What is reading ? « … reading is also picking out signs, making hypotheses, and in finally findingthe meaning of a message, whether it be linguistic, iconic ou recorded ». L. HAMM, p.9. a text an image some music Read WHAT? Please note : We have preferred to approach texts, images, music, … from the point of view of meaning, of understanding and not of emotion or aesthetic pleasure.
Our approach « Even if things haven’t always been formulated in this way, it can be said, at present, that approaching or studying certain phenomena from a semiotic viewpoint is actually considering their method of production of meaning, in other words, the way in which they bring about meaning, that is to say, interpretation. Furthermore, a sign isn’t a « sign » unless it « expresses ideas », and if it brings about interpretative reasoning in the mind of the person or of those who perceive it. » (Martine Joly, Introduction à l’analyse de l’image, pp. 21-22)
To further your knowledge : Some interesting reading! You can decide to read these now or later ! They will be mentioned again at the end of the paper. The world is a book! • Two extracts by Alberto MANGUEL : What is reading? • Two little extracts by Hubert Nyssen which are worth attention. • The difference between semiotic and semiology : Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce. Extracts by Martine Joly, Introduction à l’analyse de l’image, pp.22-3.
Texts, images and music use signs … to be decoded !!!
From the point of view of their nature (the code) Let’s compare them briefly • From the point of view of the reader (the decoder) Let’s begin by comparing texts, images and music from the point of view of their nature, i.e. the code :
Texts Images Music = Composition, interlacing, assemblage, meeting, … Not left to chance produced by someone To say/communicate something Organized according to rules that can be learned To be decoded by another person who will make meaning of it Using a code made up of signs colours, shapes, graphics… words auditive/recorded«objects» Often analogical characteristics No analogical characteristics (arbitrary characteristics) No analogical characteristics Linear perceptibility Simultaneous perceptibility Linear perceptibility
to say/communicate something to others who will decode it and make sense by an act of reading Someone makes a message by using a code = called Reading Author (for a text) Artist (for an image) : i.e. draughtsman, painter, illustrator, graphic designer, … Composer (for music) ≠ Seeing, hearing, going through writing photographing, drawing, painting, illustrating, … composing Verbs used In English Let’s go into more detail from the reader’s point of view
Text : - If I want to read a written text myself, I absolutely have to know the writing code. - Orally, I don’t need to know the writing code to understand a text read by someone else (and that starts from earliest infancy) and even less so to produce speech (in my mother tongue). Image : cannot be read orally as such! Reading it orally of necessity means beginning to interpret it ! • To read an image , I don’t need to know an iconic code : images are omnipresent in our environment and as they are often analogical, I can see them and read them without any particular training. • On the other hand, to read them in depth or to produce images which are « efficient »,I need to know the iconic code (to be convinced of this, see in the appendix a few lines by L. Hamm, Lire des images).
Music : - if it is played by someone, I can listen to it without learning the musical code. It is also omnipresent in our environment. - if it is played by someone, if I know some of the elements of the code, I can understand it better, analyse it, appreciate it (as for images !) - if it is written, in order to read it myself, I have to know the musical code.
Reading = decoding and interpreting the signs (thus not doing just anything) based on one’s own subjectivity and cultural context in order to give them meaning. Reading brings into play a text an image some music A message A reader In a context
In short : What is a sign ? What should be done to decode it or how should it be decoded? ? This is what Martine JOLY says in her book « Introduction à l’analyse de l’image »: « A sign has a materiality that can be perceived with one or more of our senses. It can be seen (an object, a colour, a movement), heard (spoken language, shout, music, noise), smelled (different odours : perfume, smoke), touched or even tasted.
