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Fundamental Concepts of Genre, Discourse and Multimodality


This paper deals with the basic concepts of genre, discourse and multimodality where it is divided in to two parts. The first part deals with providing the fundamental concepts of multimodality and its relationship with discourse and genre following the recent literatures of the field. This part tries to formulate the a coherent and systematic reflection of the key concepts of the given topics.

On the other hand, the second part briefly describes a learning situation where the research student was a teacher. This part broadly discusses the institutional structure, his role as teacher and introducing the kind of social and individual setting where he had to interact. In addition, the part explores the physical space of the teaching learning context and puts light on multimodality of the context being based on related and available literature.


Part One

  1. Genre

According to Hyon (1996) there has been a spurt in interest to engage in ‘genre’ to develop instruction for L1 and L2 in recent decades. However the complex number of schools of thought and traditions has meant that literature related to Genre is complicated. Of these three particular research-based genre literature are (a) English for Specific Purposes (ESP), (b) North New Rhetoric studies and (c) Australian systemic Functional Linguistics. A comparison of the three traditions reveals that ESP as well as Australian genre provides instructions for ESL. Further, the linguistic features with relation to written texts, and also develops guidelines which are useful for presenting classroom features. Further, Hyon adds that the New Rhetoric Scholarship offers language teachers comprehensive perspectives with respect to institutional contexts and academic professional genres, and functional genres with respect to settings.

Other scholars also concur with the three traditions based approach to genre. Thus Sydney School, New Rhetoric and ESP Traditions are the other two approaches. There is further literary support by other scholars like Miller (1984), Freedman & Medway (1994) and others. Swales (1990) work on ESP tradition also highlights ESP as a tradition. Other scholars have established a range of application from each of the three schools for teaching literacy.

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With the larger SFL functioning, Sydney School approach focuses on (1) social skills rather than cognitive aspects(2) social semiotic and moves away from ethnographic, field, mode or tenor. It also explores ‘meaning’ when integrated together and expressed as a social practice and termed genre. (3) This approach primarily integrated functional theory with respect to language and does not take the more popular interdisciplinary approach. Additionally the theory is also viewed in terms of multi-perceptions such as meta function or strata. (4) The fractal is of primary importance in this school of thought and is not eclectic in nature. Metafunction is redeployed with respect to strata and includes modalities with respect to communication, such as action, sound and spatial design. (5) interventionist system is adopted over that of critical aspects concurring with other scholarly work such as that by Halliday that linguistics with respect to ideology is prone to social action. Sydney school of genre approach therefore regards genre as configuration of meanings which are identified in terms of language, attendant modalities of communication and focuses on generalization in terms of distinguishing features.


  1. Discourse

In linguistics literature, ‘discourse’ is a term which is used in different ways. Typically, it is regarded as an ‘identity kit’ that is necessary for a certain literary environment. Discourses are mastered by acquisition and learning, often leading to ‘meta-knowledge.’ These two principles – The Acquisition Principle, The Learning Principle- apply to discourse and literacy (Gee, J. P. 1990). However, there is a strong interdependence between acquisition and learning. If the acquisition process is not in place, learning will not facilitate anything.

However, there appears conflict or ‘tension’ between individuals and Discourses.  The core problem is that it becomes a challenge to acquire Discourses through social practice actively. Often literary at later age, as in college, school is likely to arrest meta-knowledge and there is likely resistance to development of discourses.

One of the popular tools for analysis of genres is Discourse Semantics. According to Martin & Rose (2008), discourse analysis is possible in terms of five metrics – appraisal, conjunction, ideation, periodicity as well as identification. Appraisal deals with aspects of evaluation, Ideation with the content that is part of the discourse and conjunction as the connection between actives with relation to activities. These range from reformulating them, explaining them to sequencing them and others. The ideational explanation to meanings with relation to ‘logical’ are also explained in detail. For other types of connectivity, the logical meanings are expressed in terms of causal, temporal connectivity aspects. In terms of identification it related to tracking participants and also regards places, things that are part of the discourse and ensure they keep track of them each time. The textual resources are with respect to the manner of discourse and the sense they make to the reader by ensuring the identities are tracked. Periodicity is the related to discourse rhythms and the various layers are related to prediction which depict to the leader in terms of flags to establish what is to come and the consolidation layers which they are able to produce. The meanings are accumulated and made with respect to textural meanings and kinds and are also concerned with respect to organising discourse and information pulses.


