Semiology is the study of how signs and symbols create meaning in both a written and visual subject manner. These signs are interpreted through scientific and ideological methods, directly relating back to human experiences, culture and the social effects of certain meanings (Rose, G. 2001 Jewitt, R et all. 2001.). Semiology is all around us and is often displayed in advertising, movies, music and literature.
Semiology reads signs as two components: the signifier and the signified. The signifier of the image has an attached or inherited meaning which is then broadcast onto the signified object, causing the object to now carry said meaning. These signs can be displayed as either an Icon, Index or Symbol – each with their own effect (Rose, G 2001). An icon has a direct representation of an object through apparent likeness, an Index possesses an inherent relationship through the meaning of the signifier and a Symbol is a more abstract, arbitrary representation which may differ between cultures. Meaning from these signs can also be interpreted paradigmatically or syntagmatically, with paradigmatic interpretation deriving meaning from contrast to all other possible signs and syntagmatic interpretation deriving from contrast to spatially or temporally adjacent signs (Rose, G 2001).
For further critique, social semiotics analyses representational, interactive and compositional meaning. Representational interpretation involves analysing if the image is read as a narrative or as a conceptual image, searching for queues such as transactions and actions for narratives and characteristics, definitions and symbols for a conceptual image. Interactive meaning in an image derives from the contact and distance of elements in the image as well as the point of view displayed. Finally, compositional meaning relates to the information value, framing, salience and modality of an image.
There are many aspects of semiology for an interpreter to consider when analysing an image, but the core of semiology is the study of how these signs reflect the working ideologies of our world.
Rose, G (2001). Chapter 4: Semiology. In Gillian Rose., Visual methodologies: an introduction to the interpretation of visual materials, (pp.69 – 99)
Jewitt, Carey and Oyama, R, (2001). Visual Meaning: A Social Semiotic Approach. In Van Leeuwen, Theo and Jewitt, Carey, Handbook of visual analysis, (pp.134 – 157). Thousand Oaks [Calif: Sage.]