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In
semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes (semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavior, in sociology ...

semiotics
, the commutation test is used to analyze a signifying system. The test identifies signifiers as well as their signifieds,
value Value or values may refer to: * Value (ethics) In ethics Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, E ...
and significance.


The commutation test

This test is a metalingual subjective system for analysing textual or other material. It has evolved from a limited method for investigating the structure of individual signs (per
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,
). Its primary uses are to: *identify distinctive signifiers, *define their significance, and *divide material into paradigmatic classes and identify the codes to which the signifiers belong (
Roland Barthes Roland Gérard Barthes (; ; 12 November 1915 – 26 March 1980) was a French literary theorist Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an a ...

Roland Barthes
). The initial assumption is that the communication to be analysed represents both a cognitive use of the sign system and a statement that refers to the values of the addresser. The purpose of the test is therefore to illuminate the addresser's intention in using the code in this particular way. It works through a process of substitution, assessing the extent to which a change in the signifier leads to a change in the signified. The first step, therefore, is to exclude one signifier from the material to be analysed. This is a test of redundancy: to identify what meaning is lost (if any) by omitting that sign. It will be relatively unusual to find that one sign is completely superfluous, but more common to find that the contribution of the one sign to the whole meaning is relatively weak. The weakness or strength of its contribution can be calibrated more exactly by placing alternate (synonymous and antonymous) signs in the context. This will enable the analyst to make a judgment on the distinctiveness of the particular signifier chosen by the author/artist and of its value to the meaning, i.e. as more or less necessary for maintaining the meaning and/or rule structure in different occurrences. By changing the collocation between two of the existing signifiers, and so changing their original relationship, the relative significance of each signifier can be considered. Further, by also placing the original sign into different contexts, it can be seen whether the sign becomes more or less distinctive.


The process

The nature of the process will be determined by the form of the media to be analysed. In textual or pictorial media where individuals are the theme of the content, this might involve a substitution of words that are synonymous, or of imagery parallel in classes representing age, gender, ethnicity, religion, ability, etc. to assess the extent to which overall meaning is affected. In visual media generally, substituting different mise en scènes or backgrounds may change the significance of objects or people in the foreground. Colour selections may affect the perceived attractiveness of the scene or of individuals whose clothing is changed. The presence or absence of branded or generic goods, of stylish or outmoded clothing, etc. may help to suggest the contribution of the original signifier. According to Daniel Chandler, the commutation test may involve any of four basic transformations which, to a greater or lesser extent, involve modification of the syntagm: *Paradigmatic transformations **
substitution Substitution may refer to: Arts and media *Chord substitution, in music, swapping one chord for a related one within a chord progression *Substitution (poetry), a variation in poetic scansion *Substitution (song), "Substitution" (song), a 2009 s ...
; ** transposition *Syntagmatic transformations **
addition Addition (usually signified by the plus symbol The plus and minus signs, and , are mathematical symbol A mathematical symbol is a figure or a combination of figures that is used to represent a mathematical object A mathematical object is an ...

addition
; ** deletion.


An example

Take the phrase: :the man hit the boy. Now substitute "boy" with "baby", "girl", "child", "pansy", "thief". Each of these alternatives affects the implication of the phrase. A "man" rather than a father or parent randomly striking a baby or girl might be considered sexist and a crime. If the boy was a thief, this would explain but not excuse the man's behaviour as retaliation or revenge. If the boy is a pansy which has
pejorative A pejorative or slur is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning ...
connotations of cowardice or homosexuality, the man may be intolerant or overly judgemental but the victim is also presented in a less sympathetic way. The use of child not differentiated by gender is a more common usage in the context of paedophilia. When the signifiers of boy and man are transposed, the relative inequality in strength is also reversed and the interpretation shifts to more playful and less threatening images. Hence, the subjective view may be that the phrase as originally conceived was the most neutral of the possible formulations given the original form. If we now contextualise the image in a school, seminary, prison, training gym or home environment different sets of meanings emerge depending on the presence or absence of other signifiers demonstrating the relationship between the protagonists, the time the image was created (a Victorian image of corporal punishment in a school would have a different significance from a more recent image of judicial caning in Britain, Canada or Singapore), the nature of the activity (e.g. a boxing training session or a game of tennis in which the blow is struck accidentally, etc.), the presence or absence of other people, etc.. The values are therefore added or subtracted according to the presence or absence of other signifiers.


