Lesson 6 Discovery Activity
The Language of Film

Outside the Theater: Analyzing Real-World Semiology

While semiology—the study of signs and their significance—first gained intellectual respectability in cinema studies, signs are everywhere in our culture. Equipped with our newfound acquaintance with semiology, let’s take a look at the real world around us.

Time Estimate

1 hour (or more)


Traffic signs are obviously a prime subject of study for semiologists. Here, as nowhere else, the power of the sign is vital—often, a matter of life and death.

Clothes are certainly the largest domain for semiology—everybody has them, and most people are trying to say something with them.

During the next few days, please pay particular attention to the semiology of the signs where you live and the clothes of the people around you. Write down what you observe.


Please post your responses to the following questions on the class message board.

  1. Is there a particularly dangerous example of signage where you live that you can describe for us? How could it be improved?
  2. Clothes are often simplistic fashion statements: maybe someone is wearing those Manolo Blahniks because she wants everyone to know she’s as hip as Carrie Bradshaw. Avoiding obvious examples like that (as well as generalizations and stereotypes), what have you noticed about clothing semiology this week that you found interesting?