“R” in semaphore

We spend a lot of our lives interpreting symbols. I don’t mean those in fiction and poetry from your English class, but decoding meanings of images and man-created symbols in our physical world.

Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung got very academic and serious about it in his Man and His Symbols. He went a little bit over the edge and personal in his The Red Book.

There is a website at symbols.com devoted to many common and uncommon symbols that we might encounter any day.

libraFor example, my Zodiac sign is Libra, one of the twelve astrological signs that originates from the constellation of Libra. Some people take Zodiac signs very seriously. I treat it more as real astronomy rather than astrology. Libra is the 180-210th degree of the zodiac, between 180 and 207.25 degree of celestial longitude, which the Sun transits this area on average between (northern autumnal equinox) September 23 to October 22 each year.

But Jung’s devotees started collecting mythological, ritualistic, and symbolic imagery. The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism with institutes throughout the U.S. has been collecting for 80 years.

Semiotics is the study of signs in many forms (likeness, analogy, metaphor, signification etc.). Semiotics is closely related to the field of linguistics, which also studies the structure and meaning of language, but semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems. Semiotics has three branches: Semantics (relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their denotata, or meaning), Syntactics (relations among signs in formal structures) and Pragmatics(relation between signs and sign-using agents).

I read Umberto Eco‘s novel The Name of the Rose years ago. (It’s the intellectual’s version of a Dan Brown novel, full of secret symbols, coded manuscripts, and a labyrinth a medieval abbey.)  It was later that I found out that Eco is a professor of semiotics. One of his theories is that every cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication.

There are many branches of semiotics.  I guess I have been doing my study of film semiotics for a long time – though it has rarely been an academic pursuit.