Structuralism & Semiotics
2014 S Literary Research Methodology
Outline
• Prelude: From Formalism/New Criticism to
Structuralism (Basics pp. 35 -; Beginning chap 1)
• Structuralism: General Introduction
• Founding Theories: De Saussure,
• Theorist (1) V. Propp
• Semiotics: Theorist (1) Roman Jacobson; (2)
Roland Barthes
• Examples
• Discussion: Differences from New Criticism?
Strengths and Weaknesses?
Prelude:
From Formalism/New Criticism
to Structuralism
Russian Formalism
• Russia 1910s ~ 1930s
• Main Points:
▫ studying literature as science,
▫ Analyzing its distinctness or literariness,
▫ e.g. poetic language = ordinary language “defamiliarized” (Basics 34)
▫ Examples of defamiliarization and
familiarization?
▫ Is there any “essential” feature of poetry?
Russian Formalism:
Defamiliarization & e.g. (1)
• (Reader’s Guide 31-; Basics 34)
• Literary language is different from daily language;
it draws attention to itself, to its own artificiality
• Its purpose is to
refresh our perception
(leading to
“perceptual
defamiliarization)
• e.g. advertisement
slogan: ‘Beanz Meanz
Heinz’
。
Russian Formalism:
Defamiliarization e. g. (2)
• (Reader’s Guide 31-; Basics 34)
• e.g. Devices of poetic language, such as rhyme,
meter and rhythm
“That time of year thou mayest in me behold/
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”
。
Inverted syntax Iambic
Metaphoric expression
Russian Formalism:
Defamiliarization e. g. (3)
What devices are
used?
--spatial
arrangement
-- colors and hues
-- shapes
T0 suggest--?
Transience of life
and its dark abyss
Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber, circa
1600, by Juan Sánchez Cotán. Oil on canvas.
San Diego Museum of Art.
Russian Formalism:
Defamiliarization e.g. (4) Fabula
and syuzhet
• (The Basics 36)
• Narrative: fabula (story) and suzhet
(discourse/plot—how the story is told)
• E. M. Forster's examples:
▫ The king died and then the queen died (story).
The king died and then the queen died of grief (plot).
• Elements of plot (climax, multiple plot, in media
res, open ending, ab ovo, flashbacks, gaps, etc.);
• elements of narration (1st, 2nd, 3rd person narrator,
narratee)
New Criticism: Basic Principles
•
•
•
•
1. "the text and the text alone" approach
2. a poem as an autonomy
3. objective correlative (T.S. Eliot)
4. intentional fallacy v.s. the poet‘s mind as a
catalyst
• 5. affective fallacy :
• 6. Text as an organic unity with interrelated
parts; reading is to produce coherence and
unified meaning out of contradictions and
ambiguities.
New Critical Study of Poetry
• 1. looking for contrast, such as paradox,
ambiguity and irony.
• 2. Studying poetic devices such as prosody,
figurative language (metaphor, simile,
apostrophe, personification, etc.)
• 3. Working in a hermeneutic circle from Parts
to an Organic Wholeness.
Formalism vs. New Criticism
Formalism
New Criticism
1. Emphasizing literary form (or literariness)
2. Studying general features
2. Studying individual text’s
of literary form as part of a
use of form and content to
larger system
convey meanings
3. Literature is Literary
3. Literature is life.
language
4. Influences: Vladimir
Propp  Structuralism;
Roman Jakobson  Prague
School )
Mikhail Bakhtin 
Poststructuralism etc.
4. Premised on liberal
humanism ; influences
Deconstruction
(The Basics 37- )
Do you agree? (1)
• Some recurrent ideas in critical theory
(Beginning pp. 34-) Title added by Kate Liu.
1) ”Meaning/Reality” Constructed and
Relativized
Instead of being solidly “there” in the real world of fact
and experience, [our traditional beliefs and categories] are
“socially constructed,” that is, dependent on social and
political forces and on shifting ways of seeing and thinking
(essentialism versus relativism)
Do you know why? (2)
• --”ideological mooring”
The notion of disinterested enquiry is untenable
and often fraudulent.
• --”Language Speaks us.”
a belief that language itself conditions, limits, and
predetermines what we see. All reality is
constructed through language, so that nothing is
simply “there” in an unproblematical way—
everything is a linguistic/textual construct.
Do you know why? (3)
• -- “meaning as a process of signification”:
meaning is jointly created by writers, editors/publishers,
and readers and that all meanings are contextual, that there
can never be one definitive (fixed and reliable)
reading/interpretation of a text.
