The semiotic interpretations of traffic policing

Paojakhup [email protected]
In the wake of yesterday’s traffic buzz at Tuibong Traffic point, I would like to highlight some semiotics elements related thereto. The hand gesture efforts (as a sign) of a traffic cop amidst busy commuters under heavy rainfall is gaining much attention.
The term ‘semiotics’ apparently appears esoteric to understand which actually is not. I would like to illustrate the concept of semiotics in the light of the reward winning traffic police personnel for having braved the heavy downpour in the line of duty.
Work is Worship
Manipur’s Tuibong resident BT HenjoyVaiphei, a traffic police personnel was in the limelight. He endeared himself to the people of the State and beyond by not derelicting his duty notwithstanding the torrential downpour. He remained undeterred come what may ! The responsible traffic cop was rung up from the State Chief Minister Office in less than 24 hours of him being in action going viral on social media. He was accorded a standing ovation in the posh CM’s office with an incentive of a cash reward, reportedly of Rs 1,00000/- (One lakh only).
The Concept
Semiotics or Semiosis or Semiology is the study of sign processes. The semiotic process explores the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communications. Ferdinand de Saussure, who coined the term, defines it “as the science that studies the life of signs in the bosom of society”. Generally, there are seven common semiotic systems such as audio, audio sounds, design, facial/hand gestures, linguistic, music and visual. Among them, I would like to bring out particularly hand gestures to our notice vis-à-vis the traffic management for a discussion here. A substitute for hand gestures of a traffic police is the traffic lights, where manual efforts of a person is not required. Hand gestures are more commonly used in hill district headquarters of Manipur unlike advanced traffic light system which is highly in vogue in more developed areas like in the heart of Imphal, the State capital of Manipur.
Using a sign theory developed by Ferdinand de Saussure, we need to have clarity of understanding first on the two signs: Signified and Signifier
The Signifier, according to Saussure, is the material form of the sign. This is a concrete object that we can see, hear, taste, touch, smell or is related to traffic codes. The traffic codes here signify traffic lights and/or traffic cops who mainly control traffic at intersections. Another example is, think of a zebra crossing that is used to indicate traffic limit/warning signs. The zebra crossing itself can be described as a signifier. In the same vein, traffic lights and the traffic cops (the sound of whistle for that matter) are said to be a signifier as the case may be.
However, a signifier cannot exist in absence of a signified. Therefore, a signified is the abstract idea or concept embedded in a signifier that is being represented. Taking them together constitute the linguistic sign. Generally, one cannot exist in isolation, thus their mutual relationship is called Signification. In a rare case if a signifier is found to be without a signified, then their relationship is said to be noise (in spoken language).
The World Health Organization proposed the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. The WHO’s initiative was aimed at reducing the number of victims in traffic accidents in countries with higher accidents like Mexico, India, China, Brazil, the United States, among others.
In its report (2012, released in 2015), it is shown that leading cause of death in young people in the 15-29 age group is traffic accident compared to other causes of death like suicide, HIV/AIDS, homicide, maternal conditions, lower respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, drowning, ishchaemia heart disease and meningitis.
According to the Secretaria de Salud (2012), in Mexico City, the most accident prone zone turned out to be intersections, because pedestrians and drivers are wont to having more interactions at these points. This causes greater insecurity for the road users, esp. those who walk. One of the reasons for this insecurity is lackadaisical attitude of service providers- Government, if not CSOs or NGOs who work in this field.
(To be contd)