Archive for April, 2010


Ferdinand de Saussure

April 26, 2010

“The Course in General Linguistics”, written by Ferdinand de Saussure, edited by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye in collaboration with Albert Reidlinger and translated from french by Wade Baskin. Ferdinand de Saussure provides a theoretic foundation to trend of linguistics study.

The nature of the sign

Language is identified by its elements with each corresponding to a thing it names. This approach is naive in its manner and brings us to the fact that the linguistic unit is a double entity, one formed by associating two terms. The linguistic sing unites a concept and a sound-image (the psychological imprint of the sound- the one it makes on our senses). This combination of a concept and sound-image is what makes up a sign, but in current usage it only refers to the sound-image, or the word. For example, the word “arbor” carries the concept tree, with the result the idea of the sensory part implies the idea of the whole. In this case, sign now designates the whole and concept and sound-image is replaced respectively by signified and signifier.

The bond between the signified and signifier is arbitrary, and thus the linguistic sign is arbitrary. This means it is unmotivated, arbitray in that it has no natural connection with the signified.


Images in Advertising: Theory

April 12, 2010

Advertising is a form of visual communication where companies work with persuasion – the power to influence consumers to associate or establish connections with a certain image and their product or service. The use of images and videos in advertisements is evidence that what is being shown has really happened and allows the images to be seen as direct copies of reality. The visual connections established is to elicit some form on mental connection and ultimately to pursue a certain type of behavior.

There are three major roles that images play in an ad:

  • Elicit emotion by simulating appearance of a real person or object
  • Serve as photographic proof that something did really happen
  • Establish implicit link between thing being sold and some other image(s

Using both pathos (emotion) and logos (logic), advertisers hope to ultimately persuade a person to purchase their product.

The different modes of communication have different implications and uses on how people interact. It can be described as having either semantic or syntactic properties. Semantic focuses on how the elements of a particular mode (words, images, musical tones, whatever) are related to their meanings. Syntactic deals with the interrelationships among the elements themselves as they combine to form a larger meaning. Each mode of communication has a combination of these two features.

Semantic properties are a central concern for semiotics, the study of signs. Scholars have identifited many ways to classify the relationships between “signifiers” and “signifieds”, but the most common scheme is used is the one identified by Charles Sanders pierce.

His triadic classifications entails three categories:

  • Icon. Iconic signs are characterized by some form of similarity or analogy between the sign and its object.
  • Index. Indexical signs are are those that serve as a physical trace pointing to the object’s existence.
  • Symbol. A symbol is an arbitrary convention – things that referred by virtue of social convention.

Why do we react the way we do to certain images? Several reasons ..


Pictures that resemble some aspect of reality are clear examples of iconic signs. According to Pierce, iconic signs need not provide a particularly close replica of its’ objects overall appearance. Example would be a river on a map – an iconic presentation of the course of the real river or a child’s stick figure drawing of person. Researsh has shown that cognition and perception that even a rudimentary match between image and reality is enough for the brain to employ real world processes of visual interpretation.

Visual representations made from photographs or videos also qualify under Pierce’s notion of a sign produced by a physical trace of its object. Meaning that not only are they iconic, but indexical signs as well. The fact that the photographs are direct physical imprints of reality it plays an important role in persuasion.


Syntactic aspects of images, the theoretical literature is less systematic and less developed than it is for visual semantics. Visual communication is characterized by a lack of explicit means for identifying ways in which images may be relayed to each other. What visual communications lacks is called propositional syntax. People who work in visual communications develop precise conventions for indicating spatial or temporal relationships among two or more objects, but visual communications does not have explicit syntax for expressing analogies, contrasts, causal claims, and other kinds of propositions. In the context of advertising, the “deficiency” of visual syntax makes it a principal strngth – it allows people to make their own connections and interpretations of the images.

Iconicicty, indexicality and syntantic indeterminacy are the three properties used in the attributes of visual persuasion. The real world around us surrounds us with social, cultural, and personal norms that we associate with each day. The associations come from unique experiences of each individual combined with common, shared influences of culture and biology. Certain images can reproduce the appearance of reality (icon) and can evoke a variety of “preprogrammed” emotional responses.



April 7, 2010

Roland Barthes speaks on semiology outlined in Chapter 4 of his book. Let’s take a closer look into semiology and the meanings it creates for images.

Semiology is an approach taken to analyze images with an in-depth look of the meaning behind it and traces it in relation to broader systems of meaning. The word itself means “the study of signs;. Semiology depends on a scientific knowledge that contradicts ideals of ideology. Ideology legitimates unequal social power relations and is based on represntations that reflect interests of power. Williamson describes ideology as “the meaning made necessary by conditions of society”. It is a need to belong, to have a social place in society. Semiology is concerned with the social effects of meaning. Advertisements are a prime example of semiology linked with ideology. Ads make a connection that we can relate to our own lives, and thus, believe in these embedded assumptions that lie deep within. Williamson explains her understanding of adverts that there is a clear distinction between ‘real’ structures of society (class relations) and ‘false’ knowledge of social differences imposed by adverts.

Semiological studies tend to concentrate on the image itself with a focus on signs that compose the image. The social effects of an image is also of concern to the modality of the site. Semiology fulfills the criteria needed to examine visual images and take apart the meanings that lie beneath.

When examining images and their meanings, semiological components are utilized. First is the sign, which is made up the signified and signifier. Signified is a concept or object and signifier is a sound or image that is attached to the signified.  Ferdinand de Sassure developed this systematic understanding of signs, and stated that there is no necessary relationship between any signifier and signified, and thus is arbitrary. For instance, the word ‘baby’ in English is ‘bimbo’ in Italian. Also, the same signified can have multiple meanings. Baby is a term used between adults to show affection and endearment, and in english ‘bimbo’ is a term used to stereotype certain kinds of women. The referent is the actual object to which the sign is related.

Pierce had a different way of looking at signs. He classified them into three kinds of signs – Icon, Index, and Symbol. Icon being that the signifier represents the signified by having a likeness to it. Things such as a photograph of a tree would be an icon for a tree. Index is an inherent relationship between the signifier and signified. This is different dependent upon culture. A symbol is an arbitrary relation between the signifier and signified.