Context (What else is this connected to?)


0.0BILL: Now, to our next aspect of context, the manner of participation in meaning, the different participatory functions through which meanings pass.

Many theories of meaning focus on communication. They center on self as effective message-bearer, or how people get their meanings across. We want to develop a broader view of meaning that we call participation, where the focus is on the social traffic between minds and the world.

For this, we want to make some distinctions that are often not clearly made, between representation, communication and interpretation. These are very different kinds of activity, not that the one can ever be separated from the other. Here we want to come back to our idea of transposition. Not only are we always moving between these kinds of meaning activity. The meaning is in the restive movement itself.

  • Reference: Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope, 2020, Adding Sense: Context and Interest in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, pp. 47-48.

1.04 BILL: Let me illustrate the distinction with the example of speech. Representation is speaking to oneself. You might be taking to yourself in the noisy silence of your mind, thinking something through. You might be rehearsing what you are about to say. But you may never say what you are thinking. This is representation without communication.

Your resources for thinking are in the language you have learned to speak – or at least some of your meanings, because as we are arguing, you have other resources for thinking in the form of imaging, experiencing objects and embodied action, and the other forms of meaning that we examine in this multimodal grammar.

Not that representation is just in your head. Representation can also be externalized. You might mutter or rehearse your lines for a presentation. You might write notes to self, or a to-do list, or a personal diary. You might draw a diagram to help you think through something. You might walk through a space to get a sense of the lie of the land. These kinds of representations are not just in your head. We use material artifacts to support our representations, or meanings for ourselves – cognitive prostheses, we call these. That’s why in this diagram we have circled the whole body as a site of representation.

2.33 BILL: And even when the representations are just in our heads, in dreams even, we find ourselves rehearsing in our mind’s eye ways of meaning that we have in the first instance experienced in the material world and the social forms of its meaning that we have learned—spoken words silently thought, mental images brought to mind, remembered or planned courses of interaction with objects or moving through space, or envisioned bodily movements. The sources of our meanings are social and material.

  • Reference: Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope, 2020, Adding Sense: Context and Interest in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, pp. 52-54.

3.07 BILL: But if you happen to have made visible or tangible moves in your thinking, another person may chance upon the material traces of your meaning. Only then does communication happen. They may hear you muttering, come across your to-do list, see you waking through a space, or overhear you practicing a musical instrument. You may never have meant them to come across your representations, but as soon as they do, they become communication.

However, much of our meaning is meant for others; it is directed outward. If representation is meaning for ourselves, communication is meaning for others. Our example in this sketch is speaking, let’s say with the purpose of communication.

3.47 BILL: Not that your meaning simply becomes the other person’s meaning, that they hear what you are saying in the exact way you meant. This is the grand fantasy of communication – when misunderstanding is considered to be failed communication. In a theory that takes interpretation into account, some degree of misunderstanding is the norm, or we should say less negatively, different understanding.

Because the listener in this example re-represents what they hear based on the context of their own experience and interest. This is interpretation. The meaning they make has its source in the communication they have encountered, but it is never the same as the meaning maker’s. In fact, it is a (re)representation, a (re)design. Not that their interpretation is disconnected from the speaker’s. Even though their meaning is not quite the same as the speakers, if they have heard he communication at all, their world has been changed.

  • Reference: Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope, 2020, Adding Sense: Context and Interest in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, pp. 58-59.

4.44 BILL: In western societies we have for a long time privileged communication over representation and interpretation. Here is St Benedict of Nursia, issuing his monastic rule in about 530 CE. The Western monastic system that Benedict founded was to become the basis of the college system in the first universities, and after that, one of the central logics of modern education, with its bias towards communication.

5.09 BILL: This is what the Rule of St Benedict says:

“For it belongeth to the master to speak and to teach; it becometh the disciple to be silent and to listen. If, therefore, anything must be asked of the Superior, let it be asked with all humility and respectful submission.”

5.29 BILL: Benedict set in train a whole tradition of participation in spoken meaning—lectures, sermons, instructional videos, and now MOOCs and flipped classrooms—where one party is silent and the other speaks, on the assumption that the silent party will “get” what has been communicated to them. This bias in favor of communication is at the expense of the other aspects of participation in meaning, representation and interpretation. Acknowledge the learner, we would plead with teachers today, and give them the power to remake meaning for themselves through interpretation.

