The semiotics of love and other investigations applied semiotic analysis
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The Semiotics of Love…and Other Investigations Applied Semiotic Analysis. Arthur Asa Berger Professor Emeritus Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts San Francisco State University.

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The Semiotics of Love…and Other Investigations Applied Semiotic Analysis

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The Semiotics of Love…and Other InvestigationsApplied Semiotic Analysis

Arthur Asa Berger

Professor Emeritus

Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts

San Francisco State University

Students at a lectureIf you shot off a gun at sporadic intervals and asked students what they were thinking when the gun went off you’d find:

20%pursuing erotic thoughts

7% described mood as “love.”

20 % reminiscing about something

20%paying attention

12% actively listening

Rest of students: worrying, daydreaming, thinking about lunch or religion

20% said they were happy

12%said they were sad

68%were neutral

Investigations into:

Semiotics of “Frenchness”

The meaning of facial expressions

Objects as a reflection of our personalities

Signs and symbols in a perfume advertisement

Love as a game (play song)

Conclusions: cartoons I’ve drawn

Saussure’s Theory

  • Signs are sound/objects + concepts

  • Sound/object is Signifier

  • Concept is Signified

  • Relation between signifier/signified is arbitrary, based on convention

  • Concepts are relational

Semiotics: Science of Signs

Signs: Signifiers and Signifieds, icons, indexes, symbols.

Signs: Anything that can stand for something else.

Signs: Can lie or mislead.

We are always sending messages (signs) about ourselves

and interpreting signs others send about themselves.

We “read” everyone we see in mediated texts…but do we

read them correctly?

Peirce on Signs

Kind of SignWay Works


Photographs, Statues

IndexCause and Effect

Smoke and Fire

SymbolMust be Learned

Flags, Sacred Objects

Secret Agent (Signified)


Dark Glasses

Revolver with silencer

Trench Coat

Sports Car

Slouch hat

Beautiful Women


Frenchness (Signified)


Signifier/Signified Game

Facial Expressions ShownSeven Universal Emotions (Paul Ekman)


Pouting (show displeasure, disappointment)


Neutral (no emotion)




Disgust (repugnant)

Facial Expressions

1 2 3

4 5

6 7 8

Paul Ekman on Facial Expressions

  • Neutral 2. Disgust 3. Sadness

  • Fear 5. Pouting

    6. Anger 7. Surprise 8. Determination

Reading People in Mediated TextsApplied Semiotic Analysis

Hair ColorBody Language

Hair StyleMakeup worn

Eye ColorClothes worn

Eye PupilsEyeglasses/sunglasses

Facial StructureJewelry

Body TypeSetting

AgeOccupations of People (guessed?)

GenderActivities Suggested

RaceLanguage Used, Dialogue

Facial ExpressionsMusic, Sound Effects, etc.

Interpreting Signs:

A Class Exercise in a Semiotics Seminar

Students brought object in brown paper bag.

Nobody knew who brought which object.

Qualities of person as reflected in sea shell

found by students in seminar:





Interpreting Signs

What Student Who Submitted Sign Wrote:





MORAL: Signs you are sending about

yourself may be misinterpreted.

Fidji Perfume Advertisement

  • Snake is a phallic symbol (Freud)

  • Flowers are sexual organs of plants

  • Myth of passion in Polynesian islands (Gauguin)

  • Adam & Eve (and snake)

  • Dark hair and ideas about sexuality

  • Perfume as magic (and like venom?)

  • Fidji and sophistication: cost and advertisements

  • Design of ad: leads eyes to perfume

  • Fingers grasping perfume in strange way

  • Sex found hidden in images

Power of Metaphors in Music

“All in the wonderful game called


Love is a Game Metaphor

Love is Like a Game Simile

Analogy is basic to metaphor, similes

Implications of “Love is a Game”








Love is a Game….

Games have winners and losers

Games have rules

People cheat at games

Trickery and deceit in games

Games end eventually

People aren’t serious about games

Games take place in certain spaces


Semiotics is one of the most important ways to analyze texts and culture

Cultures can be read as texts

Semiotics sees itself as the master science

With some basic semiotic concepts one can analyze just about everything

“The world is perfused with signs if not made up entirely of them.” C.S. Peirce.

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