Syntagmatic and other frightening words

Painting by my sister
I have never seen this word before.I have looked ot up and will put a link here


“A syntagm is an orderly combination of interacting signifiers which forms a meaningful whole within a text – sometimes, following Saussure, called a ‘chain’. Such combinations are made within a framework of syntactic rules and conventions (both explicit and inexplicit). In language, a sentence, for instance, is a syntagm of words; so too are paragraphs and chapters. ‘There are always larger units, composed of smaller units, with a relation of interdependence holding between both’ (Saussure 1983, 127; Saussure 1974, 128): syntagms can contain other syntagms. A printed advertisement is a syntagm of visual signifiers. Syntagmatic relations are the various ways in which elements within the same text may be related to each other. Syntagms are created by the linking of signifiers from paradigm sets which are chosen on the basis of whether they are conventionally regarded as appropriate or may be required by some rule system (e.g. grammar). Synatagmatic relations highlight the importance of part-whole relationships: Saussure stressed that ‘the whole depends on the parts, and the parts depend on the whole’ (Saussure 1983, 126;Saussure 1974, 128).

Syntagms are often defined as ‘sequential’ (and thus temporal – as in speech and music), but they can represent spatial relationships. Saussure himself (who emphasized ‘auditory signifiers’ which ‘are presented one after another’ and ‘form a chain’) noted that visual signifiers (he instanced nautical flags) ‘can exploit more than one dimension simultaneously’ (Saussure 1983, 70; Saussure 1974, 70). Spatial syntagmatic relations are found in drawing, painting and photography. Many semiotic systems – such as drama, cinema, television and the world wide web – include both spatial and temporal syntagms.

Thwaites et al. argue that within a genre, whilst the syntagmatic dimension is the textual structure, the paradigmatic dimension can be as broad as the choice of subject matter (Thwaites et al. 1994, 95). In this framing, form is a syntagmatic dimension whilst content is a paradigmatic dimension. However, form is also subject to paradigmatic choices and content to syntagmatic arrangement.

Jonathan Culler offers an example of the syntagmatic relations and paradigmatic contrasts involved in Western menus:

      • In the food system… one defines on the syntagmatic axis the combinations of courses which can make up meals of various sorts; and each course or slot can be filled by one of a number of dishes which are in paradigmatic contrast with one another (one wouldn’t combine roast beef and lamb chops in a single meal; they would be alternatives on any menu). These dishes which are alternative to one another often bear different meanings in that they connote varying degrees of luxury, elegance, etc.”

(Culler 1985, 104)


I can’t quite grasp it but I shall try!

      • .

Roland Barthes (1967) outlined the paradigmatic and syntagmatic elements of the ‘garment system’ in similar terms. The paradigmatic elements are the items which cannot be worn at the same time on the same part of the body (such as hats, trousers, shoes). The syntagmatic dimension is the juxtaposition of different elements at the same time in a complete ensemble from hat to shoes.


About Katherine

I like poetry and history
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