Cope and Kalantzis outline their transpositional grammar across two books, to be published by Cambridge University Press later in 2019:

  • Making Sense: Reference, Agency and Structure in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning
  • Adding Sense: Context and Interest in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning

These webpages contain supporting images and media.Transpositional grammar is a framework for describing and analyzing different forms of meaning—text, image, space, body, sound and speech. We make the case that across all of these forms, meaning can be expressed in terms of five functions: reference, agency, structure, context, and interest.

As our argument unfolds, a new kind of grammar emerges. Not only is this multimodal in its scope. It also suggests a move away from categorically rigid and language-centered understandings of meaning. We call this a “transpositional grammar,” a grammar of constant movement. A transpositional grammar recognizes that meanings shift backwards and forwards across the different forms, the one complementing the other for the peculiarities of its media—its affordances.

Meanings also shift functionally. A singular instance is always about to become a countable concept. A self-centered “I” is always about to become an empathetic “other.” Entities can be understood in terms of the actions by which they have been constituted. In these ways and many others like them, all the meanings in the world are always on the move. A transpositional grammar sets out to capture the impatience of these movements.

These books lay out a grammar everyday life. In our old fashioned schoolish understandings, “grammar” was the syntax of language, rules for correct speaking and writing. Following Michael Halliday’s suggestion, we want to use this word in a wider sense, to develop an account of grammar as patterns in meaning.

Our reasons expanding the definition of grammar are twofold. First, the meanings of speech and writing have never made sense outside a wider understanding of the relations of text and speech to image, sound, body, space, and object. It makes even less sense to make such a separations today, in an era of pervasive digital media where these forms of meaning are so profoundly overlaid. This phenomenon we call “multimodality.” The activity of reframing of a meaning in one form, then another, or several together at the same time, we call “transposition.”

The second reason for our broader definition of grammars is to challenge their very mode of operation, and more generally structuralist approaches to linguistics which classify and categorize meanings. Defying the neat separations, we want to say that meanings are always ready to move. This reveals a second vector of transposition which we call “functional transposition,” within each of the always-present and simultaneous functions of reference, agency, structure, context and interest.


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