This thing that is perceived takes the place of some other thing : this is the essential particularity of the sign : to be there, present, to designate or signify another thing, which is absent, concrete ou abstract. Redness or pallor can be signs of illness or of emotion; the sounds of language which I perceive are signs of concepts that I have learned to associate with them; the smoke that I smell is the sign of fire; (…) I can also believe that the sight of a black cat is the sign of misfortune; a red light, at a crossroads, is a sign that it is forbidden to go through with a car, and so on. It is therefore apparent that anything can be a sign once I deduce a meaning from it, a meaning which depends on my culture, just as the context in which the sign appears. (…) For Peirce, a sign is « some thing taking the place of some thing for some one, with some connection, or for some reason». Martine Joly, p. 25
Signified Signifier Reference In words : A sign maintains an interdependent relationship between three points : • the signifier (i.e. the perceptible part of the sign) • the reference (i.e. the object, what is represented, what it means) • the signified (which depends on the context in which the sign appears and on the expectations of the one receiving it) Examples on following pages ! In a schema :
Example : I hear or I read the word « camel » Based on whether I’m a European turned more often towards the far north, or a European who prefers the desert, or a Touareg living on trade thanks to my camels, or someone who is very angry with a disagreeable or unbearable person who is getting in my way, the same signifier will have meanings or significations which are very different. Signified Signifier Reference The word heard or read « camel » The sound heard or the word read refers to the concept of the well-known mammal.
Another example : I see the image During the holiday period and in wealthy countries, this image is going to mean gifts, celebrations, the new year, … During the middle of the year, it could mean « birthday, birth, retirement, … » Imagine what it could mean for a graphic designer, a 4 year old child, an older person who is very ill, etc. And for people from poor countries, it could mean wealth, exploitation, arrogance, etc. Signified Reference Signifier Two stylized people, each one carrying a big gift-wrapped package. A drawing, an image in colour, computerized
It should be noted that a real object is never a sign of what it is, but that it can be the sign of something else. (Martine Joly, p.25) As Jocelyne Giasson describes it, with reference to texts, reading can be said to be: An interactive process An active process A communication process A language process A process of constructing meaning An indivisible process (all the skills at the same time) For more details, see J. Giasson, La lecture, De la théorie à la pratique, ch.1.
Words (said or written) are a special way to communicate, to learn, to get into images and music, to analyse them, … we will therefore attach great importance first to reading texts, then images. That is why we will present a summary of the whole book by J. Giasson on understanding in reading (see other document in power point format). For music, we prefer to refer to documents which have already been written, such as, for example, the «music lessons» by Jean-François Zygel which are remarkable. Some of these have been filmed (Chopin, Fauré, Bartok, Debussy, Chostakovitch, and many others), and then edited in DVD format.
As mentioned at the beginning of this document, here is a reminder of some interesting reading which will help you to further your knowledge! The world is a book! • Two extracts by Alberto MANGUEL: What is reading? • Two little extracts by Hubert Nyssen which are worth attention. • The difference between semiotic and semiology : Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce. Extracts by Martine Joly, Introduction à l’analyse de l’image, p.22-3. Document written by Hélène Delvaux and Anne Moinet of the IF BELGIUM and developped as a Microsoft power point presentation 2003 by Hélène Delvaux Images : clipart on http://office.microsoft.com For the European project Signesetsens 2009
Metaphors of reading Alberto Manguel, in his book Histoire de la lecture (ed. Actes Sud, 1998), asserts that metaphors are « an authentic means for understanding contexts » and shows that one of the oldest and most common metaphors is to present the world as a book. In this perspective, the book becomes a book about a book (pp. 207 and 209). (...) Saying that an author is a reader and a reader is an author, considering a book as a human being or a human being as a book, describing the world as a text or a text as the world, are so many ways of naming the reader’s art. Saying that we read – the world, a book, a body – isn’t enough. The metaphor of reading calls on another metaphor in turn, needs to be explained in images situated ouside of the reader’s library and nevertheless inside the reader’s body, associating the function of reading to the other essental functions of our being. Reading – as we have seen – is used as a metaphoric vehicle, but in order to be understood, the metaphor must also be recognized, as a metaphor, through metaphors. In exactly the same way as writers speak of concocting a story, or of ruminating over a text, letting an idea simmer, spicing up a scene or of garnishing the framework of an argument, seasoning a slice of life with allusions which will give readers something to chew on, as readers we speak of savoring a book,
of finding it nourishing, of devouring it in one sitting, of ruminating a passage, of rolling a poet’s verses off our tongue, of feasting on poetry, or of following a steady diet of detective novels. In an essay on the art of studying, the XVIth century English scholar, Francis Bacon, made a catalog of the process : « Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. » (...) In whatever way readers appropriate books, at the end of the day, the book and the reader become one. The world is a book which is devoured by a reader who is a letter in the text of the world; thus a circular metaphor of the infinity of reading is born. We are what we read.
