Reference (What’s this about?)


0.0 MARY: “Reference” answers the first of our five questions, “what is this about?” We can ask this question of all forms of meaning, in isolation, or in their multimodal combination. We are going to explore three major aspects of reference - their specification, their circumstances, and their properties.

  • 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. 77-78.

0.32 MARY: Specification refers to whether something is an instance, an absence, or a concept. An instance is a singular thing. Here I am, Mary Kalantzis, you can see me on this video, and you are unlikely to argue that I don’t exist. In referring to me, a whole lot of multimodal corroborations are going on, between the text on the title slide of this video, on this record of my speech, my body that you can see now.

There is just one of me, you are not going to argue with that either, though I do happen to have a grand-daughter who has the same name. Much of the time, text or speech is not enough to achieve specification. This why, in order to make a reliable meaning, we need multimodal transposition of the kind you are experiencing in this video. You’ve got the video recording of me beside my name to distinguish me from all the other Mary Kalantzises in the world.

  • 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. 83, 86.

1.34 MARY: However, there is always a chance that I will be absent – when I miss a meeting, or when someone deliberately doesn’t invite me to something, or when you remember that you have forgotten me. Absence is meaningful non-presence. Of course, there are an infinite number of absences which are completely irrelevant…

You wouldn’t care to wonder whether I was missing from the Moon. I’m sure that’s not an absence that would normally cross anyone’s mind, although this otherwise unmeaningful non-presence I have just made into a meaningful absence by creating it as a silly example. Absence is a tricky thing. You never know where these transpositions can take you.

Then, let’s imagine there was a Mary Kalantzis in a novel or a movie, that would be an interesting kind of absence, the extent to which the character was based on my life, in part or not at all. Or a character like me but with a different name. There are many interesting absences like these – novels and movies are full of them, fictional presences and are strangely absences as well.

This is the point we want to make about transposition. Instance and absence are not clearly distinct and different things. They don’t sit in a system of stable contrasts. There is a dynamic connection between the two. The one is always about to become the other, and there are many complicated and ambiguous places along the way.

Here are some different kinds of absence, across the forms of meaning – ellipses in texts, sometimes marked with three little dots to tell you something has been left out, blank spaces in image, and of course, blanks are meaningful absences, so are empty places in spaces, objects that are missing, persons who are absent, silences between sounds, and things left unsaid.

  • 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. 99-100.

3.44: MARY: And another transposition in the specification of me, deceptively profound, deceptively important. I am an instance of a person. I am one of seven and something billion people alive today.

I just looked up the world population clock, and here’s the number of people on earth at the fraction second I took this screenshot. The numbers are spinning forward at a dizzying speed.

Here’s me as an instance, you’re looking at me on this video. But the people who made this graphic meant to include me too, because if you had the time keep scrolling down, you’d see everyone. I must be somewhere there, though one of the things about concepts is that instances often tend to get lost in the crowd.

So, I have a double life, as an instance and a concept. Someone is always about to make me into a concept, a change that is can made in the meaning of me. In the specification of me, I am both things at the same time, and of course I want to be both, me and a person. I am both these things, I am Mary Kalantzis in my singularity but a person in my generality. I want to be able to move between these meanings.

These are two aspects of me, but quite fundamentally different aspects, or we would say functionally, grammatically different. These are two fundamentally different aspects of specification. Or, to turn them into actions, I can be conceptualized as a person, but as a person I can be instantiated as Mary Kalantzis.

If I was to apply old fashioned grammar to this, here I am on the right side of your screen, and you can specify me with a proper noun. Or you can refer to me as “she” in the singular. On the left side of the screen, somewhere in the crowd I have been specified as a concept, a common noun “person,” in the plural.

When it comes to imaging, I can make the same grammatical move. The person you see on the right side of the screen is me, incontrovertibly instantiated. But even though you it is impossible to find me on the left side of the screen, the repeated icons of persons capture in image the conceptual characteristics of peopleness that I share with seven billion and something others.

This is an example of how, in the pattern language we are creating in this multimodal grammar, we can use text and image to differentiate instances and concepts. Here you see me, as an instance on the right and a concept on the left.

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

6.46 BILL: Here now is a rough map of how specification happens across all the forms of meaning, most of the time in multimodal combination. Because one form of meaning is rarely enough, we mostly need to transpose in order to make meaning. We say this map is rough, because our aim in this grammar is to sketch out our pattern language in broad brushstrokes. There is a lot more that could be done to think through and provide detailed examples across all the forms of meaning. So, we instantiate in text with proper nouns, the definite article “the,” and the singular form of the noun or noun phrase.

  • Reference: Cope, Bill and Mary Kalantzis, 2020, Making Sense: Reference, Agency and Structure in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, p. 86.