• --Logo and canon de-centralized ”
…challenging notion that there is a stable category of great or
classic books…, or the notion that there is a human nature that
transcends all experience and all situations and transcends all of
the particularities of race, gender, and class. Such concepts of
human nature have tended to be Eurocentric and androcentric.
Does language
reflect, reveal or
construct/produce reality?
Structuralism: Introduction
1. Structuralism--Basic Concepts
2. Structuralist Reading of Narratives
3. Semiotics and "The Myth Today"
--Realistic,
Language as
a
transparent
container or
mirror
(post)structuralis
t
Language as
signs
Structuralism: Introduction
1. How does language produce meanings?
2. Structuralist Approach (1): basic
pattern and binary opposition
 How is structure different from
form? How is New Criticism
different from Structuralism?
A. Language in Daily Language
• White Horse is Not Horse. Why?
“I am happy today, as always.”
“I am happy today, surprisingly.”
“I am happy today, thanks to your ~.”
 The uncertainties and fluidity of meanings.
The meanings of language are not
inherent .They depend on the context.
Structuralism: Language is a system of
relation and difference.
White Horse is not Horse:
Possible interpretations
 White Horse Discourse: “"Horse" is how
the shape is named; "white" is how the
color is named. That which names color
does not name shape. Thus I say: "a
white horse is not a horse".
 「馬者,所以命形也;白者,所以命色也。
命色者非名形也。故曰:
“白馬非馬”。」
公孫龍子 - 白馬論第二
White Horse Discourse
1. “white”  color  horse  shape
2. Two categories -“Horse” and “white horse”
White
horse
Horse
2. 3. Structuralism:白馬 is a sign; it refers to our
concept of “white horse,” but not the actual
horse.
Ferdinand De Saussure (Beginning 41-)
sign = signifier and signified
Signifier +
Signified 
[white horse] concept of
white horse
Referent
the actual
horse we
refer to (?)
The inclusion of the concept within the triad of
signification suggests that there is no natural or
immediate relation between the words “white
horse”白馬(as a sign or sound-image) and the
‘thing’馬(actual white horse).
Sign = signifier + signified
concept
•
soundimage
Saussuare
Poststructuralism
(Derrida, Lacan)
s
S
S (ier)
s (ied)
Different Views of Language in
Traditional Chinese Philosophy
A. In Chinese Philosophy –Chuang-Tzu
• 言者,所以在意,得意而忘言。〈莊子.外
物〉得兔忘蹄、得魚忘筌、得意忘言
• The fish trap exists because of the fish; once
you’ve gotten the fish, you can forget the trap.
The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit;
once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget
the snare. Words exist because of meaning;
Realist/
once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can
Reflectionist
forget the words. (source)
View of
Language
Different Views of Language in
Traditional Chinese Philosophy (2)
A. In Chinese Philosophy (2)
王弼說:「言者象之蹄也,象者意之筌。……言者
所以明象,得象而忘言。象者所以存意,得意而
忘象。」 (reference﹚
• … by forgetting the symbols one gets the ideas; by forgetting the
words one gets the symbols. Commentaries on the Book of Master
Lao, Commentaries on the Book of Changes, and A Brief Exposition
of the Book of Changes. < 老子注 >< 周易注 >< 周易略例 >
Structuralist
View of
Language?
Words, 言 (signifiers)
Symbols 象,象卦﹐(signified﹚
Idea: 意, the meanings referred to,
Or Dao 道 (transcendental signified)
Different Views of Language
B. Structuralism: Meanings happen in
language.
A rose is a rose, because it is different
from . . .
[ros]
Signifier as
soundimage
Carnation
grass
[doz]
rose
(p. of rise)
Different Views of Language
B. Structuralism:
Meanings happen in language.
A rose is a rose, because
-- its phoneme [o] is different from [ai] in [rise];
-- its morpheme [rose] is different that with an extra
morpheme [roses];
• Its meaning is determined by the syntax or context it exists
in; e.g.
“Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose . . . “ (“Ode on Melancholy”)
“Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet” (“Song”)
“The pillow rose and floated under her, pleasant as a
hammock in a light wind. ” (“The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”)
sign = signifier and signified
(Beginning 42-)
1) "The linguistic sign is arbitrary. It is
unmotivated, i.e. arbitrary in that it actually
has no natural connection with the
signified." (pp. 62- Saussure)
-- e.g. The signs “dog,” “chien,” “狗” arbitrarily refer to the
concept of the animal dog.
-- Can be replaced by other signs;
-- Can create ambiguities.
Q: What about Onomatopoeia or hieroglyphics 象形文字?
