"In this book, Richard Kern explores how technology matters to language and the ways in which we use it. Kern reveals how material, social and individual resources interact in the design of textual meaning, and how that interaction plays out across contexts of communication, different situations of technological mediation, and different moments in time."
EDITORS: O’Halloran, Kay L.; Smith, Bradley TITLE: Multimodal Studies SUBTITLE: Exploring Issues and Domains SERIES: Routledge Studies in Multimodality PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) YEAR: 2011
Agnieszka Knaś, Department of Linguistics, Queen Mary, University of London
SUMMARY This volume, edited by Kay L. O’Halloran and Bradley A. Smith, comprises 14 chapters in which authors explore the scope of this emerging field within specific domains. Following the introductory Chapter 1 (Multimodal Studies), the book is divided into two parts. Part I, Issues in Multimodal Studies, consists of six chapters whose main aim is to explore general issues, while Part II, Domains of Multimodal Studies, includes seven chapters which extend multimodal studies into or focus on specific domains of multimodality, defined as “the use of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event” (Kress & Van Leeuwen 2001: 20).
In Chapter 1, “Multimodal Studies”, the editors set the scene by arguing for distinguishing between studies of multimodality which focus on a particular domain of enquiry and multimodal studies as a stand-alone field of expertise. They discuss the question of this area as an emerging discipline and comment on the fact that although scholars working within multimodal studies have backgrounds in a variety of established disciplines, there has been a movement towards generalisations applicable beyond those particular disciplines. The volume aims to present these two foci as a dialectic and complementarity, between the exploration of issues of general significance to multimodal studies and the exploration of specific domains of multimodality, while acknowledging that some works tend towards one or the other.
Part I “Issues in Multimodal Studies” begins with John A. Bateman’s chapter, ‘‘The Decomposability of Semiotic Modes’’ (Chapter 2), which is concerned with developing a definition of a “semiotic mode” to support its identification and better meet the needs of multimodal text analysis. Bateman notes a tendency in multimodal studies to make a priori assumptions concerning the categorisation of semiotic modes based on their assumed self-evident character or alignment with sensory modalities. He draws on social semiotic approaches to multimodality as well as cognitive science, computer science, and film studies and proposes a definition of semiotic mode which emphasizes both the material substrate and mode-specific discourse semantics as its essential components.
In Chapter 3 (“Speech and Writing: Intonation within Multimodal Studies”), Bradley A. Smith considers the consequences of taking different approaches to the study of multimodal phenomena, drawing on the history of research on intonation . Showing that a choice between bottom-up (anatomistic) and top-down (functional) approaches leads to different results, he argues that each approach has its own merits and limitations in terms of its capacity for making statements of meaning about semiotic phenomena. He also demonstrates that the application of register theory forms a useful empirical basis for interpreting written representations of speech by relating texts to their contexts. Feng Dezheng, in Chapter 4 (“Visual Space and Ideology: A Critical Cognitive Analysis of Spacial Orientations in Advertising”), analyses a corpus of 100 static visual car advertisements from newspapers, magazines and the Internet and draws conclusions about the construction of persuasive ideology through spatial orientations and page layout. He argues that the association between spatial orientation and information value can be established by the cognitive theory of metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson 1980) and shows how semiotic choices (orientation, camera angle, and layout) work together to make the advertised product an object of desire.
Combining perspectives from the study of music and representations of musical abstraction (e.g., graphical user interfaces), Rodney Berry and Lonce Wyse discuss issues related to tangible interfaces for music composition in Chapter 5 (“The Music Table Revisited: Problems of Changing Levels of Detail and Abstraction in a Tangible Representation”). They observe that tangible interfaces (i.e., objects that can physically embody both a path for control of certain parameters as well as the main representational aspects of the interface) offer advantages in terms of their physical accessibility and nature, but are limited in terms of the large-scale abstractions that motivate and constitute a significant aspect of music composition.
Chapter 6 (“Enregistering Identity in Indonesian Television Serials: A Multimodal Analysis”) contains important suggestions for the analysis of multimodal signs. Through the analysis of an episode of an Indonesian serial, Zane Goebel explores how multimodal signs become emblems of identity and lead to the establishment of a “semiotic register”. He draws upon ethnomethodology, linguistic anthropology, and studies of embodied interaction. His analysis shows how affordances of the medium serve to represent personhood with respect to ethnicity and social relations, and how, over time, such representations lead to “enregisterment” of a particular semiotic register which then forms the context for interpretation of such emblematic signs.
In the final chapter of the first section (Chapter 7 “The Semiotics of Decoration”), Theo Van Leeuwen is concerned with the domain of decoration. He presents arguments for and suggestions towards the study of a new “semiotics of decoration”. Decoration represents here a philosophical approach to design across materials, modes, and eras. This approach is contrasted with pure functionalism of such approaches as the Bauhaus. Van Leeuwen emphasises that we need to analyse meaning-making beyond the traditionally accepted ways.
Part II is concerned with domains of multimodal studies. Just as with “issues”, the term “domains” is here defined broadly, allowing for a variety of distinct approaches. In Chapter 8 (Multimodality and Social Actions in ‘Personal Publishing’ texts: From the German ‘Poetry Album’ to Web 2.0 ‘Social Network Sites’”), Volker J. Eisenlauer explores the domain of social networking as a category distinct from the old and new media through which such social action has been achieved. He is interested in the domain of user-generated texts (also known as personal publishing texts)and treats examples of the German genre of the Poesiealbum (poetry album) and friendship books, which has served as a site for social networking since the sixteenth century. He adopts a diachronic perspective and describes continuities and differences between new and old media with respect to articulating social networks.