Alberto Manguel, Une histoire de la lecture, ed. Actes Sud, 1998, pp.19 and 20 Readers of books (…) develop or concentrate a function which is common to all of us. Reading letters on a page is only one of its numerous attires. The astronomer who reads a map of the stars which have disappeared ; the Japanese architect who reads the land which a house is to be built on, in order to protect it from evil forces ; the zoologist who reads the excrements of animals in the forest; the card player who reads a partner’s expression before playing a winning card ; the danser who reads the choreographer’s indications, and the public which reads the danser’s indications on the stage ; the weaver who reads the complex designs of a carpet which is being woven; the organist who simultaneously reads several lines of a musical score which are orchestrated on the page ; the parents who read signs of joy, of fear or of astonishment on their baby’s face ; the Chinese seer who reads the antique marks on a tortoise’s shell ; the lover who blindly reads the beloved body, at night, beneath the sheets ; the psychiatrist who helps patients to read their enigmatic dreams ; the Hawaiian fisherman who reads marine currents by plunging his hand in the water ; the farmer who reads what the weather is going to be like ;
– all of them share with the reader of books, the art of deciphering and of translating signs. Some of these readings are coloured by the idea that the object read was created for this specific purpose by other human beings – music, for example, or roadsigns and markings – or by the gods – the tortoise’s shell, the evening sky. The others come under the idea of chance. And, however, in each one of these cases, the reader is the one who reads the meaning : the reader is the one who recognizes or attaches to the object, the place or the event a certain readability ; it’s up to the reader to ascribe a meaning to a system of signs and then to decipher it. All of us, we read ourselves and we read the world around us in order to perceive what we are and where we are. We read to understand, or to begin to understand. We can only read. Reading, almost as much as breathing, is our essential function.
Hubert NYSSEN – Lira bien qui lira le dernier – lettre libertine sur la lecture (ed. Labor/ ed. Espace de libertés, 2004) p.43 …It isn’t enough to know how to read, to be able to read (…) if we weren’t prepared by our education, be it partial or social, we can only find deception, and worse, seeds of hostility, in reading. Giving a book to someone who doesn’t know how to read amounts to turning that person away from books for a long time, if not forever. p.44 … never confuse getting someone to read, with learning to read, the demonstration of reading, with literacy.
A l’origine M. Joly, Introduction à l’analyse de l’image, p.22-3. « Let’s begin by the etymology of the word « semiotic », and with that of the word « semiology », a term which is also used frequently. It should be pointed out briefly, though, that it is relatively more complex, that these two terms are not synonyms, as such : the first one, of American origin, is the canonical term which designates semiotics as the philosophy of language. The use of the second, of European origin, is more involved with the study of specific languages (images, gestural, theatre, etc.). These two nouns were created from the Greek word séméion which means « sign . (…) The idea of putting together a science of signs, named therefore, from the beginning, either semiology or semiotics, and which would consist of studying the different types of signs which we interpret, of drawing up a typology, of finding the laws of operating, of different categories of signs, this idea is recent and goes back to the beginning of the century. The great precursors are the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, in Europe, and the scientist Charles Sanders Peirce, in the United States ».
Liliane Hamm, Lire des images, 1986 (livre épuisé), p.9. (…) Television, advertising, posters, comic books, films, images of all kinds and of all sorts accompany them(= students) from their first steps, often without their being offered any kind of effort of reflection or analysis which could come to their assistance, to enable them to transform an unorganized accumulation of vague impressions or at best a sum of more or less superficial learning into a structured and controlled body of knowledge. There are certainly not any « illiterates » of images, so to speak. Even a very young child already has an intuitive knowledge of an image, as soon as it is no longer perceived as a simple piece of paper, but as an authentic representation.
Liliane Hamm, Lire des images, 1986 (livre épuisé), p.9. The temptation could then be very great to lean only on this global and intuitive knowledge, and purely imitative practical experiences, to lead students to often very ambitious productions, using very sophisticated materials, but which often come to a dead end very quickly, once the keen interest for new things has subsided. Video recorders and movie cameras can then easily be put away in the closet, for not having led to the results which had been anticipated, and this is for lack of sufficient mastery of the image, of its language and its codes, which can only be acquired progressively, often by using more modest methods.