Are there natural resemblances between the signs and
what they refer to?
(e.g. Cock-a-doodle-do, cocorico & 喔喔啼; ruff & 汪
汪)
Structural Linguistics: Ferdinand de
Saussure (Basics 54)
1857-1913, Swiss linguist; one of the founders of
modern linguistics.
Major ideas: (Basics pp. 54-)
1. The synchronic vs. the diachronic; langue vs.
parole
2. Language is a system of difference. Meaning
occurs in binary opposition between two signs.
(e.g. toy, boy); the connection between
language and its referent is thus arbitrary.
3. sign = signifier and signified; the connection
between them is also arbitrary.
Language as a system of relation
and difference (Beginning 42-)
Relations: toy  boy (sound),
 table (noun; grammatical unit),
 girl (antonym), etc.
Difference: binary opposition
1. I saw a girl in red. (syntagmatic relations)
2. I am a girl.
a boy,
a dog,
(paradigmatic
an ironing board.
relations)
Different Views of Language:
review and preview
• de Saussure: synchronic studies of
language as a system of difference; 1)
arbitrary, 2) relational, 3) constitutive of
our world. (Beginning 41-43)
• Roman Jakobson: meaning happens in
communication from sender to receiver,
determined also by the medium and code
used.
• Kristeva’s the semiotic: The language as
rhythms and drives supporting and
disrupting the logical/linear
communication in language.
Structuralist Approach (1):
Basic Objects of Study  universal
grammar
Units:
Example – phonemes
words
Princess, prince and a
stepmother
Patterns –of basic units;
--of selection and
combination
Rules: How to
 combine into words
 Select and combine into a
sentence.
 combine into a fairy-tale.
(Snow White and Cinderella
are in structure the same
story.)
Structuralist Approach (2): From Units &
Rules to Basic Structure of a Certain Langue
(grammar)
Langue or signifying system
表意系統:
Examples:
-- Literary work,
-- narratives (e.g. myth)
-- tribal or community ritual (a
wedding, a rain dance, a
graduation ceremony)
-- "fashion“ (in clothes,
food, cars, etc.)
-- any kind of
advertisement
Structuralist Approach (1)
 Structuralism: Examine the “basic
elements” (or basic units), which form the
basic pattern (or grammar) of each story.
 Basic elements: basic units+ “universal”
(or common) grammar  a scientific
approach to literature. e.g. binary
opposition
Practice I:“The Oval Portrait”
binary opposition between
Living background-- night, delirium of the
speaker vs. clear narration of the past
 abandoned castle:, vs. decoration rich but
tattered and antique;
Armorial trophies vs. paintings in frames of
rich golden arabesque
Image alive and soft vs. thick frame and the
tradition of vignetting
Practice I:“The Oval Portrait”
• Questions—What do these binary opposition
mean?
• -- oppositions between art and life, two kinds of
killing, two kinds of marriage?
Structuralist narratology:
Vladimir Propp
sentence structure as the basic unit: Subject
+predicate = Actor/Actant + function
7 actors, or "spheres of action" (villain, hero,
false hero, donor[provider], helper,
dispatcher, princess [and her father])
and 31 functions.
*One character may be several actants.
Propp: examples (1): Mirror, Mirror
• Contemporary princesses: helping themselves
• Contemporary princes: false hero until they get
stimulated to act bravely
villain (stepmother) = understood and
humanized; Father = frog
Propp: examples (2)
007 movie:
female helper vs. female villain, whom Bond
gets attracted to.
In TOMORROW NEVER DIES))
– (楊紫瓊) Michelle Yeoh: a helper but not a
lover, she later turns to a lover after being
rescued.
Propp & Greimas (1)
Propp's seven 'spheres of action‘
Greimas’s three pairs of binary oppositions, including:
six roles (actants)
1. Subject/Object,
2. Sender/ Receiver
3. Helper/Opponent-
and three basic patterns:
1. Wanting (Desire, search, or
aim),
2. Exchange (communication)
3. Contradiction (Auxiliary
support or hindrance).
Propp & Greimas (2)
Propp‘s 31 functions
further abstracted into Greimas’s 3 syntagms
Propp: “One member
of a family either
lacks something or
desires to have
something.”
Disequilibrium contract
broken, disjunction
[departure] or
Performative (out for a
task)
A. J. Greimas’s Universal Grammar
three pairs of actants: Helper/Opponent,
Sender/Receiver, Subject/Object
three basic patterns of action (or syntagm):
contractive (breaking/setting contract, alienation, reintegration ),
disjunctive (departure, arrival),
and performative (trial, task).
