# The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice

MARCEL DANESI
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442685512

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1. Front Matter
(pp. i-iv)
(pp. v-vi)
3. Preface
(pp. vii-2)
Marcel Danesi
4. 1 What Is Semiotics?
(pp. 3-27)

Each time people experience excitement from reading a thriller, or shed tears while watching a sentimental movie, or chuckle at a cartoon strip, they are responding emotionally to the ‘meanings’ injected into these products by other human beings. Reading books, watching movies, and laughing at Homer Simpson are not exceptional activities or responses – they are behaviours that people in all walks of life engage in on a daily basis. Their ubiquity suggests that the need for meaning is as important as the procurement of biological survival. Perhaps they are even more important – news reports of people who willingly...

5. 2 Signs
(pp. 28-51)

When we gesture, talk, write, read, watch a TV program, listen to music, look at a painting, we are engaged in primarily unconscious sign-based behaviours of various kinds. As Peirce aptly remarked, human life is characterized above all else by a ‘perfusion of signs.’ Without them we would have to resort to a purely instinctual form of existence. Perhaps the most important function of signs is that they make knowledge practicable by giving it a physical and thus retrievable and usable form. Although we process information about the world through our sensory apparatus, the cognitive uses of such information would...

6. 3 Structure
(pp. 52-74)

What constitutes a word? Consider the English wordyellow. We recognize it as a legitimate word because it is composed of sounds (known asphonemes) that are connected to each other in a way that is consistent with how English words in general are formed. On the other hand, we would not recognize the formçeñas an acceptable English word, because it contains two phonemes, represented by the alphabet charactersçandñ, that do not exist in the set of English phonemes. Nor would we considergpeento be an authentic word, even though each of its sounds...

7. 4 Codes
(pp. 75-96)

In the preface to this book, it was mentioned that Dan Brown’sThe Da Vinci Codebecame a best-seller not only because it tapped into a timely theme (the victimization of women by religion) but also because it tapped into people’s love of mystery stories. The mystery in this case was solved through the use of ‘detective semiotics’ (called ‘symbology’ by Brown). The novel is about a puzzling code, called the ‘Da Vinci Code,’ which the protagonist Robert Langdon – a ‘symbologist’ – ultimately decodes by interpreting the individual clues to its meaning scattered throughout the plot. The notion of...

8. 5 Texts
(pp. 97-120)

As something standing for something else, a sign can take any form, or ‘size,’ as long as it does not violate the structure of the code to which it belongs and as long as it conveys a specific type of meaning in some recognizable way. A sign can thus be something ‘small,’ physically speaking, such as a word or two fingers raised vertically (e.g., the V-sign, §1.1); or it can be something much ‘larger,’ such as an equation or a narrative. When we show the equation$c ^ {2}\hspace{3pt}=\hspace{3pt}a ^ {2} \hspace{3pt} + \hspace{3pt} b ^ {2}$to a mathematician, he or she will instantly recognize it as a specific...

9. 6 Representation
(pp. 121-140)

Before the advent of alphabets, people passed on knowledge primarily through the spoken word. But even in early oral cultures, human beings made tools for recording and preserving ideas in physically durable ways. One of these was pictography, or the representation of ideas by means of pictures. Pictography continues to be a basic (and instinctive) representational modality to this day, even though most written communication is alphabetic. The figures designating ‘male’ and ‘female’ on washrooms and the ‘no smoking’ signs found in public buildings, to mention but two common examples, are modern-day pictographs.

More precisely, pictography constitutes amediumof...

10. 7 Applications
(pp. 141-164)

Undoubtedly, the strongest appeal of semiotic theory is the many potential applications that it has for the study of cultural systems, spectacles, rituals, artifacts, and the like. Since all of these are sign based, it is obvious that the use of the semiotic notions discussed in this book can be applied to the study of everything from mathematical texts and philosophical concepts to TV sitcoms and blockbuster movies. The purpose of this chapter is to show how semiotics can, in fact, be easily applied to one area: the study of material culture, as it is called in anthropology – that...

11. Notes
(pp. 165-170)
12. Glossary of Technical Terms
(pp. 171-182)
13. Index
(pp. 183-193)