7.26 BILL: In our grammatical terms, alpha-numeric identifiers are text too – for example, the practically unspeakable number for the scan of your bag when you check it in at the airport. Or put it this way, you could read out the numbers, but that’s reading, a multimodal practice, and not speaking in the ordinary sense of spontaneous speech. Remember our definition of text, anything that can be written in Unicode.

Here’s the instantiation: this is just one bag, your bag, one bag alone among the millions being moved around every day, with unique features no matter how frustratingly hard these might sometimes be to distinguish at the baggage belt.

Then, to conceptualize, in old fashioned grammars of text we had nouns, the indefinite article “a”, and the plural form of a noun or noun phrase. In our digital world we also use alphanumeric names to classify things.

You take an instance of a can of sardines to the checkout in a supermarket, and the number that goes with the barcode classifies it as a kind of thing by its product number. In this case, the system of alphanumeric naming is performing the function of conceptualization. And a practical machine transposition also happens here, from the image of the barcode to the text that the computer reads, to the product name that comes up on your receipt.

9.18 MARY: In image, pictures can be of a single thing (an instance) or represent a kind of thing (a concept).

Here is the philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, speaking to someone else on the Pont des Arts, Paris. This picture is from in a famous book of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, published in 1952. This is Sartre, unequivocally instantiated.

And now, this is a graphic created by Otto Neurath and Marie Reidemeister in the 1930s for their Museum of Society and Economy in Vienna. Each small child represents 1000 kindergarten children served school meals each day, the larger child, older schoolchildren. These are persons, conceptualized in image. This kind of distinction may be clearer in image than in text. Neurath and Reidemeister are famous for having invented this kind of abstract iconography.

  • 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.113-16.

10.26 MARY: This is a kitchen, conceptualized. We can rearrange the iconically represented parts if we are planning to instantiate for the redesign of a kitchen.

By contrast with the previous conceptualization of space, there’s no denying this is a kitchen, instantiated. Speech is rarely this clear. How definite is the definite article in “Meet me in the kitchen” (kitchen instantiated) compared to “The kitchen is my favorite room in the house” which could refer to my like for kitchens in general, as well as this particular kitchen.

Transpositions like this make up for the uncertainties of speech.

11.13 BILL: In space, we might have a particular church, school, or park … but as soon as we are considering more than one, we connect them with the concepts of church, school, or park … or railway stations. But always in unique place, that may look in a photograph uniquely like this station, where you, or I or Philip Larkin might agree to meet. Though, conceptualizing, we can identify railway stations in general, conceptually by what they do. This will help us to find a station we have never been to before.

11.44 MARY: … and so on across our forms of meaning, this object versus a kind of object, your personal style versus kinds of gesture or appearance, the sound of this ringtone in a phone compared to ringtones in general … this speech act, as a uniquely voiced meaning, versus the repeatable concept of denial.

12.07 BILL: Why is this important? One of the unfortunate aspects putting text and image together into an explanatory diagram, we have needed put these ideas in places that seem mutually exclusive. This was how Ferdinand de Saussure’s generated his insights about language when he created something that is today called “structuralism” – but it was also the problem with his system. Things are never this clearly separable, this stable. The diagram is a trap.

This is why we are talking you through this diagram, to say some things in speech that could they diagram can’t say for us. What we are saying is this - there is constant movement between these things. This movement we call transposition.

We’re going to give you two reasons why transposition is important. The one is technical, the other humanistic.

The technical reason is that the digital world, meanings are generated from relational databases. The column head is the concept, then the cell of the table is the instance. The column head may say person’s name, then in the cells in the column below we have people’s names, including Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope.

Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon all have our names in this kind of database, and this is how in digital text we can generate a “bill” which is different from me as a person based on a template for bill creation which includes my name. Digital text is driven by ontologies, which, among other things are continually aligning instances with concepts. This is transposition, with mechanical support.

14.20 MARY: There’s humanistic reason as well, why we want this concept of transposition. If course, in my personhood I am to be counted in a community or a species, but please don’t reduce me to a number. I want to be one of many, and this is without prejudice to my being myself. I want to be both meanings at the same time, and to shift my meaning as I feel I need to.

This is how we live our meanings, shifting between instance-ness and concept-ness. This is how we move between the general and the particular.

There is nothing particularly language-y about this. In fact, we’ve seen that language alone doesn’t do such a great job of specification, grammatically speaking. It’s an existential thing, an ontological thing, that we live in every fiber of our bodies, our selfhood (instantiating) and our personhood (conceptualizing) – transposing these meanings from embodied feelings, to images, to speech, to text and the other forms we have for meaning our selves.

  • Reference: Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope, 2020, Adding Sense: Context and Interest in a Grammar of Multimodal Meaning, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 325-27.