Semiotic School of Communication

The Semiotic School of Communication is a term coined by John Fiske in his book Introduction to Communication Studies. According to Fiske, their are two ways of studying communication, one being the process school and the other being the semiotic school. The process school, in short, is centered on the transmission of messages and understanding the effects of it. Fiske then describes the semiotic school and it’s importance in the study of communication and media. Fiske argues that the semiotic school focuses on communication being a production and exchanging of meanings. It researches how messages and texts interact with people, and how it studies text and culture. The semiotic school draws on linguistics, arts, and humanities while identifying itself with works of communication. The semiotic school believes social interaction happens when an individual is part of society compared to the process school where social interaction is defined when people relate themselves to others and/or affects the behaviors/state of mind of another. For the semiotic school, messages occur when the construction of signs produces meaning.


christian 1One example is the stop sign. When approaching a stop sign, the driver comes to a full stop and proceeds to drive again when they have the right-of-way. People produce meaning out of this numerous times to the point where they unconsciously stop without even having to think twice.

christian 2Another example is the V sign. Numerous cultures give meaning to this simple hand gesture. Here in America, it is commonly seeing as a peace sign, a photography pose, or the number “2”. But in other countries, the meaning people give the V sign can be the total opposite compared to America’s intended interpretation. Countries such as Australia and South Africa give meaning to this v sign as an insult and disrespect if put up in public settings. In Ethiopia, holding up the V sign means you are supporting a certain political party called “Kinijit.

christian 3This is a painting called “The Treachery of Images” painted by artist René Magritte. In the art piece, it shows a picture of a pipe followed by the words “This is not a pipe” in French. The audience has to decide of what meaning to make out of this painting. Should the audience go along with the text and believe that it is not a pipe? Or should the audience deny the text and instead give meaning to the painting by describing it as an accurate, realistic depiction of a pipe?

christian 4This diagram is intended to show where the male and female bathrooms are located. With just three shapes, people gave meaning to these signs to symbolize which gender was allowed to go to which restroom. No matter which part of the world you travel to, it is certain that most countries use the same figures regardless of the language and culture practiced in the region. If a certain gender enters the wrong bathroom, society would shame that person for not understanding the meaning and text of the bathroom figures.


Pokhrel, D. (2015, March 13). Fiske’s Typology: The Semiotic and process schools of communication theory. Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

Yuan, X. (2015, February 24). Media Theory & Meaning Systems (CCTP-748). Retrieved December 07, 2017, from

Image Attribution: The images used in this post is in the Public Domain.

Written by Christian Yosef, 2017.