Discussion

The first stage of development in semiotics related to the spoken and/or written form of
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...

language
. Later, it was expanded to cover all
sign A sign is an object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Entity, something that is tangible and within the grasp of the senses ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at ...
systems that have an
information Information is processed, organised and structured data Data (; ) are individual facts A fact is something that is truth, true. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is whether it can be demonstrated to c ...

information
al content. As
Umberto Eco Umberto Eco (5 January 1932 – 19 February 2016) was an Italian medievalistMedieval studies is the academic interdisciplinary study of the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted from the 5th t ...
says, "A sign is everything which can be taken as significantly substituting for something else." (1976) Semiotics studies the relationship between the form of the sign (the ''signifier'') and the
meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * Meaning (non-linguistic), a general ter ...
expressed (the ''signified''), and thereby attempts to reveal the process of communicating
understanding Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical thing, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to use concepts to model that thing. Understanding is a relation between the knower and an object of u ...

understanding
. In each case, a message is to be sent by an addresser to an addressee. For this to occur, the addresser and addressee must use a common
code In communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', mean ...
, Hence, language evolves dynamically. The
community A community is a social unit The term "level of analysis" is used in the social sciences to point to the location, size, or scale of a research target. "Level of analysis" is distinct from the term "unit of observation" in that the former refer ...

community
will identify a lexical thing that needs to be referred to in their language. By common agreement, a sign (sometimes called a ''signal'') will be selected. Of the many possible shades of meanings that it can be used to convey, one or more will be selected and ''encoded'', i.e. the chosen meaning(s) will be denoted or associated with the sign within the broader framework of
syntactic In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...
and
semantic Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another ...
systems available within the community. When the
audience An audience is a group of people who participate in a show or encounter a work of art A work of art, artwork, art piece, piece of art or art object is an artistic creation of aesthetic Aesthetics, or esthetics (), is a branch of philoso ...

audience
is exposed to the sign, the expectation is that they will be able to decode the meaning. As
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,
adds, there will also be an
emotion Emotions are psychological state A mental state is a state of mind that an agent is in. Most simplistically, a mental state is a mental condition. It is a relation that connects the agent with a proposition. Several of these states are a comb ...

emotion
al element or
value Value or values may refer to: * Value (ethics) In ethics Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, E ...
which represents the addresser's
attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology), an individual's predisposed state of mind regarding a value * Metaphysics of presence * Propositional attitude, a relational mental state connecting a person to a propo ...
towards the ''thing''. This will either become a connotative meaning attached directly to the sign itself, or it will be communicated by the context in which the sign is used by the addresser. In
lexicography Lexicography is the study of lexicon A lexicon is the of a or branch of (such as or ). In , a lexicon is a language's inventory of s. The word ''lexicon'' derives from word (), neuter of () meaning 'of or for words'. Linguistic th ...

lexicography
, the fact that a
neologism A neologism (; from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appro ...
is used marks its acceptance into the language. This will not be a difficult process so long as each sign has a limited and immediately useful meaning. The problem arises when several possible meanings or shades of meaning become associated with the sign. This is a shift from denotational to connotational meanings. Rules of interpretation are required to resolve uncertainty. Within the community, such rules are, for the most part, experiential and applied without conscious control. Members of a
community A community is a social unit The term "level of analysis" is used in the social sciences to point to the location, size, or scale of a research target. "Level of analysis" is distinct from the term "unit of observation" in that the former refer ...

community
have a shared
memory Memory is the faculty of the brain A brain is an organ Organ may refer to: Biology * Organ (anatomy) An organ is a group of Tissue (biology), tissues with similar functions. Plant life and animal life rely on many organs that co-exis ...

memory
of language
pattern A pattern is a regularity in the world, in human-made design, or in abstract ideas. As such, the elements of a pattern repeat in a predictable manner. A geometric pattern is a kind of pattern formed of geometric Geometry (from the grc, ...

pattern
s and
norm Norm, the Norm or NORM may refer to: In academic disciplines * Norm (geology), an estimate of the idealised mineral content of a rock * Norm (philosophy), a standard in normative ethics that is prescriptive rather than a descriptive or explanat ...
s which, for the most part, are stable over long periods of time.
Individual An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity An entity is something that exists as itself, as a subject or as an object, actually or potentially, concretely or abstractly, physically or not. It need not be of material existence. In ...
s are therefore able to build up a
cognitive Cognition () refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses many aspects of intellectual function Intellectual functioning refers to the "general men ...

cognitive
framework which identifies the possible meanings from any grouping of signs and selects one considered the most appropriate from the context. This
intuitive Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning. Different fields use the word "intuition" in very different ways, including but not limited to: direct access to unconscious knowledge; unconscious cognition; ...
system is continuously tested through the audience's responses. If the responses are satisfying, intuition prevails. If the responses are obviously inappropriate, the audience will consciously review the thought process and decide whether to modify the framework. Semiotics has developed a more precise methodology for this interpretive process, seeking to expose the unstated habitual practices for interpreting signifiers.


References

*Barthes, Roland. ''Elements of Semiology'' (trans. Annette Lavers & Colin Smith). London: Jonathan Cape. (1967). * Chandler, Daniel. (2001/2007). ''Semiotics: The Basics''. London: Routledge. *Eco, Umberto. "A Theory of Semiotics" (1976) (Original English version of Trattato di semiotica generale, 1975) {{DEFAULTSORT:Commutation Test (Semiotics)
Semiotics Semiotics is the study of sign (semiotics), signs (symbols) and signification systems, or rather semiotics are general theories of signs. Branches of linguistics Branches of philosophy {{CatAutoTOC ...