Semiotics; Resume Of Encoding And Decoding

2521 words - 10 pages

Encoding/DecodingStructuralist semioticians tend to focus on the internal structure of the text rather than on the processes involved in its construction or interpretation. Where those working within this tradition do theorize beyond the text, they tend to argue that communication (particularly mass communication) is a primary process of reality construction and maintenance whereby positions of inequality, dominance and subservience are produced and reproduced in society and at the same time made to appear 'natural'. The 'New Critics', W K Wimsatt and M C Beardsley, whilst not structuralists, advanced the formalist argument that meaning lay within the text and defined as 'the affective fallacy' the notion that the meaning of a poem depended on the 'subjective' responses of the reader, which they saw as 'a confusion between the poem and its results (what it is and what it does)' (Wimsatt & Beardsley 1954, 21). Such accounts tend towards 'textual determinism', assuming that texts are invariably read much as was intended by their makers, leaving little scope either for contradictions within and between texts or for variations amongst their interpreters. Monolithic theories of this kind ignore what Saussure had referred to as 'the role of signs as part of social life' (Saussure 1983, 15; Saussure 1974, 16).Contemporary semioticians refer to the creation and interpretation of texts as 'encoding' and 'decoding' respectively. This unfortunately tends to make these processes sound too programmatic: the use of these terms is of course intended to emphasize the importance of the semiotic codes involved, and thus to highlight social factors. For semioticians, there is no such thing as an uncoded message, so that - for those who argue that all experience is coded - even 'encoding' might be more accurately described as 'recoding' (Hawkes 1977, 104, 106, 107). In the context of semiotics, 'decoding' involves not simply basic recognition and comprehension of what a text 'says' but also the interpretation and evaluation of its meaning with reference to relevant codes. Where a distinction is made between comprehension and interpretation this tends to be primarily with reference to purely verbal text, but even in this context such a distinction is untenable; what is 'meant' is invariably more than what is 'said' (Smith 1988, Olson 1994). Everyday references to communication are based on a 'transmission' model in which a sender transmits a message to a receiver - a formula which reduces meaning to 'content' which is delivered like a parcel (Reddy 1979). This is the basis of Shannon and Weaver's well-known model of communication, which makes no allowance for the importance of social contexts and codes (Shannon and Weaver 1949).Whilst Saussure's model of oral communication is (for its time) innovatingly labelled as a 'speech circuit' and includes directional arrows indicating the involvement of both participants (thus at least implying 'feedback'), it too was...

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