  1. Multimodality

Often the terms multimodality is seen as a social semiotic approach within the learger field of contemporary communication. Scholars such as Kress (2001), the use of communication practices with respect to textual, linguistic, aural, visual resources as well as spatial modes in terms of social semiotics, is called multimodality. The study or approach of multimodality is that of looking beyond language and engages in different communication modes – speech, gestures, 3D objects, mixed images, remixed images, layout, sound, and related nuances. Fundamentally, it is the approach which attempt to bring all modes of meaning-making into one field of theoretical study. This exploration of vital language and communication studies has helped in furthering the concept of applied linguistics, education and media. Multimodality questions the practice that language is the most resourceful method for communication. It explores beyond the language and engages with different modes to develop the multi-modality structures.

Multimodal analysis is ideal for quantitative as well as qualitative analysis and computation. There have been several approaches to develop such analysis, especially in the software sector.


Multimodal discuss analysis

One of the most influential paradigm to emerge in discourse studies is multimodal discourse analysis (MDA). In this approach, the study of language in context with other resources, including scientific symbolism, music, actions, gestures as well as sound. The various terminologies used include – concepts and approaches which evolve with respect to new fields of study. This approach focuses on language integration with other resources to create multimodal or multisemiotic phenomena. These range from three-dimensional object study to websites, videos and everyday activities. The engagement of semiotic resources is with modes and modalities for primary efficacy in the field of literacy. The use of MDA ranges across different types – multimodal analysis, multimodal semiotics as well as multimodal studies. The use of semiotic resource – image, gesture, architecture- with sensory modalities – olfactory, visual, auditory aspects. This could also scale multimodal texts, discourses, or events and are commonly called as multimodal phenomena. (Iedema, R. (2003). The use of semiotic resources with respect to a system of meaning, such that they result as a reality with respect to culture is the primary concept to be understood. The medium in this type of engage is with reference to phenomena across the various media – television, newspaper, computer as well as material object and events. This is therefore, very important that multiple concerns with respect to MDA become important for analysis and development of linguistic filed. The approach and the variety of these approaches opens itself for discussions on perceptions to be used.

The main focus of  MDA continues to be that of theory as well as analysis of the semiotic resources, along with their semantic expansions, since they result in a series of semiotic choices that led to the combination with multimodal phenomena. The result of interaction between intermodal and semiotic choices is called intersemiosis. It is very important with respect to multimodal research, according to Jewitt (2006). It also addresses aspects such as design, distribution as well as production of multimodal resources in terms of the social settings (Kress, G., & Van Leeuwen, 2001).

Several key reasons led to the shift in academic perceptions from –language-only as a mode of linguistics to the larger study of language along with other resources. (1) By engaging in discourse, analysts were able to interpret the wider range of human discourse practices and are found to accept the meaning from multiple semiotic resources such as those emerging from the digitized technologies. (2) The new approach that is involved in MDA provides tools for annotation making the process affordable and easy to access for cross-sections of linguistic stakeholders (Halloran, 2011). (3) Academic research as a discipline becomes more interdependent; scientists from different fields seek to find solutions to similar problems.

The use of multimodal discourse analysis, apart from other approaches allows for social critique in terms of social practices along three core principles – (1) Tristratal conceptualization of meaning with respect to low-level features in terms of text – images and sound, as well as high-order semantics with respect to interrelated lexico-grammatical systems as well as social contexts of culture and situation. (2) The metafunctional theory model has meaning with respect to semiotic resources – three ‘metafunctions,’ ideational meaning, interpersonal meaning as well as textual meaning. (3) Instantiation models all types of relations with respect to actual choices as well as text and is of systemic potential. There are several other registers or ‘subpotentials’ which also have to be analysed. This results in the development of a pattern which of types or choices of texts, which may include debate, scientific paper as well as debates Halliday, M. A. K. (1978).


