In paragraph 3, look at the four squares [■] that indicate where the following sentence would be...

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Read the passage below, and answer the paraphrasing questions that follow.

Semiotics in American Pop Culture

The visual images, signs, and symbols, of pop culture are important for you to understand if you want to understand Americans. It is not enough to be able to speak and understand the language when you come to the U.S.A; you also need to be able to interpret the messages contained within the signs and symbols. These signs and symbols are shorthand representations of the culture’s abstract ideas and concepts. But how does one interpret these signs and symbols of a culture? Is there a road map?

The study and interpretation of signs and symbols is the province of a field known as semiotics. Semiotics is a special branch of communication studies, which specifically combines the techniques of sociolinguistic analysis with anthropological analysis. ■ When a person interprets a sign or symbol, that person engages in an act known as semiotic decoding. ■ An example of semiotic decoding is reading. ■ The words and letters are symbols that must be interpreted. To a semiologist, anything can be taken as a sign to be decoded and analyzed for meaning. ■

Semiotics, as a field of study, was formally established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries mainly through the writings and teachings of two men: Charles Sanders Pierce, an American philosopher and physicist, and Ferdinand de Sausurre, a Swiss linguist. Roland Barthes, a Frenchman, furthered the semiotic field in the 1950s by using semiotic techniques to analyze pop culture. To apply the theories of semiotics to pop culture is actually a lot of fun for anyone to do.

One area of interest in semiotics involves decoding the signs of cultural identity. A typical American university dormitory room or an American college student’s bedroom at home provides a good picture of the identity or profile of that person. What decorates the walls? Is it a picture of James Dean? Che Guevara? Madonna? It is a shot of Michael Jordan? What is on the shelves? A teddy bear collection? Or football paraphernalia? Is there a CD system in the room? What music titles are there? ■ Is there a predominance of sixties retrograde collections like the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Motown and the Doors? ■ Or seventies disco music or crossover country rock? ■ Or eighties rap and new wave? ■ Is it easy listening music, salsa, blues, jazz or soul? Is there a computer in the room? What type is it? A Macintosh® or a Dell®? All of these commercial symbols carry with them images and styles that suggest you are one type of person or another.

It is possible to conduct your own semiotic analysis. Every decoration choice a person makes in a room tells us something about that person’s identity. Remember, a cultural sign gets its meaning from the system in which it appears. Its significance does not lie in its usefulness but rather in its symbolism—in the image that it projects, and that image always has a social significance. To decode what is in a person’s room, you have to ask what that person is trying to say with these objects—and what that person wants other people to think about him or her. Try doing this with one of your friends.

Americans often refer to different decades in our history when certain fads or fashions were in vogue. The decade or time frame in which a given style was popular provides the key to the system for explaining it. ■ Evian® water for instance, only came into fashion in the health-conscious, body-building eighties. ■ American cultural trends change with every decade. ■ Americans speak of the sixties, the seventies, the eighties. ■ You will find classic rock stations on the radio that only play music from a certain decade They carry a certain image by doing so. Fashions and styles are dated by the decade in which they gained prominence. Sometimes we look at someone and say “he’s so seventies!” or “she’s so eighties!” Decade to decade shifts in styles in America have been occurring for much of American history, but clearly reached a crescendo in the twentieth century—the age of mass marketing…

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In paragraph 3, look at the four squares [■] that indicate where the following sentence would be added to the passage.

An American’s music collection can tell more about that person than anything else.

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