of the type of the texts. Next, the teacher describe the concept about the “notion of lexical field based on the lexical items” from the fables (11). The last is, the teacher asking student to analyze the fables and apply the knowledge. Based on the method and the steps, it can be seen that “semiotic model facilitated students to order their ideas” (11).

Next is Kumral (2013) discusses the exposure of students with literary texts to encourage students language ability through linguistic approach. Literary text is used as the instrument to connect semiotic and textual communication. Kumal, uses communicative methodology in his research, which results the literature provides the opportunity of teacher in “designing effective teaching materials”. Moreover, the students do not only improve in vocabulary but also linguistic signs. Therefore it can give impact for students social-interaction.


Understanding the semiotics features in The Selfish Giant (2012)

In The Selfish Giant, there are many semiotically signs that can be analyzed. First, it can be seen in the second chapter. This chapter tells about the spring who does not want to come to the Giant’s garden. It is because the Giant has not allowed the children to play in his garden. Therefore, there are not any birds, or flowers in the garden. Then, in the Giant’s garden, there is the only winter. Then, Snow and the Frost say; “Spring doesn’t come to this garden! They cry. So, we can live here all year!” (Wilde 2012:4). The writer assumes that “spring” is not only weather, but there is something beyond that associate the meaning of “spring”. It can be said that “spring” is a mental reflection that signified another thing. As it is also mentioned in the Element of Semiology by Barthes, where the signified not only can be defined as a real thing but also as “the signifying process […] [where the “spring” in this story] is meant by the person who uses the sign” (Barthes 1964:13). It is clearly seen that “spring” can signify another thing that is related to the person who uses it. Based on this story, not only the Selfish Giant but also trees, birds and flowers wait for “spring”. This means, “spring” has associated meaning as something that can bring happiness. It is also strengthened by the definition of the “spring” from, “In European languages, the concept of spring is associated with the sowing of crops.” It means, in this time, the temperatures become warm, many plants begin to grow and animals come out from the hibernation during the winter (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019).

Next data comes from chapter three. There is a picture of a woman, hold golden apple and fly on people’s garden, is described as the Autumn (8). The Autumn comes to the garden and give the apple to the people while she does not give anything to the Giant. In this case, I assume that picture of autumn as a flying woman signified movement. The movement of seasons means changing a season to another season. Nunez (2016) a journalist of season states that autumn refers a change. He also thinks that “our bodies, minds, and surroundings are always developing”. It is related to the story where the picture is someone who is flying, which means flying is move one place to another place. And the woman, Autumn, in the story bring the changing to the people. It means about the people’s life develop. But, it did not happen to the Giant. There is no changing in Giant’s place. It means the life of the Giant is stuck in his life. Giant’s place is always winter, where “winter” is signifier of hibernation signified. It is because this time is the coldest weather. In this kind of weather, most of people, some plants and animal have limited activities, less energy, because most of their time they spend at home. Then, it depicts in the story, where the garden of the Giant is always winter. Actually, the choosing of winter that always stay in the Giant’s garden also describe the feeling of the Giant’s itself; sad, lonely and less energy.

Furthermore, the story there is a “little hole” in the wall of Giant’s garden (9). The “hole” in this story is a signifier of the Giant’s heart. As it is known before, He is unsociable person, rude and cruel. But the loneliness brings him down. The “hole” in the story is a symbol of the changing of Giant’s feeling.

Applying Semiotic-Approach in the class

There are several steps that can be used to introduce semiotic approach. First, students are given a short story. The students read the text and answer the question related to the text. Next, ask the students to find out some interesting words and categorize the words based on their types, examples; seasons, color, feeling, things. After the students categorize the symbols to the groups. Then teacher can ask or teacher can lead the students to activate their critical thinking.

For instance, teachers serve several questions to lead the students;

  • What will happen when the day is an autumn?
  • What are the activities that the people can do in the day?
  • What kinds of people’s feeling?

Then, ask the students to discuss it with their group. Furthermore, when the students are discussing, the teacher can give some information about the culture or the season to each group, then students can use the information to their discussion. Those activities are the way to introduce the students about Semiotic.

Understanding Semiotic will help students examine their surroundings. Then it will help the students to find out the value from the short story. As it is known, in some practices and exercise in reading comprehension, usually is served questions. One of the activities that are often asked is about the moral values or the explicit meaning of a story. Then, I assume that by teaching Semiotic-Approach, students’ reading comprehension, critical thinking and knowledge will be improved.


Semiotics is one of the linguistic branches which focuses on examining symbols. The symbols can be found in spoken language, written or sign language. Semiotics has many features, and this research is used two of them; signifier and signified. Those terms proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure (1916). In a text, especially narrative text, there are many symbols that can be found. Additionally, symbols in the text usually have the explicit meaning of the story itself.

Moreover, to examine symbols, using short story is one of the ways that can be done. It is because in learning or teaching a language, teacher or learner cannot be separated from story during the learning process. What is more, The Selfish Giant from Wilde (2012, Oxford version) is one of the ways to apply the semiotic knowledge. Introducing and applying Semiotic is needed to the students. It can help students to improve their critical thinking and also their reading comprehension. It is because the students will be more aware of something that seemed common. Then, it can also help students to sharpen their thought to react to the phenomenon that happened.

Works Cited

  1. Barthes, Roland . (1964). Elements of Semiology. Hill and Wang.
  2. Bouzida, Feyrouz.(2014). International Conference on Social Sciences and Humanities: The semiology analysis in media studies-Roland Barthes Approach-.Turkey: Proceedings of Socioint14
  3. Encyclopædia Britannica.(2015). The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica: Spring. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.
  4. Accessed on January 2019
  5. Déchaine, Rose-Marie.2012. Linguistics for Dummies. Mississauga:John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.
  6. Kumral, N. (2006). Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies: “Semiotic analysis of textual communication in Snow by Julia Alvarez”. 9(2) (2013) 31–44.
  7. LanQua . 2007-2010. The LanQua Toolkit: .:Literature and Culture. UK: Commission of the European Communities Lifelong Learning Erasmus Network programme
  8. Meyer, C. (2009). Frontmatter. In Introducing English Linguistics (Cambridge Introductions to Language and Linguistics, pp. I-Vi). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  9. Nunez, Kirsten.(2016). Bustle: “7 Symbolic Meanings Of Autumn That Remind Us How Amazing This Season Really Is”.
  10. Rezaei,Reza. “Toward the application of a semiotic model’s elements in the courses of French language: A case study of short stories reading comprehension of advanced Iranian students”. Tarbiat Modares Univesity.
  11. Venefica, Avia.(2018).What’s your; Symbolic Meaning of Seasons

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