Understanding a Set of Texts as a "Sign"—The Peircean Perspective

I have already introduced the idea that one way of conceiving extended media representations (e.g. a set of texts from 27 April 2010 concerning the BP crisis) is as one discrete sign. This is not to deny that it is made up of myriad smaller signs, and it is this recognition that led me to use the metaphor of a “language map”—a single recognisable landscape made up of a number of distinctive features. I do not suggest that, say, 169 texts from 27 April 2010 are any more definitive a representation of the BP crisis at that time than another set of texts from another day. However, I do suggest that there is value in examining an agglomeration of representations about an entity as a sign in itself, and Peirce’s extensive definition of a sign cited at the start of this chapter would allow for such a view.

In summary, I propose that “signs” can refer to entire verbal representations of an entity, so a set of texts can be seen as a “sign” just as much as a single word, although the process for analysing large and disparate signs is more complex than that for analysing word- or phrase-level signs. In investigating the BP media texts, I was interested in how representations of a business crisis might change over time. This suggested examining the sets of texts (“signs” in my broad sense) in order to explore whether and how language choices differed between them. The procedures of this text examination have been explicated in detail—features of language have been identified and analysed at all four Barthesian levels of meaning. What the Peircean perspective of analysis permits is the broad envisioning of these sets of features as a sign.

At the most uncomplicated level, English-speaking people with access to news media on 27 April 2010 would have had access to a particular configuration of meaning about the BP crisis from the press. I describe this as a certain type of sign, in a Peircean sense. If we understand the representation of the crisis as a semiotic sign, which Peircean sign modes come to the fore with the passage of time? Does this way of looking at the linguistic representation of phenomena shed light on how shared cultural understanding is constructed in the case of a crisis?

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