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  A code, in the terminology of linguistics, media studies and sociology, is a system of signs employed by members of a culture to communicate meaning. A set of formal rules will enable the code to operate. Language is a code in as far as it is composed of symbols (words) which mean something and which can be used in accordance with a set of conventions to communicate. Similarly, Morse code, Braille, traffic light systems, dress codes and body language are all coded systems of communication.

Within media studies code is used to describe the systems of signs, images, sounds, technical methods and forms which work in conventional ways to create meaning in media texts. For example, television uses technical processes such as editing, lighting and framing of shots in a number of regular ways to communicate specific messages. A further instance might be provided by the work of the Russian formalist Vladimir Propp on narrative codes. He showed how fairy tales have various recurrent types of character and categories of event which act to construct the story in understandable ways. This points to how the very creation and utilization of codes in particular ways can contribute to the placement of a text within a genre. However, codes do not necessarily operate in isolated ways, but combine within media texts in a complex fashion.

Codes are available for encoding a text with meaning but recent interest has centred on how far decoders (audiences) understand the meaning preferred by the encoder. NC

See also encode/decode; genre.Further reading John Fiske, Introduction to Communication Studies.



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