CS203– Questions Central to a Semiotic Analysis
From: Daniel Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners (http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/semiotic.html)

With only a few exceptions, these questions are Chandler's.

Identifying the Text

When you are doing a semiotic analysis,wherever possible, include a copy of the text with your analysis of it, noting any significant shortcomings of the copy. Where including a copy is not practicable, offer a clear description which would allow someone to recognize the text easily if they encountered it themselves. Briefly describe the medium used, the genre to which the text belongs and the context in which it was found.

Consider your purposes in analysing the text. This will affect which questions seem important to you among those offered below.

• Why did you choose this text?
• Your purposes may reflect your values: how does the text relate to your own values?
• Is it one among many copies (e.g. a poster) or virtually unique (e.g. an actual painting)?
• How does this influence your interpretation?
• What are the important signifiers and what do they signify?
• What is the system within which these signs make sense?

Paradigmatic Analysis

• To which class of paradigms (medium; genre; theme) does the whole text belong?
• How might a change of medium affect the meanings generated?
• What might the text have been like if it had formed part of a different genre?
• What paradigm sets do each of the signifiers used belong to? For example, in photographic, televisual and filmic media, one paradigm might be shot size.
• Why do you think each signifier was chosen from the possible alternatives within the same paradigm set? What values does the choice of each particular signifier connote?
• What signifiers from the same paradigm set are noticeably absent?
• What contrasted pairs seem to be involved (e.g. nature/culture)?
• Which of those in each pairing seems to be the 'marked' category?
• Is there a central opposition in the text?

Syntagmatic Analysis

• What is the syntagmatic structure of the text? How is the text structured? How does this structure (or lay-out, image organization, etc.) influence the way you can and will read it?
• How does one signifier relate to the others used (do some carry more weight than others)?
• How does the sequential or spatial arrangement of the elements influence meaning?
• Are there formulaic features that have shaped the text?
• If you are comparing several texts within a genre look for a shared syntagm.
• How far does identifying the paradigms and syntagms help you to understand the text?

Rhetorical Tropes

• What tropes (e.g. metaphors and metonyms) are involved?
• How are they used to influence the preferred reading?


• Does it allude to other genres?
• Does it allude to or compare with other texts within the genre?
• How does it compare with treatments of similar themes within other genres?
• Does one code within the text (such as a linguistic caption to an advertisement or news photograph) serve to 'anchor' another (such as an image)? If so, how?
• What semiotic codes are used?
• Which conventions of its genre are most obvious in the text?
• Which codes are specific to the medium?
• Which codes are shared with other media?
• How do the codes involved relate to each other (e.g. words and images)?
• Are the codes broadcast or narrowcast?
• Which codes are notable by their absence?
• What relationships does the text seek to establish with its readers?
• How direct is the mode of address and what is the significance of this? Does the text address the reader directly or indirectly? Does it encourage identification?
• What cultural assumptions are called upon?
• To whom would these codes be most familiar?
• What seems to be the preferred reading?
• How far does this reflect or depart from dominant cultural values?
• How 'open' to interpretation does the sign seem to be?

Social Semiotics, or Analysis of the Social Context of Sign Production and Consumption

• Who created the sign? Try to consider all of those involved in the process.
• Whose realities does it represent and whose does it exclude?
• For whom was it intended? Look carefully at the clues and try to be as detailed as you can.
• How do people differ in their interpretation of the sign? Clearly this needs direct investigation.
• On what do their interpretations seem to depend?
• How might a change of context influence interpretation?