1001. In American society, the color red often has the connotation "danger." Draw a semiotic triangle that illustrates this. Discuss the evolution of this convention - why does red mean "danger" rather than blue or green or yellow?
As red often means "danger" it would have seemed the natural choice for the color of a "stop" sign and for the "stop" light. Discuss why the color green may have seemed the best choice for the "go" light.
1002. A rebus is a statement formed from a paradigm of icons and symbols: for example, , which is usually taken to mean "I love you." From the following paradigm, construct a rebus that is meaningful to you.
1003. In each of these situations what connotations might come to mind upon the perception of the sign? In each case who, if anyone, is sending the message.
1005. Review a number of television commercials for food. How do advertisers convey the senses of taste and smell?
These icons are conventionally used on the doors of rest rooms to
indicate "men" and "women":
Comment on how changes in our society may lead to changes in the meanings of these signs. Might these be a better choice for the two symbols? Why or why not?
1007. Societies may be more or less symbolic. Consider the following:
1008. Here are other meanings that might arise in the mind of someone who perceives the symbol #frog#. Categorize each as a denotation or connotation and explain your choice.
Treasure Hunt: from what language paradigm do the following
symbols come? What does each denote to those who understand the
language? What does the set of symbols connote to you now? After you've
answered this question?
1010. Advertisers make use of the shared agreement that establishes denotation when they set out to create signs that have particular meanings related to certain products.
1011. Develop evidence to support the assertion that every sign is an abstraction. (One way to do this is to show that signs do not convey all of the five senses. For example, you might show how television food advertisements try to convey the senses of taste and smell.)
1012. A term that is closely associated with the notion of abstraction is metonymy - or, the use of a part to represent the whole thing. Investigate the term, metonymy, and comment on its relationship to abstraction. The following references will provide a start.
1014. Abbreviation is a coding process that maps a word into a shorter, but still understandable word. Compile a list of abbreviations used in the classified ads section of a local newspaper. Discuss the role of context in the understanding of these abbreviations.
1015. Discuss how a language such as English might grow or shrink by means of changes in its codes.
1016. Consider the language known as Latin. Once it was widely spoken throughout the Roman empire, now few people speak it. Investigate the decline of Latin as a human language. Why is it dying out?
1017. Consider a code of the type that might be used by an American football team.
|Colors||red, blue, green||Type of Play (run, pass, other)|
|Word||left, right||Arrangement of players on the field|
|Letter||B, X, Q||Player to receive the ball (run only)|
|Number||1,2,3,4,5||Location that player will run (run only)|
|Letter||R, K, H, X, Q||Arrangement of pass receivers (pass only)|
|Number||1,2,3||Arrangement of blockers (pass only)|
Rules - in this order:
Explain how this code functions as a language. Explain why each of the following sentences is illegal.
Depending on the play of the defensive team, Blue Left X 2 might produce a number of different outcomes. Explain this.
1018. Notice that our definition of the term sign is problematic. We say that a sign is what you perceive - but what, exactly, is perception? Does the sign exist only on the paper, or is it formed by the light waves that bounce off of the paper? To what extent is the sign in your mind? (If no-one looks at a picture, is it a sign?) Are we correct in saying that signs are "physical?"
1019. Symbols tend to arise in the languages of human societies over long periods of time. Perhaps, long ago they were icons, but the resemblance is lost to us now. Some modern words, however, seem less arbitrary. Ice cream, for example, and automobile, are examples of words that are somewhat iconic. Explain why these words are iconic. Give examples of some other "iconic symbols."
1020. Some English words are almost entirely iconic. Can you find some examples and explain? (Hint: some of these are called onomatopoeia in literature.)
1021. Slang is an area of language where the conventional meanings tend to change very quickly. Identify a number of slang words currently in use in your group. When were these words added to your vocabulary? Have some of their meanings changed recently?
1022. Studies of human perception show that to some extent, what people perceive depends on what they expect to perceive. Research this subject. How does this affect our definition of the term, sign?
1023. In Semiology, Guiraud says
Science signifies an order imposed upon nature; art, an emotion which we experience vis à vis nature.... Science is transitive (in the grammatical sense), and art intransitive. With the help of science we signify the world by enclosing it within the network of reason; art enables us to signify ourselves by deciphering our psyche in terms of the order of nature.
What does Guiraud mean by this?
1024. S. Langer's and Eco's definitions of the terms "denotation" and "connotation" are based on different theoretical approaches, and so they differ. Littlejohn describes S. Langer on page 69 and Eco on page 71. Discuss the difference in the way the two theorists define these terms.
1025. The following quote is from E. Langer, 59.
Because a sign may mean so many things, we are apt to misinterpret it.... The misinterpretation of signs is the simplest form of mistake. It is the most important form, for purposes of practical life, and the easiest to detect; for its normal manifestation is the experience called disappointment.
