Semiotics: The Science Of Signs In Your Writing

18 Mar

Semiotics is the science of signs. the study of the denotations and connotations in the media. simply put, it is understanding the way a media message is created.

If that’s not clear enough, if you see an advertisement that shows happy healthy children eating a particular product, you expect the same for your own children. That, is semiotics at its most basic level. I actually feel that bu using that example I am completely disregarding the studys of this fascinating subject, and actually making it somewhat meaningless. It really is not.

Now obviously this is a subject that fascinates me. What I love about the knowledge, is the understanding of when we are writing, what those words, those descriptions ar e leading to. Once we can recognise how we use semiotics as a writer, we can abuse it. We can be clever. We can make the reader believe, or viewer if it is a script, that they are in on a secret, or part of an élite club. We can twist our writing to really screw up that old classic ‘the sting in the tale’.  To be honest, the possibilities are endless.

But what about language? Does the way we tell our story matter? Would it be wrong to use an outdated version of our language? Could it be acceptable if it set the era for which the plot is based? But then again, as writers we are to look ahead to see how the world is changing, to try to fit our writing to certain events several years in advance for marketing purposes – what if we are looking ahead and we only see a world that uses text speech?

Yes, I did just go there.

Even that sentence (above) would have looked strange on the page say 30 years ago. I wouldn’t like to say it would have been unacceptable (I simply wouldn’t know) but I do know I have been corrected on my use of the English language many times, and that one sentence would not be acceptable to many.

(Just as an aside, my spoken English is atrocious. I am a typical writer in that I struggle to formulate knowledgable, clear and concise sentences face to face).

Acceptable language however does depend on where and when it is being used. I have my creative style, my blogging style, my work style, and my friends style. As for texting, I am getting sloppier (!) as each day passes but you will never catch me spelling Wednesday as wednesdaii – I just don’t get that!

(Oops, did you see that? I used an exclamation mark. I should abandon my craft immediately).

Text language does grate me. I believe it is because half the time I do not understand it, both in terms of the message, and why it has been developed. But it is still a developing language, there are no set rules. However, isn’t every language a developing language? I believe so. As speakers, writers and interpreters of the language, we are changing it constantly. So why is text language so wrong?

Simply, it isn’t, it’s just too new. I have been on the outskirts of text language for the past fourteen years or so. My nieces, at fourteen years, are fluent in the language, and openly mock me for my lack of understanding. 

So how does this relate to semiotics?

If we consider the statement that kids do not read enough, one could wonder that on a language level, we are alienating them by simply not writing within their chosen language. The signs we are giving (by using a stricter version of a language many adults do not understand), are saying this is above you. This is better than you.

If you doubt this, think how frustrated you get when you spot a grammatical error in print. Kids that struggle with language won’t even get through the first sentence of a flowery written novel, let alone a paper such as the Independent.

I ma not talking about dumbing down writing (an expression I abhor). I am talking about looking to the future. Understanding that change is inevitable, but is that tomorrow or the year 3,000.

For writers, gauging when that change will take place is crucial. get in there early and the language police will be after you. getting there too late and your readers will have forgotten you.

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8 Responses to “Semiotics: The Science Of Signs In Your Writing”

  1. wildnightin March 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Submeg’s point about the beginnings (or rather, re-beginnings) of segregation sound fairly valid. If one looks at the way the average public school child speaks and looks at some of the books that they’re meant to have read before going to university, it’s hard to believe that children read too little.

    On the subject of writing in text speak, Christopher Fowler once wrote a short story in ‘futuristic phonetic teen slang’ (his words) and he says that no-one seems to have read it..

    • Ellie March 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

      On the point of segregation and public school, I would be intrigued to get hold of their phone or facebook account and see how their language in ‘typed social’ adapts – if at all.

      In terms of reading, the one thing that shocks me more than anything being within a University setting, is how much students complain about their quantity of reading. Now i admit, it does vary from course to course, and I am not speaking for them all, but the quantity they read is shocking, as in shockingly low.

      It is the lazyness is our use of language. It is the not wanting to use a complex word when a simpler one will do. for many, it is not wanting to use a complex word for fear they will get beaten up for being above their station….oh, Submeg hit the nail on the head.

      I have been trying to hunt down Christopher Fowlers phonetic short story, it may just be that I will have to contact him direct and request a copy. Just like these so called text dictionarys’ the way the language is developing, by the time they have gone through the publishing process they are outdated. It is for that reason I dont believe it will happen in the next five years, but i woudn’t discount 20 years.

      • submeg March 19, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

        I deliberately use words that are not the “easier” word choice – for the simple fact that using the dull and worn adjectives and nouns is a) boring and b) shows your ability to project your thinking to the next plane (instead of level). By doing this, you are proclaiming that you can thinking beyond the mundane; those that think you are being a “snob” should wake up – if language continues the way it is, my generation will be teaching “txt spk” to the kids at school. When that happens, all is lost.

      • Ellie March 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

        I was going to give you a full response in ‘txt spk’, it would appear my skills are not up to it. I am not too good at extending my vocabulary, and ceratinly since finishing my studies I have found myself becoming more and more limited. Thats why I was quite excited when i was writing this post, it had been developng for sometime, through my thoughts as to which postgraduate study route i should take. The easy option is not always the best option, and perhaps tackling this problem head on, could be one of the graetesta battles the English language faces. Who’s in?

  2. submeg March 19, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    It’s a sad world we are falling head first into. Let’s hope that people realise before it is too late. Then again, maybe it’s the beginning of segregation? Will be interesting to see how it turns out.

    • Ellie March 19, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

      It is sad because it is what we know, and because of its associations. But I guess it is only what has happened before. after all, English hasn’t always been what it is today, and the Oxford dictionary is always updating, adding and removing words. The step towards abbreviation as standard with combination of letters and numbers is not really that big a jump, if anything, its just a sideways step.

      I am chewing my lip as I say this, because I don’t want it to happen, I just think it is inevitable. At some point the written language must reflect the spoken language… and it cannot be denyed that text speak is crossing over.

  3. Skyler :) March 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    This post surprised me. I have to admit I thought it was going to be about the acceptability of using words like ‘damn’ in your writing. However, I have to say I completely agree. If you hand a teenager my age a Hemingway novel they would throw it in the wastebin in 3.4 seconds flat, but if you hand them someone else’s 10 page text conversation that has absolutely nothing to do with them they’ll read it in under a minute and be able to tell you everything and anything about it.

    It’s strange, yes, but it does look as if that’s the future!

    • Ellie March 19, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

      Now at first when I read your comment I was full of it, of course I am right, text language will become standardised English. I am glad I stopped to think.

      What I am noe thinking is that maybe it isn’t the way it is written, merely the content. I guess the only way to truly prove this would be to translate a ‘classic’. It would be an intriguing experiment.

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