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Danesi gets to the heart of media literacy issues succinctly stating: In identifying and documenting media structures, the semiotician is guided by three basic questions: 1. What does a certain structure text, genre, etc. How does it represent what it means? Why does it mean what it means? Danesi Danesis questions are clear without discipline-specic terminology.

From cave drawings to emojis: Communication comes full circle - Marcel Danesi - TEDxToronto

The rst question looks for an interpretation or conclusive understanding that generally emerges at a connotative level, and anticipates that a media analyst will have the competencies necessary for questions 2 and 3, asking how and why. Asking how meaning is represented is the central question of semiotic analysis. To answer this question the representational structures of communication must be revealed. The key concepts are generally expressed with words that demonstrate the assumptions of semiotics.

The rst is that signs are an expression or representation of an object or meaning that exists separately from the object or meaning that it stands for. The interpreter always has a relationship with an object of perception, but the object of a sign is not aected by how it is interpreted.

The most immediate and obvious question of the process of media analysis is: 1. This question evokes Peirces ideas about pragmatism, the notion of Thirdness, and the interpretant. Conating these distinct ideas exploits their commonalities and brackets the ner details valued by scholars see EP 1, EP 2; Deely At the same time, a complex concept can be simply stated so one can understand that the meaning of a sign generates a new sign in the mind of an individual.

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All interpretations originate from a perspective that assumes the practical consequences of an object or event from a particular point-of-view, but media elevate the representation of meaning to a higher level. The processes of interpretation happen through negotiation and power, and media productions impose the naturalization of meaningful consequences. In media literacy, it is especially important to distinguish between the meaning intended by the messenger, the neutral or denotative meaning of an object which has no motivation to have meaning , and a perceptual judgment negotiated from a receivers contextual point-of-view Nattiez.

The classication of a meaning is based on what the interpreter believes is the eect or consequence of the object or meaning.

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Media producers have the power to construct messages, but audiences can negotiate their meanings. The strengths and limits of any medium to represent the truth are dened by its capacity to focus attention from a constructed point-of-view. When signs are read, they construct new signs in the minds of individuals in the audience.

The processes of media analysis that engender media literacy begin with reactions to these new signs or interpretations that raise questions and inspire intuitive negotiations about the meanings. Exploring how meaning is represented requires language and concepts that reveal structural components of representation that make particular meanings and practices normal, and therefore intended to be perceived as correct. Asking why media producers construct a particular message or interpretation of objects or events addresses social relations and factors that motivate communication strategies.

These are negotiations for power over how cultures should understand events and objects, what we should believe is true, correct, or normal, and thus prescribe ways of acting in any given situation. The role of semiotics, then, is to provide analytical tools that empower audiences to systematically recognize media devices and strategies designed to control social discourse, beliefs, and practices. Answering what an intended message means and how it is represented prepares one to understand why it represents the interests of its producers. Media messages are not necessarily bad or good, but they do assert a dominant point of view.

Semiotic methods enable critical thinking and prepare media literate audiences to resist being manipulated. The taxonomy of semiotics will be progressive and expansive. Words used to express the concepts of semiotics develop into a complex vocabulary of interrelated ideas. All terms must have a practical function related to media analysis. The way the taxonomy develops will thus construct a new culture of media literate semiotic analysts.

Understanding the logic of sign relations can increase productivity, clarify issues necessary for making eective decisions, and enhance creativity. Knowledge of semiotics can help to distinguish signs that function as propositions, arguments, and actuality, and to recognize the dierence between nature and history, fact and opinion. Semiotics is a way to understand the logic of how meaning is derived from the interpretation of signs. So, I am suggesting that a semiotic taxonomy must appeal to people that.

I conclude by quoting Nathan Houser speaking about the future of semioitcs: Perhaps at our present state of understanding of language and semiosis we dont have any need for such complexity just as we didnt once have any need for relativity physics but I predict that someday we will face a use even a need for Peirces full theory. Houser xxxviii.

Media literacy and semiotics: Toward a future taxonomy of meaning

Notes 1. Peter Chelsom dir. References Berger, Arthur Asa Media Analysis Techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Media Literacy

Branston, Gill and Staord, Roy The Media Students Handbook. London: Routledge. Brent, Joseph Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Brown, Dan The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday. Burke, Kenneth Berkley: University of California Press. Chomsky, Noam Form and meaning in natural languages.

Washington, DC: Counterpoint. Danesi, Marcel Understanding Media Semiotics. London: Oxford University Press. Deely, John Four Ages of Understanding. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Eco, Umberto The Hindu, October Gaines, Elliot The semiotics of articial mythology and The Far Side.

In Semiotics , C. Spinks and John Deely eds. New York: Peter Lang. The narrative semiotics of The Daily Show. Houser, Nathan Morris, Charles Foundation of the theory of signs. Foundation of the Unity of Science 1 2 , Signs, Language, and Behavior. New York: Prentice Hall. Nattiez, Jean-Jacques Studying the Media, 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.


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Peirce, Charles S. Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. Hauserand, C. Kloesel eds. Peirce Edition Project eds. Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York: Dell. Sare, William On language: New name-calling nomenclature. New York Times Magazine, September 3, Shank, Gary and Cunningham, Donald But rather than being about nothing, Seinfeld was a series of stories featuring a cast of comic characters that illustrated a particular contemporary set of values, beliefs, lifestyles, and practices.

And while most entertainment is taken for granted as simple amusement, the topics, events, and issues that motivate stories affect social discourse about aspects of everyday life. Perhaps even more significant is that the same can be said about nonfiction media. M edia have an enormous influence on what we know and believe in contemporary Western cultures and, increasingly, around the world.

Media production and distribution are expensive, and media messages are constructed by individuals and teams of people with the intention of sending messages that influence public opinions and individual actions.


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It is therefore necessary for every individual and social group to be able to critically analyze and understand media. With mountains in the distance, the townsfolk look on from the boardwalk in front of a saloon. In the foreground, a cowboy points a smoking gun, but a dish of something fluid, perhaps a cream pie, is splashing across his face. Just in front of the cowboy, a clown in a polka-dotted shirt with a ruffled collar lies sprawled on the ground, his tongue sticking out to the side of his mouth and eyes staring straight ahead to signify his death from a gunshot wound.

But the way the townsfolk called it, neither man was a clear winner!