Semiotics and Meaning

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Schirato and Yells’ article “Signs and Meaning” details how there is links between signs and meaning and shows that there is a relationship between the two. I found the readings a little hard to comprehend at time but the main argument I found was that meaning can change over time in context.

The article goes on to explain the difference between the signifier and the signified using Saussure’s explanation. The signifier represents the physical form of the sign, the word without the meaning. The signified is the meaning the sign holds. This idea came from Linguist Ferdand in 1916 who was the founding father of semiotics and gave the idea that semiotics were composed of two things- the signifier- material basis and the signified- the meaning the sign creates. Volosinov agreed with Saussre’s and Ferdand’s interpretation of the signifier and signified but added the fact that different people depending on certain social, political and environmental factors will have different interpretations of words and signs. I think this point is crucial because it shows how meaning is changed by the perception of another individual and offers the idea that context and culture play a role in determining meaning. This notion illustrates the main point that the connection between the signifier and signified is fundamentally arbitrary (meaning is social, relational, contextual) and that if meaning is social then signs are powerful.

The politics of meanings is discussed using the direct example of Australian history, which questions whether Australia was invaded by Europeans or settled. The writer critiques the teaching of Australian history and argues that schools need t o teach the real history of Australian detailing British invasion. This example shows how creating meanings reveals the view of the writer.

I can relate to this reading in terms of interpreting signs and meanings differently from someone of a different background. A particular instance where this occurred was when I gave my friend a purse as a present. At first she seemed really excited and then when she opened it she gave it straight back to me. I interpreted this as my friend not liking my gift but she said to me in the Filipino culture it is bad luck to give a wallet with no money in it. I asked her if there was an amount I had to put in and she said it can be even as low as 5 cents but there has to be something in it. This is not directly related to signs but does exemplify how culture, ethnicity and background play a major role in the interpretation of meanings.

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