Research Code Key
[E] Explanation [O] Opinion [W] Website [R] Further Research [Q] Quotation [U] Useful [!] Critical
[X] Exhibition [T] Timeline [I] Important [>] Indent
[P] Photograph [B] Book To Read


[!] Semiotics is an investigation into how meaning is created and how meaning is communicated. Its origins lie in the academic study of how signs and symbols (visual and linguistic) create meaning.

[!] It is a way of seeing the world, and of understanding how the landscape and culture in which we live has a massive impact on all of us unconsciously.

[U] Our actions and thoughts what we do automatically are often governed by a complex set of cultural messages and conventions, and dependent upon our ability to interpret them instinctively and instantly.

[U] For instance, when we see the different colours of a traffic light, we automatically know how to react to them. We know this without even thinking about it. But this is a sign which has been established by cultural convention over a long period of time and which we learn as children, and requires a deal of unconscious cultural knowledge to understand its meaning.

[>] Viewing and interpreting (or decoding) this sign enables us to navigate the landscape of our streets and society.

[!] Everyone is a semiotician, because everyone is constantly unconsciously interpreting the meaning of signs around them from traffic lights to colours of flags, the shapes of cars, the architecture of buildings, and the design of cereal packaging.

[I] signs don’t only need to be visual – they can be aural or sonic signs too, such as the sound of a police siren, usually heard before the vehicle is seen.

[U] We know for instance that the following sign in the West means everything is OK. This can be dated back to its alleged use by Roman emperors to signal whether a gladiator would live (hence be OK). Its reverse thumbs down signified death.

[U] But in scuba diving this sign means go up to the surface, and by the side of the road it means you want to hitch a ride.

[!] In other words, we need to understand the context in which a sign is communicated in order to comprehend its real meaning, and hence act appropriately. What is going on around the sign is usually as important for us to know as the sign itself in order to interpret its meaning.