James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy discusses the concept of semiotic domains. Given a domain like basketball or games, there are different modalities (i.e. images, sounds, gestures, and symbols) that convey a specific meaning in the language of that domain.
This semester, I’ve been gaining exposure to two new semiotic domains: acting and biology. For me, a big part of those classes is learning the vocabulary associated with those domains and learning to think the way that experts in those fields think.
The Acting domain
In my Voice and Speech for the Actor class, we are performing monologues from the play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith. We’ve only spent one class so far looking at the passages, but I’ve already learned some new terminology from the acting semiotic domain.
My instructor urged us not to use the word lines, but rather the word thoughts when describing the components that make up the monologue. She also encouraged us to breathe after each thought, especially since breathing serves as an avenue for thinking. Breathing often signals that we are preparing our next thought.
If you think of the word inspire, you might think of inspiration, creativity, inventiveness, etc. However, the word inspire actually comes from the Latin word inspirare meaning “to breathe.” It’s still technically one of the definitions of the word, though it is used less frequently nowadays.
The Biology domain
I’m taking the freshman biology class right now, and much of the material is review. Although I don’t necessarily remember all the details from taking high school biology, I’m familiar with most—if not all—of the terminology that we’ve covered so far this semester. Now that I’m seeing the material for the second time, I can focus more on deeper level understanding since I already have some grasp on terms in the biology semiotic domain. I’m a step above being a novice in the domain, which makes communicating new ideas and formulating questions much easier.
Moral of the story
Getting acquainted with new semiotic domains is challenging and often uncomfortable, but in the end, you open up new channels of communication with new people and have new ways of connecting with them.