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Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2003 08:28:31 +0300 From: Evguenia Malaia Subject: Signs in Use: An Introduction to Semiotics
Johansen, Jorgen D. and Svend E. Larsen (2002) Signs in Use: An Introduction to Semiotics. Routledge, paperback ISBN: 0-415-26204-6, 256pp, $25.95.
Evguenia Malaia, Department of Linguistics, Purdue University
Signs in Use is a textbook for the students of semiotics. It satisfies three main goals of an introductory course: to explain the process of creation and exchange of meaning through signs, to introduce the concepts for analysis of sign systems, and to show how semiotics works as a theory and practice of understanding culture. The book organizes the concepts from simple to difficult (Chapter 2 -- code; Chapter 3 -- signs; Chapter 4 -- discourse; Chapter 5 -- action; Chapter 6 -- text; Chapter 7 -- culture), and it moves through them smoothly, introducing relevant theories and illustrating them along the way. The examples are abundant, and appropriately accompanied by schemas, figures, and pictures.
The book "Signs in Use" is addressed both to students of semiotics and to general public, interested in the science. Its main purpose is to provide a beginner with solid theoretical basis in semiotics, knowledge of key concepts and relevant terminology. It also strives to discuss different approaches in the study of semiotics. The book introduces different schools of thought and poses problems encountered by them, generally stimulating discussion of relevant issues in semiotics. The succinct biographies of influential personas at the end of the book provide a good overview of the development of science as well. Though the book does not require any previous knowledge of the field, it nevertheless explores the subject very thoroughly, in a very reader-friendly style, with many examples from daily life.
This book is characterized a by specific structure: it follows the path of treating increasingly complex phenomena and widening the perspective of the treatment of signs, as chapters move from code through sign, discourse, action, text and, finally, to culture. This layout is justified by the purpose of the book to make an accessible introduction to the science. The definite benefit of this approach is that the concepts are acquired by the reader in order of their complexity and all relevant terminology is introduced in due course as the chapters unfold. The glossary and index provided by authors also allow the reader to study the chapters separately if so desired.
All chapters in the book have very clear, transparent structure. Each one is divided into subchapters ordered from simple to more complex dealing with different aspects of the chapter's subject; e.g. Chapter 3 "Signs" deals with the notion of representation first, then with the actual concept of sign, following up with sign systems, and semiosis -- the sign-process. Both chapters and subchapters are referenced in the contents.
Short biographies of influential personalities in semiotics, and a thorough glossary at the end of the book make it an excellent reference source for everyone interested in semiotics. The bibliography at the end of the book also allows interested readers to pursue particular topics of interest which might not have been covered exhaustively even in such a comprehensive survey of the area.
The authors also included an extensive index of the topics covered in the book. Some of the entries in the index are conveniently broken down so that a reader can easily find information on, for example, different kinds of interpretants - dynamical, final, or immediate.
The authors start the book with a short statement of its purpose and content: to introduce the reader to the arguments and concepts uniting the field of semiotics, rather than go into details regarding specific fields, methods, and schools. The authors present semiotic arguments, integrating European and American schools of thought (based on theories of Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Pierce, respectively) to the extent that they make the argument clear. I find this goal-oriented approach to be of great advantage to the reader.
The book has several limitations, which the authors explain in the introduction. It is not meant to be a historical or methodological survey of semiotics, but rather a reader-friendly explanation on the way of working with signs of various scopes.
The book meets its goals of being accessible, reader-friendly, and a structurally coherent introduction to the field with argumentation on various levels of sign-treatment. It is actually a good reading in its own right, even though the examples at times venture somewhat far afield.
As a suggestion for improvement, it would have been useful to provide a more in-depth contents of the book. For instance, a sub-chapter of chapter 3, "How does the sign represent something?" has a two-level structure of its own: The indexical sign -- reagents vs. designators Iconic signs Images Diagrams Metaphors Symbolic signs This thorough treatment is not evident from the content, even though sub-entries are still easily found through the index.
To summarize the book's merits, it gives a good survey of the field's development and approaches (as the authors themselves put it, "the present book is situated in an already existing semiotic landscape"). Although there are quite a number of books treating particular aspects of the subject of semiotics in a more comprehensive and detailed manner, this particular book is notable for the accessibility in its treatment of the subject and for its particularly practical approach. It is addressed not only to specialists in language, literature, and culture, but also to wider audiences, interested in human interaction with signs.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Evguenia Malaia is a Ph.D. student at Purdue University. Her main interests include computational linguistics, ontological semantics, psycholinguistics, and semiotics. She has graduated from Chuvash State Pedagogical University, Russia, with a degree in Applied Linguistics in 2001.