In the area of linguistics, the debate whether language is a “master symbolic switch” that triggers the development of other symbolic systems in human minds or it is just an implementation of a comprehensive symbolic system pre-installed in the brains is still not settled. Thus, applying the terms and models of linguistics to other meaning systems like visual and audio systems seems to be a way to testify the similarities and differences between the language and other media in a semiotic approach.
In the study of linguistics, language, which is a huge and complex system can be divided into a number of subsystems like phonology, lexicon, syntax, semantics, pragmatics and so on. Those subsystems interfaces with each other thus form a language, by which human being can communicate meanings to each other, as is stated in the parallel architecture developed by Ray Jackendoff. Those subsystems also form a hierarchy from microcosmic to macroscopic that governs delicately the whole system of a language.
Other symbolic systems also seem to have such hierarchies. Some may argue that painting, which is obviously a visual symbolic system, has shapes and colors as its “lexicon”, ways of join those basic elements as “syntax”, and meanings as “semantics” or “pragmatics”. Movie fans would say that movies can also fit into the model of language–shots and scenes form lexicon, and montage is an reflection of “syntax”, as well as the meanings that directors and producers try to convey can fall into the domain of either “semantics” or “pragmatics”.
But in my opinion, whether a symbolic system other than language can fit into the terms of language is based on a important criteria–can this systems produce infinite meanings using finite elements it has, which is one of the implications while using linguistic models for other symbolic systems. Unfortunately, those two example I put forward in the last paragraph do not meet this criteria. In painting, shapes can be arbitrary and a little change of hue can result in a different color. Thus, unlike language with finite lexicon and finite set of syntax, the basic elements for painting is infinite. Movies, as animated paintings, are even more complex a system that painting.
However, whether other symbolic systems can be put into the model of linguistics still remain to be seen. (I don’t think I can comment on the audio system for I am a way-below-average consumer of music.)
It may occur to some people that written Chinese with complex characters is to some extent like paintings. How can that be a language? The truth is, although some Chinese characters do simulate the shape of some objects while some others have something to do with pronunciation, the types of the strokes, which is the basic elements like letters in English words, are finite.