Barthes’ Linguistic Messages – Anchoring and Relaying


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Linguistic messages relay the story in comic strips. Image by The_WB

Bazooka Candy Brands, a division of the Topps Company has announced that after six decades, it now plans to stop producing the tiny comic strip found inside each packet of its Bazooka Bubble Gum.

Today’s adults will remember the fun they had reading the captions in those comic strips, and getting to know the familiar characters.

Sadly, the comic strip appeal just does not do it for the Millennium generation.

Linguistically, what value do comic strips have in the understanding of signs and images?

What function does the linguistic message have with regard to the iconic message?

According to Roland Barthes, the two most easily identified linguistic messages with regard to images are ‘anchoring’ and ‘relaying.’

The Function of Linguistic Messages

Since books began being published, texts and images have been linked. Today, linguistic messages appear as titles, captions, film dialogues, comic strip balloons and more.

Every image is ‘polysemous,’ or in other words, has multiple related meanings.  So, along with its main signifier (sound image), or the name we have given it, a “floating chain” of signifieds or ideas about what it really is, exists in our minds. When readers see an image they can select some ‘signifieds’ and ignore the rest depending on cultural norms or context. Being polysemic however,  is not necessarily advantageous, because it allows us to question the meaning of an image, which can cause ambiguity, confusion or even fear.

Linguistic Messages – Using Anchoring as a Means of Control

Societies solve the uncertainty of signs or images within their cultures by fixing the “floating chain” of signifieds with a linguistic message that anchors the sign and clarifies the intended message. The linguistic message is a denoted description that literally answers the question – what is it?

Language in this case is used to purely and simply identify the essential elements of the scene and the scene itself, guiding the readers to the intended interpretation. Anchoring helps us to avoid other meanings and keeps us away from any emerging connotations.  In other words, the linguistic message, when used as an anchor, directs us towards a meaning selected in advance. Anchoring is used as a means of controlling our thoughts. The linguistic message has a substitutive value – the words we read substitute for any thoughts we already have about the image.

Anchoring is the most frequent function of the linguistic message when used with images; we frequently encounter it in press photographs and advertising.

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