Carmen Daniela Maier in Chapter 9 (“Knowledge Communication in Green Corporate Marketing: A Multimodal Discourse Analysis of an Ecomagination Video”) explores the issue of multimodal communication of knowledge within eco-business contexts. Maier shows that verbal and visual modes of discourse subvert rather than complement one another, which leads to the conclusion that in advertising the focus is on presenting eco-friendly credentials rather than persuasion. Additionally, this chapter provides advice for practitioners engaged in producing marketing discourse regarding the discrepancies between what such discourse is thought to be aiming to convey and what it communicates through multimodal resources.
In Chapter 10 (“The Implications of Multimodality for Media Literacy”), Sun Sun Lim, Elmie Nekmat and Siti Nurharnani Nahar identify the need for a multimodally literate media consumer. The chapter discusses the need to reassess media literacy in the light of an increasingly multimodal mediascape and with reference to trends associated with multimodal representation, i.e., manipulability of media, genre-hybridisation, and proliferation of user-generated content. They propose that policy interventions and training in multimodality are required to help media users to adapt to the ever-changing media trends.
Carey Jewitt in Chapter 11 (“The Changing Pedagogic Landscape of Subject English in UK Classrooms”) focuses on the consequences of the use of interactive whiteboard for pedagogic practice in UK schools. She adopts a diachronic perspective in a discussion about the changing landscape of typical classrooms since year 2000. Several questions regarding the types of modes available, the changing positions of teachers and students as well as the types of texts that are used and produced in the classroom are also raised. Jewitt shows that the meaning, uses, and significance of the changes in technologies and modalities are not immanent, but constructed within a wider context of social practices and conventions.
Peter Wignell’s interest in Chapter 12 (“Picture Books for Young Children of Different Ages: The Changing Relationship between Images and Words”) is the relation of images and text in children’s picture books depending on the age of the target group of users. He identifies systematic patterns in this relationship and considers the implications of these patterns for introducing young children to reading written texts. He concludes that the changing image-to-text relationship in children’s books is not necessarily beneficial for understanding multisemiotic texts as, with age, texts become more monomodal.
In Chapter 13 (“Semiotisation Process of Space: From Drawing Our Homes to Styling Them”), Eija Ventola foregrounds different approaches to the semiotisation of home living space on the example of her own home before and after a professional home makeover. She discusses the different ways in which professionals and inhabitants interpret and design the same living spaces and identifies the need for focusing on discourses of contexts influenced by such resemiotisation.
Michael O’Toole’s Chapter 14 (“Art vs. Computer Animation: Integrity and Technology in South Park”) contains a diachronic study of the cartoon television series “South Park”. In his analysis, O’Toole shows what changes have taken place in the multimodal discourse and ideology of the series between its pre-digital and digital phases of production. Acknowledging the difficulties related to presenting the micro-analysis of the grammar of the language, visual images, and sound-track, he identifies the need for a narrative theory and a rhetoric for the complex multimodal texts (TV and cinema).
EVALUATION Multimodality is an emerging area of study, without clearly established boundaries or theories to delimit it. The volume presents a range of works by a group of leading researchers in the field. Chapters are devoted to both theoretical concepts and practical applications of multimodality. Through the wide range of theoretical approaches and the choice of data sets for analysis, the chapters successfully illustrate the extensive reach of multimodal studies and establish the need for a distinct discipline.
While the chapters make valuable contributions, the introductory chapter alone does not convey what a full reading of the data and theory chapters actually achieve. It includes information both about the field and about the volume. However, a reader with little familiarity with the field is likely to find the introductory chapter unhelpful as, although the editors explain the aim of the volume and rationale behind it, they assume that readers would have prior knowledge of the field and fails to clearly define it. Some of the information included in the chapter is also repetitive and the chapter itself would benefit from being divided into more specific sections. Given that this book is aimed at a broad audience, having numbered subsections in the chapters, rather than subsection titles demarcated by font, would help the reader to follow some arguments.
In the Authors Index, page numbers are missing next to the names of some authors, e.g., Machill, M., Neuberger, C., and Wirth, W. The Subject Index seems incomplete and the choice of phrases listed in it renders it unintuitive. For example, should a reader wish to locate a reference to “urban planning and architectural design”, they would find it under “U”, but there is no reference under “D” (for design) or “P” (for planning). Also noticeable are copyediting errors involving comma placement (see line 2, para 2, p. 17) and spelling (e.g., “planning” misspelt as “plannig”, p. 269).
Compared with earlier volumes concerned with multimodality (e.g., Jewitt 2009 or Levine & Scollon 2004), the present volume seems less carefully thought through and structured. It seems that the editorial work on the volume was rushed, hence the multiple errors. Nevertheless, “Multimodal Studies: Exploring Issues and Domains” presents new research that tackles a wide range of issues within the domain of multimodal studies and will constitute a valuable resource for scholars already involved in research into multimodality.
Kress, G. & T. Van Leeuwen (2001) Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media of Contemporary Communication. London: Arnold.
Lakoff, G. & M. Johnson (1980) Methaphors We Live By, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Levine, P. & R. Scollon, eds (2004) Discourse & Technology: Multimodal discourse analysis, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Agnieszka Knaś is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Linguistics,
Queen Mary, University of London, United Kingdom. Her research interests
include multimodality and embedded multimodality, computer-mediated
communication, and co-presence in a joint communicative space. Her PhD
research focuses on physical self-presentation and self-positioning in the
discourse of text messages.