Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications


266 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8329-3
DDC 302.2'03




Reviewed by Rolf Hellebust

Rolf Hellebust is a professor of Russian language and literature at the
University of Calgary.


The field covered by this book is an amorphous one. As indicated in its
title, it deals with the terminology of three overlapping disciplines,
each of which itself broadly intersects a number of more traditional
areas of study having to do with meaning and messages. These include
anthropology, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, computer science, and
various other disciplines having to do with cultural production.

In fact, this dictionary, which would make interesting browsing for
scholars in any of the fields listed above, reads at times like a brief,
eclectic history of the theory and practice of culture in general. Some
of its articles are more obviously related than others to questions of
semiotics (the science of signs) and communication per se. Doubtless,
the more distant topics would be brought into the fold by a teacher
(such as the author, who is director of the Program in Semiotics and
Communication Theory at the University of Toronto) using this book as a
course text. Indeed, it almost feels more like a textbook than a
dictionary. Nothing wrong with that; but it provokes one to take issue
with the back-cover blurb offered by a colleague: far from being
“overwhelmed by the clarity and succinctness of Danesi’s
definitions,” this reviewer was struck by the prolixity of some
articles—for example, the three pages on opera, with enough material
for a good 50-minute lecture. The shorter definitions also occasionally
suffer from a lack of concision (e.g., art therapy is defined as the
view of some psychoanalysts that “drawing permits individuals with
inner conflicts to resolve their unconscious conflicts by painting”).
These, however, are all things that can be taken care of when the next
edition comes out.

That another edition of this dictionary will be necessary is obvious
for a number of reasons, least of which is the fact that it contains a
large amount of rapidly dating illustrative material from North American
pop culture. More importantly, the topics that it addresses are clearly
growing in academic popularity, and there is an equally clear need for a
reference to help students understand many of the complex ideas on which
these new disciplines are based.


Danesi, Marcel., “Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30474.