#CritLit2010 Semiotics, Semantics, Syntax and Pragmatics

In this Semiotics A primer for designers:

““Semiotics is important for designers as it allows us to understand the relationships between signs, what they stand for, and the people who must interpret them — the people we design for.” ”

Semiotics and the branch of linguistics known as Semantics have a common concern with the meaning of signs. Semantics focuses on what words mean while semiotics is concerned with how signs mean. Semiotics embraces semantics, along with the other traditional branches of linguistics as follows:

  • Semantics: the relationship of signs to what they stand for.
  • Syntactics (or syntax): the formal or structural relations between signs.
  • Pragmatics: the relation of signs to interpreters.

I found the above summary useful when designing, delivering and evaluating resources for courses.

Throughout the Course CritLit2010, I have been trying to read each post of other participants or networkers basing on those concepts, by relating to the words used by the blogger, the structural relations between those signs (pictures, videos) and words used, and how I would interpret such relations of different pictures,  videos and words.


3 thoughts on “#CritLit2010 Semiotics, Semantics, Syntax and Pragmatics

  1. Hi John,

    Thanks for all of your good thinking. I appreciate being connected to your blog during the Critical Literacy course and seeing how you are processing the experience. In this post, I want to converse with you about the sign systems and the role of the translator.

    People create and use sign systems to express meanings. The sign systems include music, art, mathematics, drama, and language, and so on. Each sign system that we use enables us to express feelings and ideas. Some feelings we can put into words; some we cannot.

    Halliday (1975), in Learning how to mean: Explorations in the development of language (London: Edward Arnold) argues that ” culture is itself a semiotic system, a system of meanings or information that is encoded in the behavior potential of the members” (p. 36).

    Howard Garner in Multiple Intelligences: Implications for Education (New York: Teachers College Press) maintains that the inclusion of multiple ways of knowing into our understanding of literacy and learning is one way of enabling “whole literacy.”

    Jerome Harste (1994)– in a chapter contributed to M. R. Ruddell, & H. Singer (ed.) Theoretical models and processes of reading (4th ed.). (pp. 1220-1242) (Newark, DE: IRA)—“Literacy as Curricular Conversations about knowledge, inquiry and morality,” argues that “knowledge gives the illusion of residing in books, people, and disciplines,” whereas in actuality it, “is a relationship that resides between and among people, disciplines, and sign systems in particular times and contexts” (p. 1223).

    How do we design (network) learning environments and experiences that support multiple ways of knowing, creativity, and constructive relationships among people, disciplines and sign systems?

    How do people who access and interact within the network to co-construct and re-design the environment using using words, images and numbers; express thought and feelings; and engage in reciprocal conversations?

    Throughout CCK and CritLit I, too, have read other people’s blogs, keeping in mind Stephen’s framework.
    1. Think: The capacity to infer, or detect faulty inferences, to use communicative elements in order to describe, argue, explain or define. Including the power of reflection, authority of knowledge, stability of knowledge, communication as conversation or as dialogue.
    2. Week 2: Change. Exercise the capacity to reason dynamically, to detect and comprehend processes and flows, to understand the impact of progressions and differences, to reason employing dynamic events such as games and simulations.
    3. Pragmatics. Exercise Week 3: Pragmatics: Exercise the capacity to use communicative elements in actions, or to take actions using communication, to express, commit, interrogate, and engage in interactions. Including being active participants in the world and on the Web versus passive consumers.
    4. Week 4: Syntax: Exercise the ability to recognize and use forms, grammars, patterns and other structural properties of communication. This would include information literacy and ontology of information.
    5. Context: Exercise the capacity to locate a communication in a wider environment, to understand the impact of this environment on semantics and pragmatics, and to assemble and understand sets of communications as expressive of frames, world views, or deontological constructs. Including issues of power, control, and ownership; motivational and affective issues.
    6. Semantics: Exercise the ability to connect communicative elements to underlying purposes, goals, objectives, theories or meaning, denotation, reference, truth and understanding. Including new ways of interpreting information and evaluating media, through aggregation and filtering for instance.

    Every time I enter the course Moodle, I am challenged to exercise the role as a translator–stepping into the flow of conversation, moving through the ebb and flow of the tides of changing topics, speakers, perspectives, sign systems, stepping back to see what sense can be made of the experience, and stepping out of the thought and action and thinking about how all that I am learning from and with this group can be used to help myself and others develop greater capacity for learning and for being literate.

    The task of the translator is a challenging one. Walter Benjamin’s (1968) essay concerning “The Task of the Translator” published in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections is well known. A series of other perspectives on the complexity and the challenges related to translation. Susan Ingram’s article, “The Task of the Translator:: Walter Benjamin’s Essay in English, a Forschungsbericht,” can be accessed through http://www.erudit.org/documentation/eruditPolitiqueUtilisation.pdf. Another text which might be of interest is Paul Ricoeur’s On Translation: Thinking in Action (trans. Eileen Brennan, Routledge, 2006). A review can be found at http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=8783.

    What do you think?

  2. Hi Mary,
    Many thanks for your comments. I am grateful to learn your role as a translator, with deep reflective insights into the conversation. It helps me in thinking about culture as a semiotic system. What do you think was the culture of the CritLit2010 course participants? Was participative/lurking “culture” revealed in the blog/Forum/social media postings?

    I will study more on the links provided.
    With renewed thanks to your visit, a great gift to me indeed.

  3. Thanks to both Mary and you John that’s all truly helpful. I am fascinated by the overlapping thoughts and how my questions are answered in peer blog posts and comments almost as I form them.

    I have a post I may finally be spurred to finish now!

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