  • Reference: Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope, 2020, Adding Sense: Context and Interest in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, pp. 54-56.

6.14 BILL: Now, here’s a nice quote from philosopher John Dewey:

“Of all affairs, communication is the most wonderful. That things should be able to pass from the plane of external pushing and pulling to that of revealing themselves… ; and that the fruit of communication should be participation, sharing, is a wonder by the side of which transubstantiation pales.”

Transubstantiation occurs in the Catholic eucharist when the bread and the wine becomes the body and blood of Christ.

We take this idea of participation from Dewey, though communication is only one part of the picture. We frame it slightly differently, as insistent, edgy movement of our meanings, the transposition of representations, into communications, into interpretations as kinds of (re)representation. Across every move, there is something the shared in the meaning, and something changes. Meanings are always anxiously begging to differ, and the task of a transpositional grammar is to trace the patterns in their differing.

  • Reference: Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope, 2020, Adding Sense: Context and Interest in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, p. 48.

7.16 MARY: Now, I want to take two examples of these transpositions, moving between representation, communication and interpretation—the first about speech, the second about image.

7.29 MARY: The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, made a distinction between inner speech and externalized speech. Inner speech is representation. Externalized speech is communication.

Learning to speak, young children often talk aloud to themselves. There is no distinction between their internalized and externalized speech.

But, as their speech develops, their inner speech becomes more and more different from their externalized speech. For instance, as a fully developed speaker, when you are trying to communicate, you need to orient the hearer by starting a clause with a subject or given. But when we are talking to themselves, all we need is a predicate or new, because the subject is already in our mind’s eye.

Or, in the terms we are developing in this grammar, as the child develops their capacity to speak and think, the grammar of representation in speech becomes more and more different from the grammar of communication in speech. And the distance travelled in the transposition becomes larger.

  • Reference: Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope, 2020, Adding Sense: Context and Interest in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, pp. 50-52.

8.43 MARY: Now, an imaging example. I am going to say some words, “the Eiffel Tower.” Most likely, what first springs to mind is a picture.

8.55 MARY: … and not the shape of these words. And if your mind drifted on to thinking about the Eiffel Tower without having mentioned it, what would come to mind would be the image before sound-shape of its spoken name.

We take issue with the thinkers who privilege language in human meaning. We think in images at least as much as we think in words, and also in our embodied experiences, of space (if we walked down the Champ de Mars towards the Eiffel Tower), and object (if we climbed the stairs instead of taking the elevator, and touched its steel ribs).

Noam Chomsky says the heart of human thinking is language, and language is hard wired into the brain. Both assumptions are occupational hazards for linguists. Thinking is as much other things such as imaging and embodied feeling, and these are things you have learned. Nobody is born able to recognize the Eiffel Tower.

Where do our mental images come from? You have probably seen countless pictures of the Eiffel Tower, and you may have been there. Mental images are the equivalent in the realm of image to Vygotsky’s inner speech – both are representations.

10.12 MARY: Now, we’re communicating the Eiffel Tower in a photograph. You almost certainly didn’t have this one in mind just now, unless you’ve seen this video before or seen this picture on our website. This is a photograph taken late afternoon on a foggy winter’s day (not the usual tourist angle) in the anniversary year of the tower’s construction, 1989 - hence the “hundred years” lights running up the tower. We can discover new things in the experience of communicated meaning.

The point we want to make is this: as representations, mental images are grammatically quite different from meanings communicated in perception – the seeing of images or the objects and spaces themselves. In your mental image you conjure up some criterial features – these have allowed you to recognize this image. But when communication of meaning is by perception of image, object, or space, there is an infinity of detailed and varied possibilities in the seeing.

Then another transposition, interpretation, what the image means to me, how I connect it with other images of the Eiffel tower that I have seen or, if I have been there, my experience. If I have been there, the tower-as-object itself communicated its meaning to me, and there certainly would have been some revelations in that experience that have stayed with me. However, if you have been there, your experience can never have been quite the same as mine.

Our conclusions: the differences between representation, communication, and interpretation as kinds of participation in meaning are large and important, and the transpositions essential in experience of meaning.

  • Reference: Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis, 2020, Making Sense: Reference, Agency and Structure in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, pp. 101-03.