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Plenary Speakers

Helen Caple

‘Celebrating’ the nation? Visual-verbal strategies for engaging in the discursive struggle around Australia DaY

This presentation examines the visual-verbal strategies used in social media posts (specifically, Instagram), as users (Instagrammers) engage in the discursive struggle around a highly controversial date in the Australian public holiday calendar: Australia Day.

Australia Day - Australia’s national day - is commemorated annually on 26 January. This is the date that the First Fleet of British ships landed in Sydney Cove on the continent that is now known as Australia, and ‘settlement’ began. Both the meaning of the national day and the date on which it is commemorated have long been at the centre of public debate. The day is marked by both protests and celebrations and in recent years, members of the public have taken to social media to share their views on the day (Caple & Bednarek 2020). My talk examines how both the visual and verbal elements of Instagram posts contribute to this debate about the national day. I focus on Instagram posts that use the hashtag #invasionday and that also include visual depictions of two of Australia’s official flags, the national flag of Australia and the Aboriginal flag. Flags are symbols of patriotism, nationalism, pride in a nation, supposedly a unifying symbol. By examining the co-occurrence of these flags with their surrounding verbal text, I illustrate the semiotic strategies that emerge from these Instagram posts, as they contribute to the debate about the day.

This work draws on the theoretical concepts of bonding (Stenglin 2004; Martin & Stenglin 2007), iconization (Martin & Stenglin 2007; Tann 2010), Appraisal (Martin & White 2005) and ambient affiliation/communities (Zappavigna 2011; Zappavigna & Martin 2018) to analyse how these visual-verbal complexes contribute to the discursive struggle around the national day (Caple et al. 2020).


Tuomo Hiippala

Diagrams, graphs and information graphics: a multimodal perspective on diagrammatic representations

Diagrams, graphs and information graphics are a common feature of school textbooks, newspapers and many other everyday media, where they take on a diverse range of communicative functions. It is therefore not surprising that these diagrammatic representations are currently receiving increased attention in diverse fields of study, such as social, educational and multimodal semiotics (see e.g. Hiippala et al. 2021; Martin & Unsworth 2023) and diagrams research (Engelhardt & Richards 2021), to name just a few examples.

In this presentation, I will synthesise recent advances in studies of the multimodality of diagrammatic representations by drawing on the concept of diagrammatic semiotic mode, which uses the strata of materiality, expressive resources and discourse semantics to describe how diagrammatic representations operate multimodally (Hiippala & Bateman 2022). Against this background, I will address fundamental issues such as the identification of basic units of discourse and the broader methodological challenges posed by diagrammatic representations. Finally, I will discuss the implications of understanding the multimodality of diagrams for literacy and accessibility.

Jane Torr

Semiotic beginnings: Reading picture books with infants at home and in early childhood centres

The practice of reading and talking about picture books with infants (children aged from birth to 24 months) has been shown to relate to their future language development, which in turn is related to academic success at school entry and beyond. This relationship remains strong even after controlling for socioeconomic background and other features of the home literacy environment. In this presentation I will draw on systemic functional linguistic concepts and multimodal research to explore how, and why, the seemingly simple practice of reading with infants is so consequential for their current and future language development.


Currently much of our knowledge about the role of shared reading in supporting language development is based on studies of mother-infant interactions in the home. Unlike at home, in early childhood centres infants spend most of their waking hours in groups with similar-aged peers and multiple adults, with whom they may or may not be very familiar. This setting has implications for the meaning-making that can occur during educator-infant shared attention to picture books. I shall explore such interactions through examples of the naturally occurring book-focused experiences of 20 focus infants, each of whom was videorecorded in a different early childhood centre in Sydney, Australia. I shall employ SFL concepts to analyse their contextual features and the linguistic and other semiotic resources deployed by educators, infants, and the picture book, with a view to understanding more about the language learning opportunities that such interactions afford to infants in early childhood centres.


Emilia Djonov

Beyond texts: Semiotic artefacts in library storytime

Multimodal studies have drawn on systemic functional theory to analyse the meanings of objects such as toys and picture books as well as interactions that incorporate them (e.g. ‘show and tell’ in early years classrooms; shared reading). Building on these studies, I will present a close examination of how picture books and other objects (e.g. puppets and musical instruments) are multimodally integrated in library storytime sessions. As part of public libraries’ efforts to promote early language and literacy in their communities, library storytime is a well-established practice in Australia and other countries around the world. In a typical session, a library professional reads aloud books and tells stories to young children and their caregivers, as well as engages participants in activities such as singing, reciting nursery rhymes, dancing and craft.

