Communication and Semiotics

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The term "communication" describes a means of sending and receiving messages. We must come to terms with the idea that communication is a major issue in all facets of life and accept the truth that there can be no relationship in life without it. Sender, receiver, and communication channel are all mentioned in the theory of communication (Butchart, 2016). Additionally, there is a methodical procedure that must be followed when communicating. When the procedure is successful, communication might be considered successful. It is a symbolic framework that allows for the realization, restraint, and restructuring of truth. An important aspect is a mode of transmission of information, and these are what are called communication strategies. Communication studies have three major categories; information theory which outlines the aspects to quantify an artifact as communication, modes through which data is stored and relay of the message intended (Forss, 1996). The primary consideration of this paper, however, is on image or visual as of the communication strategies, with in-depth analysis of its critics and how communication depicts reality, also looking at images and how people think and react to them differently.

Image as Form of Communication

The image is also referred to as visual communication. Visual communication relies on the belief and principle that visual messages accompanied by texts can create power and significance majorly while educating, informing, and persuading. It is, therefore, passing information by presenting it in visual ways. Visual communication is one of the essential aspects of communication is of variant ways including signs, illustrations, and Web pages (Sen, 2015). They are used in workplaces to draw attention and provide documentation. People then tend to interpret them differently as per their perspectives and perceptions. Importantly image helps overcome language barriers in most instances. Notably, semiotics is the study of symbols and visual/image communication. In the opinion of McDonald (2013), people tempt to interpret signs. Three aspects are governing the interpretation of signs. These are; designative (which restricts interpreter to the preferred matter), applausive (that outlines qualities of the subject matter) thus evaluation and finally prescriptive aspect-directing individual’s response in a specific manner.

Regarding the views of Sen (2015), the human behavior involves signs and meanings in three phases; perception phase – an individual get to acknowledge the sign, manipulative stage; people conceptualize the sign and deduce on response strategies after interpretation and lastly consummation phase that triggers the individual to respond. There are also three ways in which signs relate to values; i.e., detachment; people or system upholds autonomy and sovereignty, dominance - persons or system assumes dominance and control over others and dependence where persons and systems requirements are controlled and dominated by others (Sen, 2015).

According to Peirce (1839-1914), as cited in Butchart (2016) semiotics helps analyze how people make meaning out of symbols, and how their interpretation. The use of images in communication began earlier in the form of cave paintings, which later advanced to pictograms (images that represent physical objects).Visual communication can, therefore, be taken to mean conveyance of ideas and messages in ways that can be read or be understood. It can relate to the forms of typography, signs, artwork, graphics works, illustration, industrial design, adverts, films color and electronic resources (Sen, 2015).

Visual communication through image may take various ways of analysis for instance; personal perspective where a viewer has opinions based on personal thoughts, historical perception, technical view, ethical perspective, cultural dimension and critical perspective (Butchart, 2016). There are also visual aids in visual communication that helps the audience to understand what is presented. They include objects, graphs, models, maps, tables, photographs, drawings and diagrams. The media used in these visual aids may be in the form of the chalkboard, whiteboard, posters, handouts, video excerpts, projections, computer presentations and social media (Lester, 2014).

Criticism of Image as a Strategy of Communication

Rhetorical Criticism

The term rhetoric has been dominance majorly in the political field, used by politicians in most instances. This has made it be associated with the political world without significantly understanding its main concepts. Rhetoric is the science of discourse; where the orator or writer tends to emphasize how to convince inform, persuade or motivate the audience, with exaggerations on ornamentation as well as a contrivance. Criticism is the art of disapproving some concepts or something based on its perceived omissions. The devices that can be used to express rhetoric in an artifact are antistrophe (repeating similar words and phrases), irony (expressing an opposite of the intending actual meaning), euphemism( use of words considered offensive in a polite agreed manner), hyperbolism (exaggerating a concept to create more emphasis), alliteration(sequential repeat of constant sounds in a word), metaphor( use of phrase or words to create comparison in a logic and figurative manner). Rhetoric refers to the study of how communication affects understanding; the exploration of how language, symbols, signs the ones we hear, see, read, or experience cumulatively make a constructive meaning to us (Kuypers, 2009). Rhetoric criticism includes but not limited to advertisement, website, speech, poem, novel, film, billboard, song, building, landscape architecture, office environment, report, presentation, etc.

Types of Rhetoric Criticism

As discussed above, and according to Kuypers (2009), rhetoric criticism involves the analysis of symbolic artifacts; it has various types since it includes words, images, texts, films among others, which are capable of attracting different aspects of criticism. Some of these categories, therefore, areas discussed below;

Neo-Aristotelian (neo-classical/traditional criticism); critics based on analysis artifacts, political speeches, advertisements, novels, public announcements. This concept borrows from conventional rhetoric idea considering the context, five canons and the effects as per Aristotle work. It relates to context and construction of document and speech affect the target audience (Kuypers, 2009).

Cluster; used by critics to evaluate communicators perspectives and worldviews. This concept is used to describe the terms, symbols, vocabulary and other communication devices that are used to describe an idea hence help evaluate word choice, symbolism, colors, etc. in artifacts (Foss, 1996).

