Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Week 4: Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics

In week 3, we have covered Semiotics although not entirely. As we now know, Semiotics is the study of signs and its meaning. However, that is just the general idea of it. Even if signs are being used, how come we can have the cutest idea of what a certain Visual image could mean? That’s why in this week’s journal I would like to emphasize on three aspects that would take us deep into Semiotics. Those three are Visual Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics.

According to Paul Martin Lester (2006), in journal called Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication, “Linguistic theorists categorically assert that since pictures are presentational and not discursive, they have no formal grammar. Without grammar, images cannot be considered a language.” (pp.3). Judging from the quoted statement above, it is easily understood that a visual cannot have a Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics. Then, how can we relate Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics to a visual image?

Syntax is defined as the combination of signs that makes sophisticated messages according to Paul Martin Lester (2006). What is meant by ‘combination of signs’ is that, syntax arranges the signs in a text to deliver the meaning of a text accurately. It works just like a grammar in a sentence. Syntax also has certain rules to make a text readable to the audience. Those rules are rules of composition, rules of color and rules of lines. These rules are the visual language of an image that can argue with the quotations above. The applicability of these rules will be explained further later on. For now, lets talk about Semantics and also Pragmatics.

In semiotics, we learn that signs can mean something but how so? This is what Semantics is all about. Semantics deals about the study of meanings of a visual image. Not only on a text but also on the details. From background color to the image being used to the style of the image. But we must take note that, the meaning of a sign is dependant on the other sign. According to Lester (2006), “de Saussure noted that the meaning communicated by a sign depends not on actual objects but on other signs. For him, a sign by itself means nothing.”(pp.6).  Semantics then is the method of how a visual communicator can derive meaning from a text.

For pragmatics, according to Lester (2006), “is the study of the origin, common uses and communicative effects of signs.” Dr. Chris had explained to us in his slides that “Signifiers that form a sign is Syntax. Semantics are the signified and the connotation of a sign. But meaning is determined by Pragmatics such as codes, modality, sender, receiver and context”. Simply put, is that before Semantics can achieve meaning, our ‘Pragmatical’ aspects is what defines certain meanings accordingly to what or how it is used in a text because certain text is used usually culturally or how it is socially constructed. It depends also on our interpretations.

The application of these three:

In terms if Syntax, this picture has the rules fixed in it. From what I can see is that, the color of the background is in a shade which completes the rules of colors in terms of contrast. A background of an image should not compete with the ‘model’ of the image. The rules of composition are also there where the puppy is sitting on a quarter to the right of the image. The picture also seems light and balanced cause I’m sure we are not tilting our heads right now looking at this image.

Upon semantics, what I can relate to the picture is that it gives me a sense of waiting. The puppy is sitting on the right-side while looking to the left does my theory. Its like it is looking for its owner to play or come to it. Pragmatics though can decode this picture to mean something like being left alone or ‘no ones coming’ because pragmatics is used differently according to the situation (in short) thus, I’d like to believe it to mean that way.

In conclusion, a Syntax is the way that signs are situated in an image that later can create meanings and delivers it accurately. While Semantics find the meaning of the text, in this case visual text, by studying about the details of an image and Pragmatics is what determines the meaning should be in a certain image. Hence, these three aspects are the ones which enables us to study an image thoroughly.


Lester, P. M. (2006). Syntactic theory of theory of the Visual Communication. Retrieved June 17, 2010 from Communication Faculty of Fullerton Unversity. Website: http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/viscomtheory.html

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