This Means This, This Means That

Linguistics presents a friendly face in this user's guide to semiotics


Those who have tried to plough through the works of Ferdinand de Saussure or Jacques Derrida are likely to flee from anything with “semiotics” in the title—and with good reason. Without a significant amount of time and dedication, the field is nearly impenetrable. “This Means This, This Means That“, however, delivers on a promise to explain the obscure field of semiotics by way of example. Dedicating only one double-sided page per term, author Sean Hall has effectively distilled the essential vocabulary that underlies all semiotic thought.


The layout relies on a few apt examples rather than long-winded, technical explanations of linguistic terminology. Much in the way that John Berger’s famous “Ways of Seeing” series opened people’s eyes to visual language, this book challenges the reader to anticipate layers of meaning in common images. The Q&A layout engages readers to become more than simply receptive, teaching them to react rather than absorb. A simple question and an image conjure up associations and thought processes, and readers employ the tenets of semiotics as part of the experience.


Readers discover the role that cultural education plays in the way we understand representations in explanations throughout the book. You probably know more than you think, and Hall’s work has the added advantage of arming you with words like “paralanguage” and “intratextuality” to bust out at your next cocktail party. Those with a love of graphic design will find that a basic understanding of semiotics heightens their ability to read the layered texts of images.

The second edition of “This Means This, This Means That” releases 6 March 2012 and is available for pre-order from Amazon.