Language as multimodal, or communication as variably polysemiotic?

December 16, 2020
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Starts at 18:00 (Moscow time)


Alan Cienki

Full Professor
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam



The rise of gesture studies as a field of inquiry, particularly over the past 30 years, has also given rise to a proliferation of terms among linguists and psychologists to refer to the combined use of the various phenomena 'at hand', e.g. gesture as being part of language, language as being multimodal, discourse as being multichannel. Each approach highlights different categories. With the terminological variety, different theoretical distinctions come into play — ones which are sometimes at odds with each other across academic discourses. An issue that is often not discussed, but which is central to the debate, is the nature of the categories themselves, or at least the nature of researchers' view of these categories. Focusing on semiotic systems, and taking seriously the idea that these categories have prototype structures, rather than working with them as if they were (metaphorically) containers, may open the door to better understanding how the various forms of communication involved function in relation to each other. In addition, such a view is also consonant with a theoretical framework that can help account for (a) the variability in the responsibility borne by different semiotic systems in real-time communication, and (b) how (a) varies along different, overlapping time scales.