Media Taxonomy

I wanted to look at language in taxonomy for several reasons. Language as a medium is highly contentious. However, it is interesting to think of language’s usage in microcosmic sense, and not attempting to understand it as a system which is an extension of thought, which by definition would make it the most macrocosmomic, broad, and ambiguous of all topics to write about. It is also curious to consider several sub-groupings of both spoken language and visual language and to map their respective subjectivity and objectivity. The last, and most apparent from any taxonomy model is the inherent confoundedness. By definition there are no concrete definitions for media. Rather, by making a taxonomy consisting of various media, one merely gets a snapshot of the author’s perspective into the wide and varied world of media. Granted there are numerous media that are never truly debatable, there are many more media, which are overlooked and grouped together under one broad heading. However, there exists dramatic differences within each category of media—these differences change the medium definitively.

In this taxonomy, I immediately separated language into two main categories, and a third less substantive: Visual Language, Aural Language, and lastly Tactile Language.

Within the Visual Language bracket I differentiated between grammatical systematic representation and non-grammatical systematic representation. In the grammatical one has most obviously languages such as English, and also, more debatable Hieroglyphics. In the non-grammatical bracket I placed pictorial representation and narrative art. These two sub-categories use the same foundational structure that I believe language uses, however they do not contain words, or grammatical devices, as does text for example. I believe there is an important distinction to be made between grammatical or systematic language, and more expressionistic forms. I believe both are equally justifiable as language. Both express a point using symbols, icons, and indices, which are either understood by the spectator to represent certain shared ideas, or due to other various reasons the spectator can "read" the images and gather the necessary information.

There are numerous sub-sub-categories within the English language example, but less vast on my taxonomy are the sub-categories within the pictorial representation and narrative art brackets. First, I place universal directive signs, these are warning signs, non-smoking signs, and other various signs which do contain any written language but express the message just as well. Another interesting example is what I call non-commoditized logos or icons. I drew the Christian cross, a Swastika and the peace sign. The peace sign conjures up, usually, just one word—"Peace," just as if writing "peace" on paper—the effects are similar. Interestingly, drawing the Swastika was quite disconcerting. Merely, drawing an image on a paper represented, for myself, something very direct and negative. In the narrative art bracket I placed such things as court sketches, graphic novels without dialogue, and religious artistic representation. All three examples communicate in a language of gestures, movements, and expressions that accomplish the same objectives which text does.

Within the grammatical language, I use the English language as an example, however all examples apply for numerous other languages. I made a distinction between fiction and non-fiction. There is a distinct difference in the means of sending and receiving the media between the fiction and the non-fiction. Within the fiction one can see newspapers, magazines, educational manuals, and legal documents. In the fiction: literature, screenplays, song lyrics, plays, and poetry. There are several examples, which transcend the line between fiction and non-fiction in both the visual and aural realm: philosophical writings, religious documentation and texts, and historical representations. For some individuals these examples are taken as pure truths, for others pure fiction. This ambiguity brings into question the power of the subject, and the dependence of a medium’s power in reference to its subjectivity/objectivity factor; For example, Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. At the time of its "address" to the nation, people interpreted it as truth and were quite scared. But now, when played it is considered a "performance" and people appreciate and revel in its resemblance to real life emergency radio broadcast.

I believe the only way to create a taxonomy, which is not inherently confounded, useless, and anachronistic is to make one only for oneself. The minute a person looks at another person’s taxonomy the taxonomy itself becomes a medium. The other person now looks and thinks of certain various media and criteria through the influence of the "foreign" taxonomy. However, the author of the taxonomy, through thinking, mapping, comparing, and forming "concrete" relationships understand where she stands in the wide and varied world of media. One can see on paper the differences, for them, between films and made-for-TV movies. Or, the reason why reading poetry feels quite different than reading Winston Churchill’s speeches. However, the taxonomy should be destroyed as soon as the author has comprehended the entire model. Then, the individual enters back into the world of media and can move forward after the moment of lucidity that is creating taxonomy. One must continually create, recreate, and expand new taxonomies, not expand upon an original model. The understanding of certain systems, concepts, and the creation of relationships are dependent upon media as such.

Sean Anderson
Winter 2004