Going beyond linguistic texts

You may come across such terms as “the vocabulary of film” or “the grammar of TV documentaries,” and of critics/theorists talking about “reading fashion.”

Why, you may wonder, are these linguistic and literary terms used to describe media that in their final product may not necessarily employ language?

Well, some structuralist scholars took Saussure to heart when he located language and/or linguistics — with its meaning-making potential — under semiology (or semiotics). Saussure defined semiology and pointed to the fact that:

It is . . . possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon, or”sign”). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge. (1983: 15-16)

As such, these structuralists went beyond the analysis of linguistic texts. They still called their objects of analysis as texts, however, because they read (decoded) the vocabulary (formal elements) and grammar (structures) of these objects for their meanings.

Texts, therefore, could also refer to cinema, photography, radio plays, songs, advertisements, clothes, holidays, etc. (This move helped break the division between “high art” and popular culture.)

The same Saussurean principles of signification are at work in such texts. But some scholars point out that there is a big difference between the linguistic sign “chocolate bar” from a picture of a chocolate bar (Green and LeBihan 77-78). There is more to the concept of the arbitrary and conventional nature of signs when we talk about non-linguistic texts.

What this more is is culture.

Explore posts in the same categories: 1.4 Structuralism, 1.4.2 Semiotics

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