"Transposition is a likelihood, an impatience, a risk, a danger, a possibility, an opportunity, an impossibility, a shock, a hell, a utopia..."

"We do not want to formalize structures of meaning into categorical objects, frozen for the moment of analysis. Rather, we are interested in the patterns of their becoming, what they have been and what they are begging yet to become." (Adding Sense, §0.4)

Cope and Kalantzis outline their transpositional grammar in two volumes, to be published by Cambridge University Press later in 2019 and early 2020:

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

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Transpositional grammar describes and analyzes movement in meaning across and between its different meaning-forms: text, image, space, object, body, sound and speech. Meanings can be expressed in all of these meaning-forms, though never in quite the same way—hence: multimodality and the transposition of meanings from form to form.

Across all of these meaning-forms and within their multimodal manifestations, any and every meaning expresses five meaning-functions: reference, agency, structure, context, and interest. In this functional perspective, meanings are always on the move, as we shift our attention from one meaning-function to another, and within each function where meanings are ever-ready and always-impatient to move.

Transpositional grammar is an account of meanings that, in their very nature, are always in a process of transformation.

Meaning-Forms and Multimodality

This a grammar of constant movement. Not only is it multimodal in scope. It also suggests an alternative to categorically rigid and language-centered understandings of meaning. A transpositional grammar recognizes that meanings shift backwards and forwards across and between different forms, the one form 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 and the ways in which any moment they are likely to act. 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, and their possible directions.


"A grammar is a resource for meaning, the critical functioning semiotic by means of which we pursue our everyday life. It therefore embodies a theory of everyday life; otherwise it cannot function in this way... A grammar is a theory of human experience." M.A.K. Halliday

This is 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 speaking 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.” Transposition is the activity of reframing meaning in one form, then another.

The second reason for our broader definition of grammar is to challenge the very mode of operation of most grammars, and more generally structuralist approaches to linguistics and semiotics which classify and categorize meanings. Defying the neat separations, we want to say that meanings are always traveling on journeys of change. This vector of movement we call “functional transposition.”