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Daniel Chandler

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Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use. This resource will help you begin the process of understanding literary theory and schools of criticism and how they are used in the academy.


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  • The logical and semiotic status of the canonic formula of myth!

Note: Structuralism, semiotics, and post-structuralism are some of the most complex literary theories to understand. Please be patient.

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The structuralist school emerges from theories of language and linguistics, and it looks for underlying elements in culture and literature that can be connected so that critics can develop general conclusions about the individual works and the systems from which they emerge. In fact, structuralism maintains that " Structuralists believe that these language symbols extend far beyond written or oral communication. For example, codes that represent all sorts of things permeate everything we do: "the performance of music requires complex notation Structuralists assert that, since language exists in patterns, certain underlying elements are common to all human experiences.

Structuralists believe we can observe these experiences through patterns: " Moreover, "you are also engaged in structuralist activity if you examine the structure of a single building to discover how its composition demonstrates underlying principles of a structural system. Saussure: "A sign is not a link between a thing and a name, but between a concept and a sound pattern" Course, p. At least two other terms are used for signifier and signified:.

Saussure choose the term "sign" over "symbol" because the latter implies motivation. For Saussure, the sign is arbitrary. Virtually all signs, Saussure maintains, have only arbitrarily ascribed meanings. Since Saussure, this notion has been taken as axiomatic in Western linguistics and philosophy.

A common mistake is to construe the signifier and the sign as the same thing. In my view, another common mistake, perhaps related to the first, is to speak of a signifier without a signified or a sign, or to speak of a signified without a signifer or a sign. Used in reference to Saussure's original formulations, both locutions are nonsensical. In language, a lone signifier would be an utterly meaningless sound or concatenation of sounds.

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The Semiotic Review of Books

But it is even more absurd to speak of a signified without signifier or sign: It would, I believe, have to be a sort of half thought, something never thought before, a thought that exists solely outside the domain of language, a fleeting, private, chaotic thought that makes no sense even to the thinker -- an unthought. Another mistake is to endow a sign with meaning outside the presence of other signs. Except as part of the whole system, signs do not and cannot exist. Saussure provides an explicit basis for the expansion of his science of signs beyond linguistics: "It is possible," he says, "to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life.

We shall call it semiology.

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It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance.


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Roland Barthes is one scholar who took Saussure's counsel to heart. He helped found the modern science of semiology, applying structuralism to the "myths" he saw all around him: media, fashion, art, photography, architecture, and especially literature. For Barthes, "myth is a system of communication.

With a plethora of complexities and nuances, Barthes extends Saussure's structuralism and applies it to myth as follows:. That which is a sign namely the associative total of a concept and an image in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in the second.

Theories of Myth: Crash Course World Mythology #12

We must here recall that the materials of mythical speech the language itself, photography, painting, posters, rituals, objects, etc. Because of the complexities and nuances of Barthes's semiology, I will stop here and let you pick up the strand for yourself by reading the highly informative chapter "Myth Today" in Mythologies. Regardless of how linguistic signs and perhaps other signs, too are analyzed, meaning may in fact be unrecoverable, both to the analyst and to the participants in an exchange of signs.

by J J Liszka

It is my belief that meaning is indeed ultimately indeterminate, a position that bodes well with what very well be a fact of language. With respect to indeterminacy, some linguists, postmodern theorists, and analytic philosophers seem to be in agreement. Brown and Yule, both of whom are linguists, write that "the perception and interpretation of each text is essentially subjective.

The postmodern theorists, meantime, hold that every decoding is another encoding.