Communicating with the semio is better!

🇬🇧 French Version

After a real Masterclass at Club We Are COM and our article # 1 “Semiology, essential for communication! », on the cerebral processes inseparable from any attempt at communication, semiology certainly has no secrets for you! 🚀 However, in what way does this science of language - and not only - apply to our professional life as communicators? What are the new uses? What are the new signs? The new words? Elodie Mielczareck, renowned semiologist, enlightens us on the challenges of flawless communication. Ready? 🤗

Can you briefly remind us of the stages of the semiological method?

First of all, let us remember that semiology is interested in all types of signs: whether they are written, heard, non-verbal, or even symbolic. Intentional or unwanted. 

Language is a system of signs expressing ideas and, therefore, comparable to writing, the deaf-mute alphabet, symbolic rites, forms of politeness, military signs, etc. It is only the most important of these systems. We can therefore conceive of a science which studies the life of signs within social life; (…) We will call it semiology (…). She would teach us what signs are, what laws govern them

Ferdinand de Saussure, father of semiology.

The semiological approach is like an “iceberg”. It starts from the most visible and manifest of communication, to then dive into deeper (or even buried) values:

1. Formal approach: starting from the visible sign and its signifier (the concrete material of the sign). This is the tip of the iceberg, the most variable dimension of communication.

2. Narrative approach : dig into the intermediary and take an interest in what is being told this time (what mythology, what storytelling)? This level of analysis responds to both variability and permanence phenomena. 

3. Axiological approach : understand the deeper meaning and bring out the structuring values ​​of the system. This is the proposed worldview, and the most permanent level. Indeed, cultures evolve, signs modernize, uses change, but the “reservoirs” of meaning remain the same. 

More concretely, how can we as communicators use semiology?

That advertisements help sell and manipulate consumers is not of primary interest to semiology. It focuses more on the way advertising "speaks" and what it speaks in its messages, commercial, appellative, seductive and more or less aestheticized. Under these appearances are in fact inscribed other discourses than that of the product, where - unbeknownst to their designers - the representations and the social (cultural) and personal (narcissistic) messages, so so that no one can decide between them. Because behind every word, be it that of a group, looms a subject caught in the intertwining of its fictions and History. This is why some think that what does not want to know, sexual difference, death, the irreparable of this century (the Shoah), or the unnamable of each (e) are exhibited in advertising posters..

Anne-Marie Houdebine

It is indeed interesting to observe that communication is not necessarily mastered by the one who is at the origin.The role of semiology therefore consists in understanding what is expressed, without our having consciously taken it into account. Turning into a Sherlock Holmes of communication, by collecting words as clues, here is a good way to make sense emerge (and ask the right questions). 

More precisely, what are the areas of analysis on which semiology is based?

There are multiple universes, both complementary and different: 

  • > Verbal Identity : what is the language of the company? Does it have a manifesto, a language charter? What are the brand values? The raison d'être of the company?
  • > Behavioral identity : How is management behaving? How is the tribe organized? What is the nature of the customer relationship?
  • > Symbolic identity : What is the founding myth of the company? What is his current storytelling? The one of tomorrow?
  • > Visual identity : By what signs do the brand, or the company, be recognized? How do they differentiate themselves from their competitors? 

What about semiology in the news?

Today, more than ever, words speak of evils. Each word is a linguistic bias, at the crossroads of multiple factors: emotional, psychological, ideological ...

The year 2020 was certainly tough from a human point of view, but it is nonetheless fascinating from a linguistic and semiological point of view. She confirmed to us the fact that the tongue is a living organ. We have been able to observe the appearance of new words, neologisms and even the return of certain old terms, carrying new meanings. 

« Containment Is a word from the past brought up to date. As for " re-containment ", or " self-containment », Constitute new language acceptances. Let us remember that the language does not belong to anyone, it is not fixed but is constantly evolving, depending on its speakers. Our language is not that of the dictionary, or of the French Academy. For example, if academics have decided that the term " Covid "Would be feminine, we observe that many speakers prefer to say" the covid ", rather than " the covid ". However, for the linguist, it is always the use of the word which wins before the standard of the language. 

