In allowing readers to observe and to interpret, picture books can also implicitly teach young readers the semiotic and cultural codes and conventions which makes words and pictures meaningful....

In allowing readers to observe and to interpret, picture books can also implicitly teach young readers the semiotic and cultural codes and conventions which makes words and pictures meaningful.

How do semiotic and cultural codes interact to produce meaning?

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The word "semiotics" comes from the Greek "semeion", which means "sign". 

In his posthumously published book, A Course in General Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure, states that 

Language is a system of signs [and] a science that studies the life of signs within society [...] would be a part of social psychology [and] general psychology [...] Semiology would show what constitutes signs, and what laws govern them (Saussure, 1966, p. 16)

According to Saussure, signs are made of two parts: the signifier (representation) and the signified (concept that representation means to convey). For example, the sound of an approaching ambulance is the signifier that signifies "emergency". However, it also conveys other messages such as "get out of the way", "fast, big, car coming", "drive toward the curb", "obey the law when you hear the ambulance", and a myriad of other mental images, memories, warnings, and thoughts. Such is the importance of "the symbol" in cultures and in civilization. 

More examples of symbols are signifiers are found in the most common things: the red light at the stop, the stop sign, the sound of the microwave oven when food finishes cooking, and even the grades in a report card. All of these sights and sounds mean something unique to those witnessing them.

The important thing to remember about symbols is that they are intrinsically connected to traditions, cultural values, ethical behavior, and even emotional trauma in some cases. 

Cultural codes are cues that lead us into knowing something about a particular cultural group. it could be the way that they tend to say things, the things they omit in conversation, their specific responses to issues, and even the way they manifest anger, fear, hunger, happiness, and love. This would be studied in every way, from behavior, to literature, to history.

Cultural codes can include semantic and symbolic codes:

  • semantic- conveying meaning with little words, by association
  • symbolic- using hyperbole, juxtaposition, irony, contrasts, and antithesis

Essentially, the culture code helps to unveil the hidden or intended meaning of the symbols presented in literature through semiotics. Remember that culture codes are constructs that result entirely from the application created by people from one cultural group. This being said, whenever a symbol is presented in a work of literature, the culture code that we learn about will help us understand why the symbol is important. What is significant, or even important, to one group, may be completely meaningless to another. Symbols will not acquire their true meaning without the full understanding of cultural codes. Each on their own, symbols and codes, are studies on their own accord and are brought together to convey complete meaning.