Author Archives: Shujun Wei

Identify Cultural Reference in Persona 5’s UI Design, and Why It Immerse Gaming Experience


Persona 5 is a Japanese role-playing game produced and released by Atlus in 2017. After its release, it received critics’ and gamers’ acclaim, especially in term of its user interface (UI) design. Using Persona 5 as the case, the essay explores the cultural references used in Persona 5 using the Peircean model of semiotics, and further investigate how cultural references in UI design can add to the immersive experience of gamer by employing the conceptualization of hybridization, affordance of digital media, and general study of user interface.


The user experience design (UI) is an emerging and multidisciplinary technology field involving semantic studies, graphic design and cognitive psychology in the field of human-computer interaction. When interfacing users, UI allow users to give instruction and providing means for them to interact with computers. Such exploitation implies that the effectiveness of UI design heavily relies on the perception of users to be recognizable of an interface’s functions, which presupposes social-cultural factors in users’ abilities to interface.

Video games, naturally, is one of the field that depends on high-quality UI design to upstaging gaming experience. While gamers are subject to the immersive exposure to completely artificial settings, culture background plays an integral role in affecting how they will perceive and recognize the game world. This essay will discuss how developers integrate cultural factors into game UI design and how it effects the gaming experience using mainly Persona 5 as the example to conduct the investigation.

Why Persona 5? An introduction and justification

As Sony PlayStation introduces,

“Persona 5 is a game about the internal and external conflicts of a group of troubled high school students – the protagonist and a collection of compatriots he meets in the game’s story – who live dual lives as Phantom Thieves…Ultimately, the group of Phantom Thieves seeks to change their day-to-day world to match their perception and see through the masks modern society wears.” (PlayStation)

Persona 5’s success has been well testified by its sales and criticisms. Its production company, Atlus, has announced that by December 2017, Persona 5 has sold out 200 million copies including digital and physical ones, which was an incomparable success compared to the gross sales of its antecedents, Persona 3 and Persona 4. (Newstex) The famous gaming media, Game Informer also gave it a rating of 93 out of 100, adding the comment that “You become a resident of Persona 5 the more you play it, and it has the rare ability to transport in a way few games can.” (Game Informer) The top-notch sense of immersion is what draws gamers to dive in and empathize with the story and gameplay, and a huge part of it comes from its UI design, which corresponds perfectly with other aspects of the game. One of the well-known video game media, Polygon, claimed that the game is “sleek and meticulously polished, from the gameplay to the menu UI.”

It is worth mentioning that many opinion articles about Persona 5’s UI design has spoken highly of the popular culture influences it use in its UI design. Rhan, a columnist at, has detailed some of the popular design in Persona 5. As a renowned video game specifically acclaimed of its UI design, and also as a game using many pop cultural references, studying Persona 5 can grant us insights into how the cultural references are implemented in UI design and how its efficiency can be explained. (Rhan)

In-depth analysis of pop culture references in Persona 5

Any further insights of Persona 5’s UI design cannot be obtained without digging into examine Persona 5 as a whole. The plot of Persona 5 is carried out around rogue, a concept running throughout the name of the protagonist’s coalition, the main storyline and the major in-game fighting mechanics. In the game, rogues are the hidden occupation of protagonists and his companion in the underworld and their ethos of fighting injustice: by stealing “treasure”, a concretized desire of corrupted individuals from their “palace” formed by their distorted libidos in the cognitive world. Only by theft rather than killing cognitive individuals inside palace can villains confess their crimes and rehabilitate instead of dying to psychosis. Therefore, the underworld costume of the protagonist is a typical rogue design: long coats, long pants, red gloves and most significantly, white mask, to translate romanticism into the design of a polished, determined protagonist look. (Biaustein, 26)