 Reveals the deep semantic structure of human
thinking and narrative.
the semiotic rectangle”
Two kinds of oppositionContraries and
constradictions
source
Binary opposition to
"the semiotic rectangle”
Entails or
Implies
A
-A
(patrimony)
(adultery)
Contraries
Contradiction
-B
(e.g. incest
taboo/homophobia)
B
(e.g incest, homosexuality)
符號學方塊"the semiotic rectangle”
基本的表意結構:二元對立和其否定 A
-A
(異性婚姻)
(通姦)
為
前
提
-B
矛盾
B
直接否定
(e.g.近親通婚禁忌與
同性戀恐懼)
(e.g近親通婚、同性戀)
"the semiotic rectangle”
elementary structure of signification
a binary opposition & their negation 離婚取消對立
A
-A
Pre- (異性婚姻)
supposi
tion
-B
(通姦)
B
為柏拉圖式愛
情複雜化
(e.g近親通婚禁忌與
同性戀恐懼))
(e.g.近親通婚、同性戀)
符號學方塊: 悲慘世界
基本的表意結構:二元對立和其否定 A
-A
(脫離保釋的罪犯)
(警察)
為
前
提
-B
矛盾
B
直接否定
救人
執法、抓人
Why not 工頭、嫖客?
Structuralist Methodologies:
suggestions
• 1. Usually interesting analysis happens when the
characters break these categories or confuse
them.
2. You can set up your own categories (of
actants and functions).
3. This kind of structuralist analysis is more
useful on popular cultural products or shorter
texts than novels—though the latter is not an
impossible choice.
Issues for Discussion
• Do we always think in terms of binaries, or two
pairs of binaries?
• What else do we do after finding out the
patterns?
From New Criticism to Structuralism: Search for
“the common” or the universal
Form    
an entity with interrelated
parts.
Pygmalion And Galatea,
by Jean-Leon Gerome, after 1881
Structure: basic pattern
Russian Formalism
1920’s
From New Criticism to Structuralism
 New Criticism: set up studies of English
Literature as a discipline.
 In the 50’s, there are more attempts at
making English studies scientific and
objective. e.g. archetypal approaches;
Northrop Frye
spring
summer
autumn
comedy
romance tragedy
winter
satire
Form vs. Structcure
Form and Content are inseparable
Structure produces meanings
(e.g. [b] vs. [p]; syntagm=subject + predicate;
Binary opposition = the raw and the cooked, etc.)
From New Criticism to Structuralism
 Compared with New Criticism, structuralist
approaches to literature are
-- reductive; (化約式的﹚;
-- more objective & scientific, does not rely on
common sense.
-- anti-Humanist
-- Form to Structure, (later multiple language
structures and the racial relations they
imply).
Discussion Questions
• 語言、意義與世界的關係:反映或建構?
• 語言是差異結構的涵義何在?
▫ 什麼可以超越語言、不需要語言?
▫ 孰先孰後?語言符號(如母愛),還是我們的感情
(如對母親的愛)?
▫ 母親節一定要送康乃馨是自然感情流露嗎?
▫ 稱你母親的妹妹為姨媽、 auntie or Jenny 有何
不同?
▫ 如果中文沒有「緣」這個字, 我們會認為和他人
的巧遇是命中註定的嗎?
Semiotics:
The Science
& Cultural Interpretations of Signs
Language/Literature as an enclosed
system with two Axes
Paradigmatic/Selection:
Syntagmatic/Combination
(narrative structure:
roles + actions);
metonymy
Thematic structure:
Motifs, mythemes,
metaphors, etc.
Roman Jakobson’s studies of
poetry and aphasia
• Similarity disorder –
• metaphor –
inability to deal with
substitution of one with
“associative”
something similar –
relationships in
poetry –
language.
Romanticism/Symbolis
• Contiguity
m
disorder –inability to
• metonymy –
organize words into
replacement of one with
higher units (e.g.
something close by
sentence).
-- novel --Realism
“The poetic function projects the principle of equivalence
from the axis of selection into the axis of combination.”
Jakobson
Jakobson’s six factors in speech
and their interactions
Context/Soceity, History
Message
Addresser
Author
Contact
Code/
Text
Addressee
Reader
* Usu. in one speech event, one factor will dominate over the others.
For instance, the “emotive” intent of the address dominates his/her use
of code, the context as well as the contact.
Practice :
This Is Just To Say
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast
William Carlos Williams
(1883-1963)
Example: the “forming” of trivial matter
In daily life.
