New media researcher Angela Thomas has written a lovely post about my semiotics of music experiment. I have drawn on MAK Halliday’s systemic functional semiotics to develop a schema for music, which can be used to analyse multimodal texts.

semiotics of music

Interestingly there seems to have been very few attempts at developing such schemas. Angela raised a useful question in relation to my schema, namely that there is no listing for an analogue of adverbial phrase – or even adjectival phrase come to think of it. My response is two-fold. Firstly, if an adverb-function were to exist, it would probably lie in the selection of mode – major, minor, dorian etc – which would provide a sense of the manner in which a musical phrase acts/creates drama or action.

My second response is that music, along with other non-linguistic systems of signification, probably doesn’t translate directly into a linguistic model. Sure, linguistic or literary semiotics is probably the most highly developed as a means of analysing texts (however broadly defined), but I’m not entirely convinced that such a model maps all the signifying activity of a non-linguistic or multimodal text. It does, however, form a useful point of entry to any discussion of how we make meaning with non-linguistic or para-linguistic signs. Is there a grammar of music? Emphatically yes, but beyond forms of analogy, I remain uncertain as to how far one can map it directly onto a linguistic model.

But there remains the tantalising possibility that one could develop a metalanguage for analysis of music and how it functions to make meaning within a sign system.