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Variety of Meanings of Symbols in Different Cultures

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The tricky part of using symbols in appeals such as advertisements is that the meanings of symbols are built upon the cultural ideas and values of the society in which they’re produced. Meaning is transferred as a result of the understanding of the symbol as well as the way that this symbol is used in association with other symbols that also depend, to a large extent, on the understandings of this same society. The clues that are conveyed through these combinations of images educate the audience regarding how they should feel about various things. This is true whether the symbols are used to sell a product or to illustrate a story. By studying the visual clues presented through these combinations of symbols, an individual can gain a deep understanding of what the company, artist or illustrator is attempting to convey about themselves and social values. Since the symbol has to be understood by the public in order to effectively send an understandable message, there is an interactive cause and effect relationship involved in each symbol used in which the audience both determines the content and is instructed by it. This type of examination of how symbols are used and combined is what Roland Barthes called semiotic analysis. To fully understand the significance of the symbol and the way in which it can convey different meanings depending upon the society in which it is used, it is necessary to establish a fundamental vocabulary for the subject before applying it to specific examples.Essentially, the science of semiotics is an examination of symbols used in a particular culture or context to discover its meaning at various levels. “Semiology therefore aims to take in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits. images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment: these constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification” (Barthes, 1964).