The rich variety of signifiers

In his The Empire of Signs, Roland Barthes gives this description. For the same gesture of showing respect for the monarch, the subjects, both the officials and general populace in China in modern times showed their reverence for the emperor by kowtow, touching their foreheads to the ground while kneeing. By contrast, the princes and the aristocrats in the West would pay their deference by “bowing.” This is the convincing evidence that, for the same signified, there could be totally different signifiers to express and to convey that signified. At the same time, the different geographical environments and cultural contexts between the East and the West have resulted in the differences of the signifiers chosen. It is those differences that have enriched the condition of existence of the signifiers, allowing the signifiers to exist in a condition dominated by the circumstances of the age, society and culture in which the signifiers keep changing with the changes in historical conditions and contexts, reflecting the culture of particular historical periods and promoting the symbolic expression of particular cultures.

The increasing sophistication of the media technology also stands behind the growing diversity of signifiers. From the conventional media to the media of virtual reality, from the real-world life to the imaginative world of art, the signifiers in the present-day world are no longer confined to those ways of communication involving bodily movements like “kowtow” or “bowing” or to facial expressions or verbal speech. Rather, there is an infinite variety of signifiers, which involve the use of signs of written language, signs of verbal speech and signs of pictorial images, all of which combine to project a most colorful world. Within every system of signs, a number of signifiers combine to form collaborative communication and construct a gigantic system of signs. Those signifiers serve to preserve and transmit social customs and habits, inherit and extend cultural heritages and in the meantime establish new channels of communication with the recipients.

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