A Review: Representation, Meaning, and Language

Ferdinand Sassure

The relation between the signifier and signified…is fixed by our cultural codes, is not permanently fixed. Words shift their meanings. The concepts (signified) to which they refer also change, historically, and every shift alters the conceptual map of the culture, leading different cultures, at different historical moments, to classify and think about the world differently (Hall 32).

This quotation best emphasizes some of Sasure’s key concepts on language.

I find his work and this reading a refreshing change of pace, a breathe of fresh air per say. Sasure’s theory of semiotic analysis is seminal in every right and is the epitome innovative academia. It is for this reason Sasure is widely credited as the father of modern Linguistics. Sasure’s influence can be observed in many fields today such as Psychology, Anthropology, Language Studies, and Sociology to name a few. Although Semiotic analysis is a pritty convincing, I yield that his theory must be taken with a grain of salt (it cannot be taken too literally), because language is not solidified in its form like a science, it is constantly changing  (Hall 35).

Semiotic analysis holds that the production of meaning depends on language, a system of signs used to communicate/express ideas within a culture (Hall, 31 & 36).  Language is divided into two parts langue (the language system) and parole (acts of writing, speaking, or drawing) (Hall 33). The form, the signifier is associated with idea/concept the signifier (Hall 31).  Semiotic analysis uses three approaches: a reflective, intentional, and constructionist/constructivist. “The reflective approach holds that language functions like a mirror, to reflect the true meaning as it already exist in the world” (Hall 24). The second approach, the intentional approach holds that the speaker (the author) imposes his/her unique perspective on the world through language (Hall 25). The last approach the contructionist/constructivist approach holds that we construct meaning using representational systems (signs), language has social character, and it recognizes that neither objects in themselves nor the individual language speaker can fix meaning in language (Hall 25).

With consideration of semiotic analysis the Sapir Wharf hypothesis, language shapes the way a person perceives the world also known as linguistic relativism. That is why in the English language we perceive 2 variations of snow (the other being sleet), while the Inuit language they can perceive 14 types of snow since there are 14 different names for different variations of snow. Or even how in the 1960’s the word black took on a new positive meaning, in spite of its long history of use in the pejorative sense. Similarly, in Bali the way people think of the rooster (cock) is reflective of the word used to describe the animal in Balinese, sabung. Sabung also has metaphoric connections/meanings to the words “hero”, “warrior”, “champion”, “man of parts, “political candidate”, “dandy”, bachelor”, “lady-killer”, and “tough guy” (Geertz 5). The multitude of meanings tied to word sabung serves as accurate indicator of how intricate the rooster is connected to the Balinese lifestyle. Historically, the significance of the rooster permeated itself in every aspect of Balinese village life.

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 Signing OFF


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