Fantasy theme- this concept tends to explain and bring understanding to how shared realities within a given group help in shaping thoughts and actions of individuals (McDonald, 2013). This theme concept aims at understanding why a given group expresses a certain feeling by understanding their characters, settings, and activities. Fantasy, in this case, refers to the creative and imaginative interpretation of events. To achieve a compelling interpretation of the event, there must be an artifact to be reviewed, a document, a character involved in the scenario such as people, animal and finally set to which it took place (Kuypers, 2009).

Generic; this seeks to understand the response of people to information conveyed to them through a specific genre. It is done various examples of artifacts, speeches, reports, ad campaigns, memos, fine arts, etc. (Kuypers, 2009).

Ideological; this is concerned with discovering the values and ideologies of a person or organization by reviewing their artifacts key symbol like words, design, image, organization, etc. that depicts their ideology. Ideology concept here refers to the doctrine, belief, value, myth, principles that govern a person or organization to action (Kuypers, 2009).

OPTIC strategy for visual analysis-OPTIC is an acronym of overview, parts, title, interrelationship, and conclusion. They help with the process of analyzing visuals by following the mentioned steps, hence developing a good sense of the communicator’s intentions of the portrait (Forss, 1996).

SOAPS tone strategy for written analysis-this is a method of criticism designed to aid in the analysis of texts, writing about written texts and planning for the writing of an original text. The SOAPS tone stands for Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, and Tone. This strategy enables sense development of what the author intended to do with the document and how the audience may react to that text (Forss, 1996).

Others include the use of metaphor, narrative, and pentad.

Rhetoric criticism is an aspect by which we discover how the things we do, see, hear or experience affect us and those around us (Kuypers, 2009). It’s the practice of evaluating how colors, shapes, symbols, typefaces, language construction and rhetorical devices make a sensible meaning to us and within our scope of living. For instance an advertisement on a TV of poverty strike families, there will be urged to help in a donation to a cause. Rhetoric criticism, therefore, includes an individual examination of communication affecting one at the self-level and those who surround them. The feeling brought out is either sadness or laughter or cause dislikes or likes, false impression on the culture, environment, and tribe of a given reaction. Asserting the assessment thought to require the evaluation of the symbols, signs, rhetorical devices, language and other communication devices that influence communication and emotions of the audience. Rhetoric criticisms hence keep constant communication at all times through adverts, speeches, novels, media, etc. (Lester, 2014).

The Concept of Visual World

It’s a concern that the use of image may spearhead a return to world’s importance, where words and pictures have equal status, even though there is uncertainty on the impact of visual culture on social, religious and educational environments (Sen, 2015). The use of TVs, Internet, Computers and fiber cables is an evidence of how the visual word is growing, and images shared across international boundaries and are understood by everyone (Butchart, 2016). Words and pictures tend to be the compelling, effective medium of communication because when one sees a picture, it is easy to remember because of the built image in the mindset (Butchart, 2016). According to John Scully, former C.E.O of Apple computers, the universe attaining dependence of image for communicating is of value. “Humanly thrives in the visually intensified community,” Scully assured. Computers contribute to image development as a form of passing information.

Jerome Bruner(Education Psychologist) from New York University indicate research is supporting that people can recall almost ten percent of what they can hear,30.00% of what is readable and80.00%of what is seen and done (Mazarakis, 2017).

The Syntax of Symbols

Syntax grammar is a systematic restriction that guides the transfer of words into sentences (Butchart, 2016). Linguistics theorists assert since pictures are presentational rather than discursive, there is no formal existence of grammar. Lack of grammar aspect in an image disqualifies it from being a language and devoid of language, pictures may be unreadable. Words are the anchor of human ability to understand due to its structure of a narrative. Susan Sontag, a philosopher, affirms in writings, “Only the artifacts which narrate can enable us to understand,” (Butchart, 2016). However there are two primary constraints that linguistic philosophers consider as a limitation why images cannot qualify as language; images lack common elements relating it to written languages alphabet, and that images don't have recognized syntax. According to Noam Chomsky, another linguistic philosopher, language is distinguished by its alphabet (i.e., finite symbols upon which sentenced are derived), and it's grammatical sentences (McDonald, 2013).

Another philosopher, Suzanne Langer, quoted that “photography lacks the vocabulary, and no item is a portraiture, metaphorically.” These facts base argument and criticism that visual has no language and there is no universal description of language for visual (Forss, 1996). However, some have managed to depict and validate visual as a communication strategy, coming up with well-presented alphabets. Fernande Saint-Martin in his book, “semiotics of visual language” as cited in McDonald, attempts to create alphabets for the image (McDonald, 2013). According to him, color is the primary element of visual communication, since it impacts substance, and shape to the visual world. The straightforward visual alphabet is known coloreme. Colome is the smallest particle in a media image that can focus on the fovea of the retina. It entails of pictures, texture, actual color, size, direction, boundaries, and position in a view frame. The images physical attributions, upon notice and identification, then find suitable meaning through successive viewing, same with those brought about by constructivist’s theories (McDonald, 2013).