Another consistent idea in the theme of Persona 5 is punk. Following the same spirit implied by the “phantom thief” idea, Atlus intently added punk influences into its art concept to flaunt the free, edgy persona of the main characters. In its official artbook, The Art of Persona 5, the lead artist specifically talks about his design of protagonist is to “demonstrate the punk-like attitude” on him. When players control him, his appearance and action can surely bring out the inner punk from people participating in the game, illustrating a sense of rebellion against repressive social orders. (Biaustein, 21)

The application of the two cultural references can be observed by relating the visual elements to the cultural reference of rogue and punk attitude. The cultural references are implemented by employing associated elements that serves as a symbol into the visual design. In regard to a methodology of unveiling the relationship between cultural references and visual design, the Peircean model of semiotics can be applied to better interpretation the relationship between icons and meanings.

Two essential terms within Peircean model, simplifier and simplified, are practical to conduct visual analysis of Persona 5’s UI. Inside the Peircean model, A sign that stands for something is the representament; an inference made from the initial sign is an interpretant; an object is something beyond the sign. Also, three relationships can be observed between a representament and its object or its interpretant; however, only the icon/iconic relationship, in which mode the representament is perceived to resemble the interpretant or object, will be used as the conceptualized foundation to interpret the cultural factors beneath Persona 5’s UI. (Chandler, 18)

The image below, the main menu of Persona 5, will be used to analyze the semiotic relationship between the two major cultural references, rogue and punk, to the designing mechanic in the aspects of color scheme, underlying patterns, and typography.

First, the color scheme of Persona 5’s UI is deeply reflective of the punk culture. According to a panel discussion, Atlus revealed the secret behind Persona 5’s UI design: for each of the Persona series, a main colors set is chosen to identify the game. For Persona 5, black and red is chosen to represent the passion and energy of the characters.

In order to express this consistent idea in its design, Persona 5 did not even use other colors except for HP/MP elements to make the black/read color duo as distinctive as possible. (siliconera)

This design, as shown in the picture below, is very effective in recalling the punk spirit from last century. The color scheme is concurrent to what is prevalent among 80’s punk rock band, from the Dead Kennedys to Black Flags to Misfits. (Kim) Therefore, Persona 5’s UI is the representament of past punk icons, whereas the punk culture is an object reflective of Persona 5’s ideology. The semiotic relationship between Persona 5’s UI and punk rock indicates the heavy influence it received from pop culture, and how Persona 5’s UI is reminiscent of the punk culture indicates how well audience can interpret and accepted the cultural reference.

In another aspect, some of the basic patterns, such as stars in the background, exemplify a hypnotic, tricky nature that resonates with “phantom thieves” spirit. To recognize what this repetitive, monotonous pattern represent, the trace of its immediate object, which means the object can be discovered in what is conceived of optical illusion. Optical illusion refers to the discrepancy between what people see and what is reality caused by certain phenomena. (Bach) Typical optical illusion prone image often has dream-like, repetitive but distortive patterns as the photo below. This has much resemblance to the stars lying in the background of Persona 5, which remind audience of rich cognitive psychology backstory and the deceptive nature of the protagonist’s deeds. The optical illusion also serves as a direct object of Persona 5’s UI, and it in turns become an icon for illusion and trickery.

Last, the typography is also an exact reflection of the punk spirit, employing the irregular font and English in menu all at once. The font is highly reminiscent of 80’s punk fanzines. (Rhan) The picture below, a fan-made Sex Pistol zine can directly manifest how much Persona 5 has be deeply influenced by the style of punk fanzines: the irregular, intrusive font is nearly inherited from the font of “Sex Pistol.” The nostalgic punk fanzines are also the immediate objects of Persona 5’s UI, which will make users immediately relate to relevant cultural schema and recognize the reference.

It is notable that in Peirce’s theory, the basis of an iconic relationship between representament and object is on perceived resemblance. This can also mean that to establish an icon, the person must have active perception subject to his past experience and acknowledgement. Such foundation cannot exist without the socio-cultural influence, which further attest to the cultural factors in Persona 5’s UI. (Chandler, 38)

How it immerses Gaming Experience?

