What is semiotics?
The word semiotics derives from the Greek sēmeion, meaning “a sign, a mark”. Semiotics is hence the analysis of signs or the study of the functioning of sign systems. The idea that sign systems are of great consequence has always been widely recognized, yet the discussion on the very nature of sign systems is still ongoing. One of the most notable debates on this topic took place between the Stoics and the Epicureans (around 300 BC). The crux of the matter concerned the difference between “natural signs” (freely occurring throughout nature) and “conventional signs” (those designed precisely for the purpose of communication).
The science of communicating signs
“Semeiotikos” is an interpreter of signs. Exactly what we want to do as an agency for our clients. Because for us, every sign is to be regarded as communication (none other than Umberto Eco backs us there). But not every sign is to be regarded as good communication.
Communication as a science is a recent discipline. Harold Lasswell, the American communication theorist, was the first to launch a communication model in 1948. In short, his model asks the questions: “who says what in which channel to whom with what effect? A simple model indeed. But it had some disadvantages…. What about feedback? Or noise, interference with the message?
Models of communication
Soon after, in 1949, Shannon and Weaver launched their transmission model of communication. They were engineers working for Bell Telephone Labs in the United States. Their goal was to ensure the maximum efficiency of telephone cables and radio waves. They developed a model of communication, which was intended to assist in developing a mathematical theory of communication.
The model consisted of five elements: an information source, which produces a message; a transmitter, which encodes the message into signals; a channel, to which signals are adapted for transmission; a receiver, which ‘decodes’ (reconstructs) the message from the signal; a destination, where the message arrives. Interested to see their model? Click here. They included noise, a dysfunctional factor: any interference with the message travelling along the channel (such as ‘static’ on the telephone or radio), which may lead to the signal received being different from that sent.
Room for improvement
But then again, their model holds some disadvantages: it remains a linear, one-way model, without any provision for feedback. And there is no mention of the importance of context: situational, social, institutional, political, cultural, historical. Meaning cannot be independent of such contexts. The ‘same’ text can be interpreted quite differently within different contexts.
How to improve this communication model? By working with the vicissitudes of semiosis, i.e. by taking into account changes of meaning and changes of phases or conditions.