In 1987, Biederman wrote about his theory of perception, outlining alphabetic structure of objects. An alphabet is a group of symbols corresponding to sounds released during the speech.A typical speech unit is known to be phoneme. In language, there are only 55 phonemes required, among which reduces to 26 letters known as the alphabet. Webster also outlines 50 alphabetic symbols used in describing sounds for the pronunciation of words. Biederman also adds the use of geons-primitive shapes or parts of an object, and only 36 of them are required to make an object. These theories, however, lack full details that describe elements that comprise a detailed image.

On the other hand, there is another problem on linguistics in regarding the image as a language due to lack of recognition of syntax. According to Noam Chomsky as cited in Butchart (2016) language contains surface (grammar regulations) and deep structures (finding the use of every word in a sentence). Sentence qualifies to be grammatically correct if it observes specific guidelines and it has to mean- the rule of syntax (Butchart, 2016).

Words do not require being familiar with it to be a sentence. David Lodge quoted that “Language is a net that holds thought trapped within a particular culture,” (Butchart, 2016). Basic syntax rule is that words constructing a sentence must have a linear, discursive pattern. However, such rule is contradicted by the sentence structure in poetry as it violates the syntax rule. Words in a sentence don’t necessarily need to obey the stipulations of discursiveness for it to have a meaning. Therefore, grammar is an of regulations aimed at making life bearable for the users. (McDonald, 2013)

The Concept of Ethical Theory

In this idea, consideration is towards clarity on the difference between aesthetics, etiquette, and ethics. The idea of moral theory helps to understand and focus on issues affecting the subjects, victims, readers, and viewers (Hink, 2015).


Photographers have tended to concentrate majorly on aesthetics as part of their duty, as others also advertise, photo shooting, food, architecture, portrait, and illusions (Hink, 2015). These consignments tend to divert the focus of the photographers away from documenting social aspects of the society (McDonald, 2013). These economically geared tasks get support from news editing firms, photographers, and publishers who don’t recognize the distinction between magazines and TVs, photojournalism documentation and commercial advertising. Aesthetic concentration also concerns on the utilization of image, size, location, color in web and print. Not unless a photographer changes aesthetic features of visual communication to mislead people, it is considered ethical. It’s also moral to involve appealing graphical visuals in published work (Butchart, 2016).


Etiquette takes the ethical principles and considerations of some visual images, for instance, showing vulgar images, inappropriate dress code, following a celebrity who dares media attention (Hink, 2015). These are some of the ethical concerns that tend to complicate the application of etiquette in visual communication because some of these may be justified and considered ethically good considering the place, or when they occurred (Hink, 2015).


Visual messages are known to have a tremendous emotional impact on educating, entertaining, persuading, the bulk responsibility is on the image producer to make it consumable by the public. There must be therefore keen interest in subject selection, tools to be used and reasons for so, as well as words to be used alongside the image (Hink, 2015).


Communication being a media of information exchange, its inclusive of various strategies for its implementation. The primary concern as in this research is on the image (visual communication). The image has seen to be favored by the currently existing technology due to the emergence of digital life.e. Television, fiber optic cable, computers among others. It enjoys a monopoly as it is considered by many in all suspects from the young to old as it is not highly complicated. It may, however, result in a lot of contrast since the meaning is as per the perception of whoever visualize it, it, therefore, may be misinterpreted against the real intention of the producer. Its artifacts may also be mistaken, for instance, the misuse of in the political arena of today. The image even though is used as a form of communication, faces a lot of contrast as depicted in the context of rhetorical criticism and that of syntax symbol. It also faces a lot of justification quagmire in regards to general ethics to the societal and cultural aspects, as well as etiquette and aesthetics are concerned. However, some philosophers have come out to defend the de-accreditation of the image as a strategy of communication. This is explained in the context of the visual world, stating that people only remember less percent of what is head and read and giving a more significant percentage to what is seen and done, regarding image as the most superior communication strategy.


Biederman, I. (1987). Recognition by Components: A theory of human image understanding, pp 115-147.

Butchart, G. C. (2016). The communicology of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida: reflections on the sign–body experience of visual communication. Visual Communication 2(15), 199-219.

Forss, K. (1996). Cluster Criticism. Waveland: Waveland pr inc.

Hink, A. (2015). Ethical Frameworks and Ethical Modalities: Theorizing Communication and Citizenship in a Fluid World. Communication Theory 1(26), 1-20.

Kuypers, A. (2009). Rhetorical Criticism. In M. Lanham, Perspectives in Action (p. 14). Lexington: Lexington Books.

Lester, P. M. (2014). Visual communication. Boston: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Mazarakis, A. (2017). Communication. Business Insider.

McDonald, E. (2013). Embodiment and meaning: moving beyond linguistic imperialism in social semiotics. Social Semiotics 3(23), 318-334.

Sen, D. (2015). Salience computation in images based on perceptual distinctness. Signal Processing: Image Communication 32, 129-147.

March 10, 2023

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