The active employment of Cultural Factors inside Persona 5 can also shed us some light on how this particular approach of UI design can possibly affect gamer’s experience. While some of the positive reaction from gamers can be easily detected, the essay strives to reveal more insight into positive gaming experience by using from hybridization and user interface design theories to offer a conceptual explanation.

The positive gaming experience may come from the encouragement of sociability. The first general idea stems from the affordance of digital media, in which it generally encourages more social participation. To achieve this goal, computer has affordance that invite people to interact in a transparent way. As stated by Murray, “A large part of digital design is selecting the appropriate convention to communicate what actions are possible in ways that human interactor can understand.” (Murray, 48) Appropriate convention can mean accessible icon or representament that cue specific, desired audience to be conscious of and actively participate into the social conversation. In the case of Persona 5, people who actively identify as enthusiastic punk lover can accurately detect the punk convention inferred by Persona 5’s UI design, thus further motivated by their gaming experience and actively shared the experience within the community.

Another insight is obtained from the hybridization nature of digital media as well as user interface, which offers more diverse experience and perceptions for audience. The development of new media technology enables the storage of more data pre-set and more pre-recorded models to be hybrid into new forms of presentation to form “novel combination of media types of new species”. (Manovich, 44) Through the process of reinvention and recombination of different media elements, new ways of representation can be discovered and in turn fulfill and diversity the media space. Meanwhile, it is necessary to note that “the hybrid do not necessarily have to involve a ‘deep’ reconfiguration of previously separate media languages and/or the common structures of media objects.” (Manovich, 189) This statement means that referencing and incorporating pre-existing media objects into the design of new media work can also count as hybridization and can also enrich meanings and representations generated from different media forms. As punk culture and optical illusion prone images are well-established elements, the UI derived from the two cultural phenomena can still be incorporated into UI design to form an exclusive, stylish design that fulfill the context of Persona 5 and in a degree, transcend the traditional notion of UI as it has the potential to develop into a narrative. As Rhan claims, “UI and UX are a part of storytelling, and can reinforce a product’s overall narrative and themes. Designers are storytellers.” (Rhan) When UI becomes a part of the narrative of the game, it has the potential to stand out as a media object that express distinctive value and brand itself, rather than being generic and easily absorbed into other grand narratives.

And the previous analysis leads to the discussion of what Manovich regards as some insights about good graphic user interface design. First, “the new interface should also make use of emotive and iconic mentalities.” (Manovich, 98) Cultural references can be powerful in fully mobilize the two mentioned mentalities of human, as fully exemplified by the punk culture: people will be reminded of the turbulent youth who is reckless, free, motivated and righteous. Specifically, in Persona 5’s UI, the sharp contrast between black and red is effective in elicit intense reaction from users, as is indicated from the object it reflects: punk culture, which means reckless, free, righteous youth. Also, the unique design of the UI adds a new experience of discovery to users. When they are fascinated by the design of the impeccably stylish UI of Persona 5, people will potentially be inspired by it and thus embarking on a new journey of discovery. Manovich make this clearer in his statement, “It is successful because it was designed to help them think, discover, and create new concepts using not just on type of mentality but all of them together.” (Manovich, 219) This proves that good UI design can immerse the experience, emotion and motivation of users and audiences; furthermore, in the case of Persona 5, the emotional and iconic capabilities afforded by its design can enable the users to spontaneously to search for new information and to enrich the Persona 5 context.


Persona 5’s UI design has extensively referred to punk and rogue culture, and its implementation is based on the iconic relationship between such cultural references and color scheme, visual patterns, and typography. The obtained success and efficacy of culturally referred UI design in immersing gamers’ experience can be explained by the digital media’s affordance of social participation, enrichment brought by hybridization, and how user interfaces should be designed to be emotive and iconic.


