Semiotics and Structuralism

I found this online lecture by Prof Paul Fry of Yale University very enlightening. Semiotics is quite a difficult subject to wrap one’s head around and this video is definitely worth a second or even third viewing.

Below are some of my rough learning notes while watching the video.

Semiology is the study of existing communicable systems, language, signs, gestures. It has expanded into everything that is understood. It is a language of signs.

Language is not a function of the speaker. It is a product passively assimilated by the receiver. Language belongs in the public sphere – it belongs to no one – its conventional. That is what allows it to be shared in common.


What is a sign?

What is a Sign?
What is a Sign?

The concept = the signified, while the sound image = the signifier. According to Fry this sketch holds the secret of deconstruction.

Binary relationships – how we put them together.

Sausaurre stated:

  1. Signified/signifier relationship is arbitrary
  2. The way in which we understand a sign is differential.

Signs are both arbitrary and differential.

The sign: a negative knowledge (arbitrary/differential)
– synchrony & diachrony


Red light = stop light. There are 3 variables = red, yellow, green. Positive = red. Positive value – it means a certain thing = stop.

Red light on the nose of a reindeer then it is a beacon – means go.

Everything that appears in a semiotic system is conventional.

A redlight over a street door means go in, as opposed to a white light outside which means stay out (to burglars).

In such a new system it takes on a new meaning.

Ambulance/police car means get out of the way – this is more a question of brightness – using blue – certain instability.

Red light on a Christmas tree – cultural system.

We don’t know things positively, without knowing all the things it is not.

Always know things first, but we also know them negatively in negation to other things. We can’t mess with conventional systems. To change you need the community to acquiesce to the change.

Reference List

Lecture, Semiotics and Structuralism [webcast, online] Pres. Prof Paul Fry, Yale Courses, USA, 01/09/2009. 51 mins 30 secs. (accessed 5 November, 2015)


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