Consider this comment in light of our discussion of the relationship between confusion and creativity. Would you say that to be creative, one must be willing to be disappointed?
1026. Find in your library and read Metaphors We Live By by Lakoff and Johnson. Consider the following questions.
1027. Read "Abstraction" by Davis and Hersh, in The Mathematical Experience, 127-130.
1028. To what extent are you, yourself, an abstraction?
1029. Read McCain and Segal, The Game of Science.
1030. Read "Symbols" by Davis and Hersh in The Mathematical Experience, 122-126.
1031. Print out a "map" of all of the characters available on your word processor's keyboard. Are any of these "illegal" in terms of the paradigm for English? Explain why or why not.
1032. Some languages have symbols that look strange to those raised to read English. Consider, for example - è, ö, ç and ñ. Are these elements of a paradigm, or are they syntagms? Does English have any similar, "compound" elements?
1033. Unlike written English, the paradigm for spoken English has neither "letters" nor "marks." What is the paradigm for spoken English? How in speech do we indicate such as the question marks, periods and quote marks of written English? [Hint: a textbook on the subject of "linguistics" is a good place to search for the answer to the question.]
1034. In the first chapter of Understanding Popular Culture John Fiske discusses various meanings that can be assigned to print advertisements for jeans. Produce your own semiotic analysis of the ads presented in this article. Find additional ads in magazines and newspapers. Are these similar to the ones in the article? Do they support Fiske's and/or your conclusions?
1035. This quote is taken from S. Langer, 94.
In the first place, every language has a vocabulary and a
elements are words with fixed meanings. Out of these one can construct,
according to the rules of the syntax, composite symbols with resultant new
Secondly, in a language, some words are equivalent to whole combinations
of other words, so that most meanings can be expressed in several different
ways. This makes it possible to define the meanings of the ultimate single
words, i.e., to construction a dictionary.
Thirdly, there may be alternative words for the same meaning. When two
people systematically use different words for almost everything, they are
said to speak different languages. But the two languages are rougly
equivalent; with a little artifice, and occasional substitution of a phrase
for a single word, etc., the propositions enunciated by one person, in his
system, may be translated into the conventional system of the other.
Secondly, in a language, some words are equivalent to whole combinations of other words, so that most meanings can be expressed in several different ways. This makes it possible to define the meanings of the ultimate single words, i.e., to construction a dictionary.
Thirdly, there may be alternative words for the same meaning. When two people systematically use different words for almost everything, they are said to speak different languages. But the two languages are rougly equivalent; with a little artifice, and occasional substitution of a phrase for a single word, etc., the propositions enunciated by one person, in his system, may be translated into the conventional system of the other.
1036. Use your library to research the origins of the Morse code.
1037. Research the use of American Sign Language or one of the other signing languages designed to enhance the communication of people who are unable to hear. Describe the code of this language.
1038. Esperanto is an "artificial" human language that was developed in the late 19th century to promote communication among the people of the world. Research the history of Esperanto. Why is it so little used?
1039. Choose a computer language such as BASIC, COBOL, FORTRAN, PASCAL, C, JAVA and so on. Describe the code of the language. Are computer "languages" true languages? Why or why not? (If you understand a computer language, are you able to talk to a computer?)
Use the "download source" option on your web browser to down-load the "source file" for this web page. Research the "HTML" language that is used to organize what you see on the screen and explain how it works.
1040. Fiske (1990) discusses semiotician John Barthes' explanation of the role of myth in human communication. Read that section of his book. Explain how Barthes' definition of differs from the "commonsense" definition of myth as a story about gods and goddesses.
1041. The following quotation is taken from Fiske (1990).
We are a science-based culture. The dominant myth of science presents it as man's ability to adapt his nature to his needs, to improve his security and standard of living, to celebrate his achievement. Science is seen as objective, true and good. But the counter-myth is also very strong. This sees science as evil, as evidence of man's distance from and lack of understanding of nature.
Research the subject of "science as myth." Do you agree with Fiske? Explain why or why not.
1042. Although Propp's morphology refers only to Russian folk tales, it may be applied to other kinds of narratives. Choose a story and investigate its "fit" to Propp's characters and functions. Here are some stories to try as examples. (Reference: Propp.)
1043. How do Jakobson's notions of contact and message compare to Shannon and Weaver's notions of medium and signal?
1044. How might Jakobson's notion of context and its referential function fit into the semiotic triangle model?
1045. Does "context" mean the same thing to Jakobson that it does to Shannon and Weaver?
1046. The tutorial on semiotics uses this symbol, #, to mark the beginning and end of a string of letters that are being referred to as symbols. With this in mind, explain the use of this symbol, ", in the following sentence: If the word "banana" is under discussion as a symbol (rather than as an English noun), it will be shown like this: #banana#.