Persona 5 hits another milestone, sells 2M copies worldwide (2017). . Chatham: Newstex. Retrieved from

Janet Murray, Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Dover, Shane. “The Punk Spirit of ‘Persona 5’ – A Look at Persona Through Punk Culture.” Goomba Stomp, 25 Apr. 2017,

Kim, Matthew. “The Japanese Punk of Persona 5 Is Its Most Defining Trait.” Polygon, Polygon, 17 Apr. 2017,

“Atlus Reveals The Design Secrets Behind Persona 5’s Distinctive UI.” Siliconera, 13 Nov. 2017,

Bach, Michael. “Optical Illusions & Visual Phenomena.” Rotating Face Mask,

“The UI and UX of Persona 5 – Ridwan Khan.” Ridwan Khan, Ridwan Khan, 25 Apr. 2017,

Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Excerpts.

Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command, pp. 55-239

“Persona 5.” Playstation,

“Persona 5 Review – The Triumph Of Thievery.” Game Informer,

Blaustein, Jeremy. The Art of Persona 5. DK/Prima Games, a Division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2017.

Reinvestigate Google Art Project

Personally, I’ve never heard of Google Art Project, and I prefer physically to be inside museums and see paintings physically in front of me, which always thrill me because I am able to witness the masterpiece by myself. However, after I searched and opened Google Art Project, I found it beyond my expectation since I can receive recommendations and feature stories about the type of arts I like, and I can have more informed choices of seeing arts. For example, I am a huge fan of Picasso, so when I searched his name on Google Art Project, it presented me his biography and critiques of his work, which I find very useful for amateur art viewers like me to be more educated in terms of art history.

On a semiotic level, what I can derive from the layout and contents of Google Art Project is that it is very different from the traditional art space we see. In the traditional art space, albeit the innovation made this year trying to make traditional art more relevant among young people and geeks, it is a secluded place where you walk in and feel the space and time is halted. It is designed to make you feel somewhat isolated and only talk about and think about art. Whereas Google Art Project is designed in a way consistent with almost every pop culture related, trendy website. It does not seek to exclude, rather it strives to be included.

In addition, how Google Art Project was designed and programmed reflect a new trend in arts: in the era of mass production, code and page layout can be massively replicated. Thus, it no longer establishes fine arts as some kind of luxury or rarity, on the contrary, it becomes a surplus when every piece of artwork is within touch.  When art reproduction is easily enabled by technology, the public’s meditation of art should have also changed since art is now also a mass-produced commodity and subject to people’s perception of value.

Also, the digitalization of artwork means that art can be unrestricted by social class. In the past, art can only be appreciated among well-educated and affluent people (considering museums usually are situated in the most gentrified areas). Now that artworks can be retrieved anytime and anywhere because of Google Art Project, art can now be seen and reinterpreted by more people from their distinct points of view, which offers an opportunity to revamp traditional arts and artist and appoint modern meanings to the older one.



Thoughts on Google Art Project

Personally, I’ve never heard of Google Art Project, and I prefer physically to be inside museums and see paintings physically in front of me, which always thrill me because I am able to witness the masterpiece by myself. However, after I searched and opened Google Art Project, I found it beyond my expectation since I can receive recommendations and feature stories about the type of arts I like, and I can have more informed choices of seeing arts. For example, I am a huge fan of Picasso, so when I searched his name on Google Art Project, it presented me his biography and critiques of his work, which I find very useful for amateur art viewers like me to be more educated in terms of art history.


On a semiotic level, what I can derive from the layout and contents of Google Art Project is that it is very different from the traditional art space we see. In the traditional art space, albeit the innovation made this year trying to make traditional art more relevant among young people and geeks, it is a secluded place where you walk in and feel the space and time is halted. It is designed to make you feel somewhat isolated and only talk about and think about art. Whereas Google Art Project is designed in a way consistent with almost every pop culture related, trendy website. It does not seek to exclude, rather it strives to be included.


