© 2017

Semiotics and Verbal Texts

How the News Media Construct a Crisis


Part of the Postdisciplinary Studies in Discourse book series (PSDS)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvii
  2. Written Language and Semiotics

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Jane Gravells
      Pages 27-42
  3. A Barthesian Conceptualisation of Written Language

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 43-43
    2. Jane Gravells
      Pages 45-74
    3. Jane Gravells
      Pages 75-82
    4. Jane Gravells
      Pages 89-100
    5. Jane Gravells
      Pages 101-110
    6. Jane Gravells
      Pages 191-197
  4. A Peircean Conceptualisation of Written Language

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 199-199
    2. Jane Gravells
      Pages 201-212
    3. Jane Gravells
      Pages 213-240
  5. Concluding Thoughts

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 241-241
    2. Jane Gravells
      Pages 243-248

About this book


This book offers an innovative approach to analysing written texts, grounded in principles of semiotics. Envisaging whole news media representations as ‘signs’, and using the real-world example of the BP Deepwater Horizon crisis, the author demonstrates how business crises are constructed through language. Gravells identifies patterns of language which show a progression from one kind of ‘current news’ representation to a different kind of coverage.  This coverage positions the crisis as having symbolic and conventional meaning within varied social contexts, including the arts, business and the environment. Using a wealth of examples from the BP story to illustrate her practical research approach, Gravells draws ‘language maps’ of different phases of the crisis representation, showing how an early ‘iconic’ phase of representation moves through an ‘indexical’ to a ‘symbolic’ phase, and projects a return to a ‘naturalised icon’.  This book will be of interest to researchers and students of semiotics, those exploring research methods and linguists with an interest in business and media communications.


Media representation Crisis communication BP Deepwater Horizon Business studies Semiotics communication construction crisis discourse essay India linguistics media media studies nation semiotics social science sociolinguistics

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Aston UniversityBirminghamUnited Kingdom

About the authors

Jane Gravells is a lecturer in Linguistics at Aston University. Her research interests have been in those areas where language and business intersect.  Her work in semiotics relates to the role of written language in multimodal texts.  Jane has taught applied linguistics and business studies at several leading universities. Before this, she had a successful career in qualitative Marketing Research.

Bibliographic information


“This important book marks a new departure in contemporary discourse analysis. Simultaneously deploying and extending semiotic theory, it traces convincingly how a media event passes from factual description to symbolic shorthand. By integrating theory, data analysis and critique in a strikingly innovative way, Gravells provides an exciting model for a new path of investigation which will enrich enquiry across a range of disciplines and at all levels of research.” (Guy Cook, Professor of Language in Education, King's College London, UK)

“Jane's engaging book helps us to understand the way people make sense of extreme events such as a business crisis over time. She argues for the concept of a spiral of representation that moves from supposed Iconic representation, through an Indexical to a Symbolic stage and back to a new 'naturalised' Icon. Her original application of semiotic models to news media discourse offers scholars new ways of conceptualizing, analysing and interpreting written as well as multimodal texts.” (Judith Baxter, Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics, Aston University, UK)