World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Decoding (semiotics)

Article Id: WHEBN0002108253
Reproduction Date:

Title: Decoding (semiotics)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Semiotics, Encoding (semiotics), Code (semiotics), Denotation (semiotics), Sign relational complex
Collection: Semiotics
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Decoding (semiotics)

Decoding, in semiotics, is the process of interpreting a message sent by an addresser to an addressee. The complementary process – creating a message for transmission to an addressee – is called encoding.


All communication depends on the use of codes. When the message is received, the addressee is not passive, but decoding is more than simply recognising the content of the message. Over time, each individual in the audience develops a cognitive framework of codes which will recall the denotative meaning and suggest possible connotative meanings for each signifier. But the actual meaning for each message is context-dependent: the codified relations between the signifiers in the particular context must be interpreted according to the syntactic, semantic and social codes so that the most appropriate meaning is attributed (for labelling usages by reference to national characteristics, see Americanism).

Although the addresser may have a very clearly defined intention when encoding and wish to manipulate the audience into accepting the preferred meaning, the reality is not that of textual determinism. What is decoded does not follow inevitably from an interpretation of the message. Not infrequently, the addressees find different levels of meaning. Umberto Eco called this mismatch between the intended meaning and interpreted meaning aberrant decoding. This apparent failure of communication may result from the fact that the parties use different codes because they are of a different social class or because they have different training or ability, because they have different world views or ideologies, or because they are from different cultures. David Morley argues that the outcome of decoding will be influenced by pragmatic issues, i.e. whether:

  • the addressee has the ability to comprehend the message in its entirety;
  • the message is relevant to the addressee;
  • the addressee is enjoying the experience of receiving the message; and
  • the addressee accepts or rejects the addresser's values.

Further, Umberto Eco suggests a distinction between closed texts which predispose a dominant interpretation and more open texts which may have latent meanings or be encoded in a way that encourages the possibility of alternative interpretations.


  • Chandler, Daniel. (2001/2007). Semiotics: The Basics. London: Routledge.
  • Eco, Umberto. The Role of the Reader. London: Hutchinson. (1981)
  • Morley, David. Television, Audiences and Cultural Studies. London: Routledge. (1992)

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.