Python and Symbols

When I first looked at Python, I could recall many math curricula I have taken. In my opinion, Computation is a way to manipulate logic based on mathematical rules and symbols. However, most mathematical problems have only one solution and outcome each, but as for computation, multiple solutions can be given to one simple problem based on how you articulate the logic flow. That’s the most intriguing and confusing matter for me to understand computation: although the process of solving a math problem constrict your undertakings and ushers you to find the only true answer to it, the process of computation, which is based on math concepts and methodology, does not limit your approach to resolving a problem.

Also, I’m interested in if different coding language can be applied to solve the same problem. I noticed that JavaScript and Python have some same functions such as printing a string; given that any code language is a symbol system constructed on a set of rules, it can be possible that the same problem can be addressed and resolved by different coding languages as long as the algorithm underlying all solutions are viable. However, my limited knowledge of computation circumscribes to explore further on the possibility of solving the same problem using different coding languages.

I am also captured by the idea of computation as the manipulation of symbol systems. For me, insofar the course has proceded, I have acknowledged that everything has meaning, certainly including computation, but I still want to figure out a way to interpret the meaning behind computation. I hope to be equipped with the methodology to extract the meaning behind any meaning system and reexamine them with semiology.


Jeannette Wing, “Computational Thinking.” Communications of the ACM 49, no. 3 (March 2006): 33–35.

How iPhones interface

From my perspective, an artifact is forever interfacing other objects since it cannot leave any sociotechnical system. When human design, invent and purpose an artifact, it bears the expectation that it will be utilized by human, thus its function must embody any mean to interact and interface users. Consequently, I think iPhone has in its root become a part of a sociotechnical system because human design it to be the mobile device that you can browse the Internet, answer the phone and receive and send text messages. It is so closely related to mundane life that it ought at least become some medium to document the huge sociotechnical and sociocultural system that host us.

Furthermore, an iPhone receive input from copious aspects from our daily life; when it outputs, it also transports almost everything we can imagine that is around us. an iPhone is the node to many subsystems, and the liaison that connects different social groups together for its accordance of communication and expression. How iPhone has affected our life is obvious in the past few years when people have got addicted to social media and rely on it to complete many rituals and practices, such as dating. iPhones themselves has also become a symbol in the pop culture as a representation of your social class and ideology. Thus, iPhone is the incarnation of how technology and society interact.

Coexistence of the old and the new

When media are trying to constantly reconfiguring, retranscribing it self from the old to the new, I don’t think the “old” media will finally die out. One way to think of this is that people are always locked in to their old habits. The baby boomers still keep their habits of listening to videos when driving, and reading newspapers daily. The old media presentation will probably be delegated gradually rather than immediately shifting to the new presentations.

The recent years witness some shift from the traditional media landscape to the new, digital ones. One factor distinct in the process is the developmental strategies of media corporations that determines if they are going to be revolutionary or not. Although it is obvious that the new generation are more accustomed to digital media and texts and graphics in new media forms are more portable and cost-efficient, the marketing strategies at corporate level can sustain a traditional media platform enough by appealing to the motivations of individuals. When a traditional media outlet want to survive in the digital-dominant media business scene of nowadays, its strategy becomes important as if what kind of brand image they want to build to attract younger customers or keeps appealing and being loyal to older customers, who in the past consume massive traditional media content and will continuously act this way.

The transitions and reconfigurations of media has not reached the political level where state will mandate and regulate the use of media forms; Now it still conforms to neoliberality and operates under the principles of free market. At micro level, whether to reconfigurate or not is still controlled by the free will of any entity, and is highly responsive to the behavior of their target consumers. However, it can also be foreseen that the new media will likely replace the traditional media in the near future because the new generation consumers is more digitally addictive and are more accustomed to new media presentations.


Regis Debray, Transmitting Culture, trans. Eric Rauth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Meanings transmitted during any communication process.

