Semiotics is the study of signs which includes words, gestures, images, sounds and objects. It is how meanings are made and how reality is represented. Signs consist of the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the material aspect; what we see as being there. The signified is the mental aspect; it is learnt through our society and culture.

It is…possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life…We shall call it semiology (from the Greek sèmeîon, ‘sign’). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them…Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. …” -Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, 1916

Semiotics are analysed in three main ways; a linguistic message, a non-coded iconic message and a coded iconic message.

The linguistic message is all or any words which are in the image. Lingustics can attract both connotation and denotation in the analysis of the image. A non-coded iconic message are the denotations in the image. This is the recognisable and identifiable (signifier) objects in the image. A coded iconic message are the connotations (signified) in the image. The connotiations of the images are dependant on a number of external influences which the image maker has no control over. This could be things such as age, religion, culture and race.

An example of semiotics which we are taught from a young age is male and female toilet signs. The linguistic message is “female toilet” or “male toilet”. There is also braille below this writing. The images tell us whether the toilet is for females (dress) or males (trousers). The blue background and white writing tells us that it is an information sign.

This is an advertising image or Italian food. The main linguistic message in this image is “Panzani”, which we can assume is the brand of the food in the shopping bag. It is on every product which means that you can notice it. At the bottom of the advert is French writing which translates to “Pasta, sauce, parmesan; Italian luxury”. Luxury is a rich word which makes something sounds heavenly and comforting.

The pasta is dried and sauce has been put in a tin so they have added fresh food to the image (tomatoes, mushrooms etc.) to make it seem like a healthy and fresh option for dinner. The whole image is well lit so that you can see all of the products. This is the non-coded iconic message (signifier).

The coded ionic message (signified) show the connotations that go with the image. There are three main colours used in this advert; red, green and white (colours of the Italian flag). By using a red background the advert makes your think of luxury, passion and desire. This is what the company wants you to think about the food and it will convince you to buy it.


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