Also observe these new words - mirrors of our realities: " Ok Boomer! "," Reassurance " or " Solastalgia ". This last term, more meaningful than ever, evokes the unpleasant feeling, the inner sadness, facing the events of the future. It is in a way the antonym of the " nostalgia ". This unheard-of term testifies to an unfortunately growing feeling among the population. Synonym of " eco-anxiety », This new word is the index of an evolution of the real. It is not just a concept: it is linked to a new lived experience. 

More concretely, brands are surfing on these new forms of language. The Slogans and advertising campaigns are based on what we experience every day. To name just a few, based on the work of the Slogan Observatory, here are some brands that do not hesitate to evoke the pandemic: 

  • > " Chill at your house ! "- Ikea
  • > "To defend your purchasing power, Marque Repère freezes its prices until the end of the containment. "- E.Leclerc
  • > "The truth must never be hidden. "- UNESCO
  • > "With Bricomarché, we give you all the tools to succeed in your deconfinement ! "- Bricomarché  

Today, how do we choose our words so that they are close to our audiences? 

A word is invariably located at the intersection of five complementary dimensions:

  • > Physiological : a word is articulated, it has a beginning and an end, what we more commonly call a "phrase". The latter is scalable, however, the image is expressed as a single block. 
  • > History : a word is above all an etymological and cultural heritage. It has a phylogenetic history, it is nuanced according to its different meanings and connotations. 
  • > Psychology : the word is a personalized index according to the sensitivities specific to each one: the semiotypes. 
  • > Symbolic : depending on the times and events, a word can be invested or divested of its symbolic capital. 
  • > Ideological : what fantasy is hidden behind a use? Each word is part of a specific, filtered and imaginary representation of the world. 

It is interesting to observe that the frequency of use of a word is inversely proportional to its semantic load. Adverbs or even prepositions, which are very present in language, do not have a strong meaning. While the term, " prison ", It makes sense instantly. I would cite a more current one, that of " containment ". Its semantic load diminishes as we use it. 

The whole difficulty for the communicator is to find the right balance between the words “pivots”: used enough to serve as a reference, but not too much so as not to lose semantic load. Indeed, words can become "zombies": completely hollowed out of their initial meaning, or conversely, too full of abstract values. For example, the word " radical " just " the root ", Is" radicalize "It is therefore, initially," to go to the root of things ": an unintelligible meaning in the current context. Conversely, the word " democracy », Is not hollowed out, it is too full of fantasies and projections: everyone puts their own enchanting definition.

What are the good practices for meaningful communication? 

An “authentic” communication, in other words carrying a strong and equivocal meaning, is the reverse of what we know today as “langue de bois”.. It can be defined as a hollow, rigid and frozen speech. Here are other uses to be handled with care: 

  • > Pleonasms, often made up of a couple "noun + adjective", and which scramble the real: " social justice "," participative democracy "Etc. 
  • > The oxymorons, to be used with moderation (otherwise they will drive you crazy), make it possible to reconcile two opposing realities: “ GDP felt "- Read the article – (addition of the psychological dimension), “ sustainable development, (instead of the word " ecology "), Etc. 
  • > Performative expressions are deeply embodied, they modify reality: " I am touched by what you tell me "," I declare you husband and wife "... 
  • > Some expressions are, say "Switches". Both frequently and intensely used, they remain the bearers of a powerful emotional charge: " me too "," the big family "...
  • > Others impersonal turns, lose all incarnation, the famous "YAKAFOKON", typical of the language of wood in which the speaker is disengaged.
  • > Note that in our everyday conversations, some forms of politeness are semantically weak, but preserve the speaker's "face": " I am honored to talk to you »
  • > Finally, the absence of a word is also an element of language. And sometimes it's even the most effective. The unsaid can be as eloquent as the said. Take as an example Emmanuel Macron, who during his speech on the announcement of the first confinement, preferred to use the term " curfew ». 

The final word ?

Finally, I would like to add that the tongue-in-cheek phenomenon is far from being only verbal. Observe the packaging of a can of Coca-Cola : its vertical font, as well as the curved line - refined in the middle - which runs through the bobbin from top to bottom, are reminiscent of an hourglass figure. Yet who would think of staying slim while drinking a soda? Here is how the combination of the signs refer - in a manipulative way of course - to the famous "magical thought". And our human brains seem to be wired to worship fictions and be fond of these signs, which are perceived subconsciously. 

Elodie Mielczareck,

Passionate semiologist, body language specialist and strategic consultant for companies.

Visit his site to go further

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