The signal-code-transmission model is useful for explaining phenomena happening on the micro level and how it turns into substrates and carry numerous amount of messages by decoding and encoding electric signals. In the views of contemporary contemplation on semiotics and information theory, the model seems a little bit outdated since it is not inclusive of the impact contexts (socioeconomic, cultural) in forming any messages. However, I don’t think the model fails on this aspect; it just needs more alternative explanations and extension.

From my own interpretation, the process of encoding already embodies the analysis of contextual information. As every piece of information carried by substrate is internally a symbol (Irvine indicated everything IS meaning), it already contains myriad of meanings contemplated by individual and society. Analysis of any single terms cannot be stripped off its context, just as one cannot live without its surroundings. For example, when any information regarding the 9/11 tragedy is electrically encoded to be digitally computed, it already embodies a certain degree of conception, subject to personal experience, of individuals who have his or her distinct perception of the event. The perception stems from the narrative of the event, nurtured by collective consciousness to construct the ‘context’ of the event. Thus, defining 9/11 as ‘tragedy’ already indicates that contextual information is also included in the specific information, underlying the representamen.

Also, I think how contextual meaning is circulated is also not necessarily excluded from the narrative of the information model. Shannon’s hypothesis lies upon the assumption that the encoding and decoding process of information should be engineered to reduce the entropy ( unpredictability), which also corresponds to, in my opinion, the development of society and culture. The formation of civilization, in a degree, is to ensure entity within its sphere of influence to have increasing welfare, therefore any unpredictable circumstances should be anticipated and circumvented. In this premise, we can apply the information model to the analysis of context given substrate and context abide the same principles of development. The source can be interpreted as changes in the macro level, and same efforted should also be given upon reduce the noise – unpredictable circumstances in the process of communication.


Martin Irvine, “Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information


Applying semiotic concepts to analysis of Japanese Anime

Relating to the works of Irvine assigned for this week, I want to apply semiotic concepts to analyze a Japanese Anime: Neon Genesis Evangeline and articulate my questions based on my understanding of the Anime and Irvine’s work.

The Anime tells a story happening in the near future ( in 2015 to be accurate, but it seems futuristic enough for people in the 90s), when  after a global cataclysm known as the Second Impact, teenager Shinji Ikari is summoned to the futuristic city of Tokyo-3 by his estranged father Gendo Ikari, director of the special paramilitary force Nerv. Shinji witnesses United Nation forces battling an Angel, one of a race of giant monstrous beings whose awakening was foretold by the Dead Sea Scrolls. The main plot unfolds following such background along with the companions and enemies that Shinji meets on his journey.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is acclaimed and controversial in its sudden overturn of its belligerent and patriotic first half after about its 14th episode. Its director, Hideaki Anno began to massively use flashback and montage techniques in these episodes to create a hypnotic ambiance, together with the conversation and interaction between major characters to reinforce the impression that Shinji saving the world is nearly impossible. Despair permeate through the latter half of the anime, with the last two episode even consisting of seemingly meaningless images that was compelled together to further confuse the audience. It probably has one of the most disputed yet profound ending scene in the anime history:

It seems like everyone is congratulating to Shinji on overcoming his weak and indecisive past self, yet judging from the plot trend of the second half, this most possibly means Shinji’s own delusion after merged into the sea of LCL, the final destine for every human being.

Also, the anime alludes to various concepts from religions, most notably from Bible. I think the Anime is worth discussing in terms of the generation of meaning, where the combinatoriality is most exemplified from religious idea stripped from its original text to produce new meaning in a media work and mass reaction which complexifies the media work by relating to their own personal experience and cultural background. Many interpretatives are generated in the process, and the meaning of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s dialogic nature is certain given the ambivalence of the director in expressing his idea and copious interpretations offered by the fanatic pursuers of the Anime.

Some questions:

How can Neon Genesis Evangeline be tied to the socioeconomic context of Japanese society in 90’s?

How different meanings are layered in Neon Genesis Evangeline?

How interpretatives of Neon Genesis Evangeline are collectively developed?