New approaches are emerging with respect to MDA. As the complexity with respect to annotating, searching, analysis and retrieving emerge, multimodal semantic pattern emerge and from complex multimodal phenomena. The new research options, according to Halloran(2010) see the MDA developing into more than an annotation option. It will look towards visualization, incorporating mathematical tools of analysis. The growth of computational power and techniques, analysis as a field of study will become primary to research in all other fields. The impact of such integration will be seen in fields such as linguistics and others, typically fields which earlier relied on sociology based analysis. Hence, further digitization technology will also drive further changes into genre, discourse and discourses paradigm, creating wider scope for important research work and further applications.


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Part Two

The premise of institutional teaching is that the child comes to acquired learning and develops meta-level cognitive as well as linguistic skills. Hence, the conscious effort in schools or the institution is to provide an order and acquisition process that is integrated into the curricula. As learning moves towards virtual space learning from traditional institutional structures, there is room for thought on engaging students in the online spectrum as well, and more relying more on multimodal discourse.

A generic school setting includes native speakers of English, non-natives, different ethnic backgrounds, economic diversity and artistic capabilities. The age group is between 4 to 8 year old children, with access to various multimedia gadgets, technologies.

As a teacher in the school setting, my focus is to facilitate the child learns the ability to – critique Discourses, whether primary or secondary discourse.  The process of learning requires that the child is exposed to several types of alternative primary Discourses as well as Secondary discourses (Gee, J. P. 1990). Here, the emphasis is that the child acquires and follows-through with learning. As per multimodal approach, it is important that public spaces are explored for multiple modes. The need is to go beyond linguistic elements and look at analysing them as separate or isolated practices, separate from other signs. Hence, the multimodal analysis would require that as a teacher I look at the arrangement of the class room, the institutional structure, interactive displays in the class or school spaces and most other written text. This approach will allow me to us the design work prepared previous to the interaction, in terms of material collection and from field conditions.

One of the largest challenge base for education has been the relation between pre-condition and outcomes of learning. The school or institutional environment is one factor influencing learning outcome. School leadership, resources and the investment of a teacher in professional development are also important factors. Thus traditional teaching semiotic resource of language, however, with the emergence of MDA it is now possible for incorporating semiotic potentials – image, sound, gesture, movement, as well as other representations. The premise of the MDA will be in the effective use of different models in comprehensive communication to students.

Teacher such as me will be able to explore alternative approaches to communication – modal resources as well as modal affordance. These will help in representation of image, action as well as other action features in the classroom. It will allow new ways of learning for children of this age group, as the modes will allow me to seamless move from type of mode to the next so that the meaning of the concept is delivered. The child is not constrained from learning a concept because of the language in which I communicate.

According to Lemke, J. L. (2002), the emergence of the twentieth century as the ‘age of themes’ as against the ‘age of disciplines’ in the nineteenth century is one of the leading reasons for the emergence of MDA as a paradigm change. The new issues and problems that have emerged from age of themes requires new forms of solutions for these problems. It has now become a key factor with respect to multimodal analysis, information retrieving processes as well as search aspects. The core foundations of MDA have been developed by Kress and Leeuwen, when they used images and other visual design towards systemic functional model for semiotic analysis in terms of architecture, paintings, displayed art and sculpture.

Visual media, pictures, sound, images and gestures will allow me to convey a meaning more effectively than single use of language. The idea behind the multimodality instruction is the use of the ‘process of design’ to focus on a meaning. It looks at communication as a process and therefore does not constrain itself to only social situations. It allows meanings to be selected, adapted and represented, communicated in terms of resources – physical, social, cognitive, within the classroom.

However, to engage in multimodal discourses a through understanding of people and their select modal resources have to be understood. Multimodality stresses on dynamic characteristics of meaning and represents idea of design and change. It provides meanings as well as making resources which are represented with respect to new social work and sign making. It has now become the responsibility of new age teachers to rethink the literacy concepts beyond that of language. It should be used to effectively speak with teachers, educational policy changes and connecting with young people, children and demands of contemporary communication setup.




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