Semiotics for Beginners

Semiotics is a theory about how people create meanings through media texts.

A signifier can be anything that communicates a meaning e.g. a sound, image, an object etc.

Signified means meaning. It is divided into two: denotation and connotation.


The obvious, literal meaning by the signifier.


The mental associations created by the signifier which can be specific to the individual or be common to a culture or group. For e.g. the denotation of a red rose is it is just a red flower named a rose. However, the connotation of red rose to many people is the sign of love and romance. People have no natural reason to think this way, they have just learnt over time. This is called arbitrary.

Encoding/ Encoder means messages are created by media producers with a preferred meaning in mind.

Decoder means these media messages are consumed, or decoded, by the audience.

Preferred meaning means the overall message of a text intended by the encoder. Your intended message as the encoder/publisher.

Anchorage is about reinforcing the meaning of your text. Anchoring a message is a way of ‘tying down’ the meaning of the text. Sometimes, images can be used to help the anchorage.

At times, without using anchorage, the meaning of a text can be ambiguous. Texts with many possible meanings are called ‘polysemic’ texts.


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