Practice :
This Is Just To Say
Address: Husband
Address: wife
Code:
the plums (in
the icebox, saved
for breakfast)
+ Forgive me
+ they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.
Context: imagism
and modernism
Example: the “forming” of trivial matter
In daily life.
Roland Barthes: Production of Sign
and Myth
• All social practices as sign-systems and thus
are open to cultural interpretation (or demystification).
• e.g. the “langue” of clothes and food
system: a. blouse, shirt, T-shirt ; b. skirt,
trousers
sentence: an ensemble of blouse + skirt + high
heeled shoes X snickers
blouse + jeans + snickers X not for concert
Roland Barthes
• Mythologies (which he published in France in 1957)
analyzing
• the difference between boxing and wrestling;
• the cinema image of Greta Garbo's face;
• a magazine photograph of an Algerian soldier
saluting the French flag. (in “Myth Today”)
source
Fashion and Myth
• “The clothes for this summer is made
predominantly of silk.” (prescriptive rather than
descriptive)
• “It’s nice to wear while walking on a dock with
your lover.”
Different levels of signification: primary
signification & secondary signification
a signifier + signified =
• primary signification:
• Secondary signification
sign (full)--denotation
Sign (empty)/
Form
+
content = sign
--connotation
Different levels of signification:
example
signifier (Rose) + signified (Flower)=
sign (full)--denotation
(empty)
• primary signification:
Form(
• Secondary signification +
)
content (Love)= sign
--connotation
“Myth Today”
• a second-order semiological system
regression
• from meaning to form,
• from the linguistic sign to the mythical
signifier. ...the form does not suppress the
meaning, it only impoverishes it, it puts it at a
distance...
elements of an ad.
• 1. the slogan (or copy)
• 2. the visual image--with the slogan, it implies
a story
• 3. supplementary --color, design == where
the product, the words are placed
▫
▫
▫
▫
colour,
size and position,
texture
celebrity endorsement
Ads: Example 1
•
•
Ads: Example 2
•
Ads: Example 3
•
Ads: Example 4
Ads’ languages
-- from Ways of Seeing
• The romantic use of nature (leaves, trees,
water) to create a place where innocence can
be found.
• The posed taken up to denote stereotypes
of women: serene mothers (madonna), free
wheeling secretary (actress, king's mistress),
perfect hostess (spectator-owner's wife), sexobject (Venus, nymph surprised), etc.
• The special sexual emphasis given to
women's legs.
Ads’ languages
-- from Ways of Seeing (2)
• The materials particularly used to indicate
luxury: engraved metal, furs, polished
leather, etc.
• The physical stance of men conveying wealth
and virility.
• The equation of drinking and success.
• The man as knight (horseman) become
motorist.
Key words for Structualist and
Semiotic approaches:
• I. Following language as a model
• II. Disclosing the deep/basic structure of a text,
which is a (combination or selection) system of
meaning composed of basic elements such as:
▫ Signifier, signified, Referent and their Arbitrary
connection;
▫ binary opposition
▫ Axis of combination - Axis of selection
Key words for Structualist and
Semiotic approaches:
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
-- semiotic rectangles,
-- roles/actant and functions, or narrateme,
-- story and discourse,
-- narrator- narratee,
-- metaphor and metonymy,
-- grammatical parts of speech, or lexemes,
-- signs or signification on different levels
(signifier and signified).
From New Criticism to
Structuralism
 Compared with New Criticism, structuralist
approaches to literature are
-- reductive;
-- more objective & scientific, does not rely on
common sense.
-- anti-Humanist
-- Form to Structure, (later multiple language
structures and the racial relations they
imply).
From New Criticism to Structuralism: Search for
“the common” or the universal
Form    
an entity with interrelated
parts.
Pygmalion And Galatea,
by Jean-Leon Gerome, after 1881
Structure: basic pattern
From New Criticism to
Russian Formalism
Structuralism
1920’s
 New Criticism: set up studies of English
Literature as a discipline.
 In the 50’s, there are more attempts at making
English studies scientific and objective. e.g.
archetypal approaches; Northrop Frye
spring
summer
autumn
comedy
romance tragedy
winter
satire
Questions:
• Reductive? Disregarding meaning, textual
complexities, or the author’s intention?
• De-centering, dehumanizing?
• Do we really think in terms of binaries?
• How is our social existence modeled after
language as a system of relations?
▫
▫
▫
▫
From work to text (textuality);
From identity to system of relations;
From myth to ideology;
“Myth -- the complex system of images and beliefs
which a society constructs in order to sustain and
authenticate its sense of being.”
▫ From structuralism/semiotics to marxism
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