There are only so many puns to be said with elephants so don’t stress, I won’t be using the elephant of surprise too much.
The photo I’ve included below can have so many meanings, across the planet.
Both signifiers and signifieds are needed to create a sign. Both are needed to allow an interpretation and both are needed to get the underlying message across through any particular medium.
A signifier can be defined as an indicator or signal that can be interpreted meaningfully. Basically, it is the text at face value. To cover the signifiers or the ‘denotations‘ quickly, this photo is simply an grey elephant. There is a waterhole of sorts, some rocks, green vegetation in the background and then a person on the elephant with a box like structure sitting on top – presumably to carry things and people.
The signifiers are important because without them, it’s not possible to make any further judgement on the text.
Moving onto the signifieds of the picture – also known as the ‘connotations‘. A signified is the meaning behind the signifier. Signifieds can change depending on culture and experience. An example of this is the simple action of shaking your head. To most cultures, shaking your head means ‘no’. However, in certain countries such as Bulgaria, a head shake means ‘yes’.
A photo of an elephant in Indian culture, symbolises many things that Western culture doesn’t necessarily recognise. India see the elephant as a symbol for power, dignity, intelligence and peace. Elephants are a very religious animal in Asia and there are ceremonies still in practice dedicated to them. This elephant could also symbolise luck or reliability.
In African culture, elephants can carry a totally different meaning. This image could draw connotations of lost ancestors, as some African cultures believe their ancestors are held within elephants. This has caused some tribes to move away from elephants all together.
To someone from a more Western civilisation (not trying to generalise as that is a number one hate of the blog), this photo could be read as a marketing tool for profit. Elephant rides are a big tourist market in Asia and as there is no general ‘special’ meaning for elephants to those in the western world, the photo above could symbolise money and tourism.
Elephants are a good example of the different ways an image can be read. They say each image is worth a 1000 words, I’d say that is completely relephant but you must take into account where the words are coming from.
African Elephant, Curious Menagerie, viewed 26 March 2016, http://curiousmenagerie.com/totem-species/african-elephant/
Animal Symbolism: Elephant Meaning, What’s Your Sign 2015, viewed 24 March 2016, http://www.whats-your-sign.com/elephant-meaning.html
Elephant Symbol, Animal Sydmbols 2014, viewed 26 March 2016, http://animal-symbols.com/elephant-symbol.html
Elephant: The Animal and its Ivory African Culture, Fowler Museum at UCLA 2016, viewed 26 March 2016, http://www.fowler.ucla.edu/category/exhibitions-education/elephant-animal-and-its-ivory-african-culture
Signifier and Signified, Changing Minds 2016, viewed 26 March 2016, http://changingminds.org/explanations/critical_theory/concepts/
Signifiers, not affordances, Don Norman: Designing For People, viewed 26 March 2016, http://jnd.org/dn.mss/signifiers_not_affordances.html
5 Confusing Gestures From Around the World, As We Travel 2014, viewed 24 March 2016, http://www.aswetravel.com/5-confusing-gestures-from-around-the-world/