Martin Irvine, Introduction to Visual Semiotics

Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality

Semiotics and Movies

As I’m still a bit unfamiliar with the correct application of semiotic knowledge, I will try to use something I am familiar with, movie in this case, to illustrate my interpretation of Peirce’s model.

*Spoiler Alert*

The movie I will talk about is Call Me by Your Name, a mind-boggling movie depicting an overwhelming same-sex relationship in 80’s Italy and having scored many nominations during this award season.

When I read about the three modes of signs by Peirce, I immediately relate the theory to one of the most infamous scene in the movie, where one of the lover boys, Elio performs a sex scene with a freshly picked peach. He allegedly fathom the peach as an intimate body part of his lover Elio and caresses it with his fierce desire.

Image result for call me by your name peach

I would relate this scene to Peirce’s iconic mode of sign. Peach functions as the signifier there while the signified can be the intimate body part of the boy’s lover. This also makes me think of the ‘sexting’ culture, where the peach emoji is extensively used to refer human’s bottom; Obviously the public can associate a peach with a body part, so it must have some perceived resemblance.

Meanwhile, the use of peach can also exemplify how parallel structure grant infinity for signs and meanings. Under the context of this movie, the peach is not merely a peach, or a human body part. The director also alludes it to the pure and crude affection between the lovers. Of course, this is not what most of people think of when seeing a peach, but we should still see the possibility of the movie being popular, and the peach as a sign being incessantly disseminated, reconstructed and reciprocated to ultimately become sign for love and desire. For that scenario, mass communication is a catalyst for the production of meaning, which also shows how interpretants can be multiplied by communications, thereby generating numerous meanings.

As a takeaway, I guess art, media and music all have the potential to signify more objects or materials, and the sociocultural environment will eventually be a hodgepodge of meanings.


Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Excerpts.

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Signs, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics: Part I.”

Reflections on How Language Works

This week, the assigned readings altogether introduced some basic concepts of linguistic, which direct to solve the myth that how language works. A statement by Chomsky, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”, as an example of language’s capability of producing syntactically sound but sensibly incoherent meanings, is mentioned several times by different authors. Pinker resides on the statement to illustrate the the old interpretation of language as word-chain device, which has potential to create infinite meanings through combinatorial mechanisms.

From this reflection, I recalled a computer program created by someone out of pranking purposes, allowing people to randomly pick several words from a given word list to automatically compose prose resembling postmodern or contemporary poetry. How this program operates perfectly epitomizes a manipulation of the word-chain device to use language. Nevertheless, how people laugh at the production of this program indicates that people are able to derive some meanings from any seemingly nonsense, and this implication is what I find somewhat paradoxical to the premise of linguistic. Even speaking of myself, when I first saw the statement by Chomsky, I actually attempted to grasp meaning out of it, although according to pinker, the sentence is utterly uninterpretable. I initially thought that the statement was just an artistic articulation using rhetorical devices to express an implicit meaning.

Therefore, I speculate that any semantic structures, if grammatically correct, are able to generate meaning to audiences. This is probably related to the unique ability of the human species to associate lexicons with subjects, and the ultimate acquisition of language enables anyone to interpret intangible subjects.

And yet, as a non-native speaker, my opinion cannot relegate to everyone whose mother language is English. I wonder if the derivative of meaning is related to social evolution so that how people master a language is constantly changing? Since the notion, our faculty of language always links to subjects, and discovery and invention of new artifacts undoubtedly will enrich our cognition about the outer world. Our utilization of language will probably also be affected by our surroundings, subject to social and cultural changes.

In addition, mass media also potentially affect the usage of language. Proliferation of creativity on mass media has stimulate people’s ability to encode infinite mass of messages from finite units, which in turn aggravate the audience’s ability to decode more easily and inventively once exposed to a cornucopia of explosive information.


Andrew Radford, et al. Linguistics: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Excerpts.

Steven Pinker, “How Language Works.” Excerpt from: Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, 1994: 83-123.