Understanding the strange world of Semiotics

Semiotics is something we touched on a little last year, and if i’m being honest, was something I did not understand at all. I was aware semiotics were a form of sign but did not know how to use them or what they really were. Within this lecture we looked at a few different ways of not only viewing the subject but also putting the concepts into manageable chunks. I don’y know about anyone else but for me, a massive chunk of writing is not only daunting but makes me fall asleep. This lecture was engaging with humour and broken up into very clear and concise sections.

These are the key things I took away from today.

Speech is how we make use of language – this is called parole, the unfolding in time of a set of possibilities given in space- what Saussure called langue. In a simpler explanation,  imagine language or “langue” as a big cloud that floats above all of us every day. It does not move or change unless we want it to, when we form a sentence in our heads and project it from our mouthes we are reaching up into the cloud and pulling down individual words and phrases into our existence.

There are common phrases that are said everyday “hello, how are you?” “have a nice day” “I am so sorry” and we can be sure that they have been constructed before. However, when we start to think out of our comfort zone and create strange sentences that either do not make sense or are not coherent, we can be almost sure that those words have never been placed together in that sentence in that order … ever. That is an amazing thought.

“The chickens have deceased due to jelly and custard inflammations to the right leg artery, the ones who remain still love lego.”

The next little segment I enjoyed was differentiating language and speech. Language will always be there floating a little like the cloud but speech is what brings it to life. It was described as “There is language and there is speech, there is chess and there is a game of chess.” To which made me consider there are 88 keys on a piano but thousands melodies and songs to be created. However, perhaps more relevant there are 26 letters in the alphabet but thousands of words and sentences.

Joseph Kosuth for example created a very clever piece in 1965 titled ‘One and Three chairs.’ The installation consists of one physical stair standing in the middle against the wall. On either side of this chair is a large piece of paper hanging on the wall. The piece to the left contains a photograph of the original chair (chair number 2) whereas the piece on the right contains the written definition of the word chair (chair number 3.) Cleverly there are technically 3 chairs in the installation but physically only one real chair.

“ danced his did” – E.E. Cummings.

whereas this is an example of how language can break the rules and be expressive too. Did is not supposed to be involved in an associational cluster in language. Could be described as a language misfire…

I won’t tell if you don’t.


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