Semiotics 101

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols. In society, we interpret numerous signs and symbols in our everyday lives. However, a sign is not a sign until it is interpreted as a sign.

There are many signs and symbols that we give meaning to. For example, the gender sign is universally understood as Male and Female. Furthermore, these signs signify another meaning, toilets. A recent debate surrounding transgender bathrooms have created a third sign. This new sign is reliant on a cultural agreement that those who identify as transgender will be classified by this symbol.

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Conversationalisation and Language

Accent and Delivery

A message is encoded with particular meanings so it can be decoded by the receiver. However, while message does not change, its delivery can influence how it is received.

Fluency Effect refers to the idea that the easier the message is to understand, the more truthful it is perceived. A person from Dublin may consider a news broadcast to be truthful if it reported by a clear spoken, native Irish person rather than a person with a foreign accent.

Conversational analysis: Interviews

Formulation is a method of managing an interview. Usually performed by the interviewer, formulation involves the audience in the interview by summarising what the interviewee is saying. While this may be seen as ‘stupification’ it is a tool to ensure that the content of the interview is controlled and understood by the audience.

Violation is when the interviewee defies the interviewer and doesn’t answer the question asked. This violation can result in the interviewee changing the topic and discussing their own talking points.

An example of this:

Is the interviewer maintaining a stance of ‘formal neutrality’? Or can we see some form of bias?

We can see some form of bias in Paxmans interview. Paxmans questioning leads in such a way that Howard is now in a corner and must answer the question “Did you threaten to overrule him?”. It is clear that Paxman and his show had an agenda to get Howard to answer that question and incriminate himself.

How are the questions being answered by the interviewee?

It doesn’t appear as those Howard is reading from a script. He may have had set talking points but he does speak as if he hasn’t rehearsed. His communication feels natural as if he is speaking with a friend about arbitrary things.

Has the interviewee answered the specific question that has been asked?

No. Howard’s answers dance around the question, without actually answering it.

What approach is the interviewee using, if any, to avoid an answer to a specific question?

After Paxman asks “Did you threaten to overrule him?” numerous times, we can see Howard begins changing the narrative. Instead, Howard points out that the question is “what was I entitled to do”. This is clearly not the question Paxman continually asks, but Howard answers his own question and the interview moves on.

Is the interviewer allowing this to happen (violation) or are they pushing for an answer to a question? 

Paxman is pushing for an answer to his question. At one point, Paxman insists “I’m looking for a yes or no” in an attempt to get his answer.

Can we see the use of language within the interview being influenced by the perceived social context of the ‘target audience’

The language is, although it feels conversational, quite formal. Howard speaks as though his audiences are more than aware of political jargon and the names of figures involved in the recent events. This suggests that the target audience would be those educated in political issues with an interest in these stories.

What is Discourse?

Discourse is not a tangible thing, it is a process. While you may not be able to point at something in a text and say “that is discourse” you can point at evidence of a discourse. We see discourse in language and text itself.

The language used in society is evident of a discourse present. For example in Ireland, we use the word ‘wagon’. Our cultural agreement is that this word has two meanings, a literal wagon with wheels etc. This would perhaps be agreed upon in other cultures too. However, if you were to say “You’re a wagon” the discourse is that this word is offensive and insulting. The discourse in Irish society is that “Wagon” is a slang term directed at women.

Discourse can influence how people perceive reality. The power the media has in shaping this discourse is evident in its effects on society.  Media Discourse can be found when the receiver of the content, break down the text and analysis the subtext.