Inspired by research in children’s literacy and literature, anthropology and semiotics, I approach picture books and other objects not as texts but as ‘semiotic artefacts’, that is, as meaning-making resources that include selections from various modes and media. This provides a promising foundation for examining how these objects are co-deployed with resources such as gesture, speech and 3D space in complex multimodal events. I will illustrate this through examples selected from the analysis of 57 library storytime sessions recorded at public libraries in New South Wales and interviews with their presenters. Conducted in collaboration with Maree Stenglin, the analysis employs Van Leeuwen’s (2008) model for critical studies of discourse and social practice, Stenglin’s (2008) notion of 'bonding icon', Basil Bernstein’s (1975/1977) theory of symbolic control in education, and Victor Turner’s (1967; 1977) hierarchy of symbols in ritual. The findings support an evaluation of whether and how the integration of picture books and other semiotic artefacts can help the practice of library storytime achieve its central goals – to foster in young children language and literacy learning, love of reading, and a sense of belonging to a community of readers and library patrons. The study also invites reflection on whether and how we can productively apply concepts such as ‘genre’ and ‘text’ to library storytime.

Ken TanN 

Genre pedagogy for knower building: Developing employability skills in a business school

Since Australian universities have come under increasing pressure from industry to produce ‘work ready’ graduates over the past two decades, higher education institutions have placed an emphasis on producing ‘transferrable’ student outcomes in the form of employability skills (ACCI, 2002) and graduate attributes (Barrie, 2006). Distinct from disciplinary knowledge, they include ‘dispositions’ (Bridgstock, 2009), ‘attitudes’ and ‘values’ (Hill, Walkington & France, 2016), which enable graduates to attract employers and participate effectively in the workforce (Gill, 2018). This paper discusses how Sydney School Genre Pedagogy (Rose & Martin, 2012) has been used effectively in two core courses at the University of Queensland to help students develop these skills and attributes.

Prior to the implementation of genre pedagogy, these two courses, which focus on employability skills, were considered ‘at-risk’ due to their low popularity with students, who previously found the courses too abstract and lacking practicality. However, teaching only context-specific skills without an integrated knowledge base would risk their transferability. The subsequent introduction of genre pedagogy provided coherence to the courses and the means to relate theory and practice, thereby turning them into highly successful courses, which have run for the past six years. While the traditional concern of genre pedagogy has been the building of disciplinary knowledge (e.g. Tann & Scott, 2020), it is used in these courses to develop the dispositions and attitudes of students as competent ‘knowers’ (Maton, 2014).

In this paper, I shall argue that genre pedagogy can empower students in three important and interrelated ways: knowledge about language can be used to interpret social practices, make knower pedagogy visible, and develop culturally valued personas. Since its early days, Systemic Functional Linguistics has been concerned not only with ‘learning language’, but also ‘learning through language’ (Halliday, 1993). Taken beyond literacy contexts, the inherently social and dialogic design of such a pedagogy allows us to draw on language (and semiosis more broadly) both as a useful tool to think with, as well as a means to enact and embody possible social selves.

Ken Tann.jpg

Yaegan Doran

Negotiating social relations: Viewing tenor from multiple perspectives

Whenever we talk or write, we negotiate our social relations. This may involve small seemingly inconsequential chats with friends, families and colleagues that help us stay in contact and possibly get us closer to them; or they may be large, momentous events that bring us together or tear us apart. In all cases, we negotiate these social relations through the discourse we use – through language and a range of related semiotic resources. In SFL, this has typically been explored through tenor, a variable of context (Halliday 1978; or register, Martin 1992, depending on the model being used). Tenor has variously been described in terms of the 'roles played by those taking part’ in a situation, ‘the values that the interactants imbue’ the activity with (Halliday & Matthiessen 2014: 33) and the relationships between addressees or interactants (Gregory 1967; Hasan 2020). Or, more broadly, the ‘general dimensions of social relations’ (Poynton 1990:70) and their negotiation (Martin 1992: 523). However, to this point, there has been little by way of comprehensive models of tenor that have been able to link the various dimensions underpinning our social relations with the set of language resources that realise them, in particular, resources within the interpersonal metafunction (Hasan 2020 and related work such as Butt et al. 2021 being perhaps the most comprehensive proposal thus far).


As a step toward such a model, this talk will focus on how we can consider tenor in SFL in relation to recent expansions of SFL theory that have distinguished realisation, instantiation and individuation (Halliday 1991, Matthiessen 1993, Martin 2010). It will propose that a fruitful avenue for understanding the link between language and social relations is to view tenor from these multiple perspectives. From the perspective of realisation, tenor can be viewed as a set of resources for enacting social relations (drawing on a model developed in Doran, Martin and Zappavigna forthcoming). From the perspective of instantiation, it can be viewed as sets of guiding principles that underly how we co-select and arrange different language features (such as the principles of status and contact, described by, e.g. Poynton 1990, Martin 1992, Hasan 2020 and Butt et al. 2021). And in terms of individuation, it can be viewed as sets of social roles and relationships – or more broadly, arenas of sociality – that

offer possibilities for variation, contestation and collaboration, in terms of the meaning making resources that are taken up or presumed. In short, given the major role tenor plays in our understanding of how language and broader semiosis enacts social relations, this talk will propose that it is time to give it the theoretical space it needs.

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