Meaning directs our attention to things—we call this “reference.” Meaning tracks our activity as sensuous creatures and the other acting creatures and things of the cosmos—we call this “agency.” Meanings also hang together, with networks of interlinkage that create coherence, and where every congealed meaning is greater than the sum of its parts. We name this coherence, “structure.” Analysis of the holding together in structures, we call “ontology,” or the philosophy of what things are, their being. We identifying two kinds of binding, two kinds of ways in which things hold together in the work of meaning: in material structures (the meanings-in things themselves), and ideal structures (the meanings-for those things, the meanings we attribute to them). The process of interconnecting the material and the ideal, we call design. In forensics that analyze ontologies and their designs, we look for specific relations. This is to make our analysis more granular. However, heading in the direction of ontologies with higher levels of generality, we find ontologies encompassed by more general ontologies, or metaontologies. Structures can nest within structures. This transpositional grammar is a metaontology.


Ontology is an account of the relationships between the patterning of meanings and the patterning of the world. We make sense of the world through our inherited structures of meaning in the forms of text, image, space, object, body, sound and speech, and their multimodal manifestations. But there is more to the structure of the world than the sense that we can for the moment make in these forms. There are excess of meaning in the world—things we do not yet know but that are discoverable. And there are excesses of meaning not yet in the world, things that are imaginable and possibly realizable.


Design is an account of patterns in meaning: the patterns of conventional meaning that are our design resources; the transformation of meaning through designing action that brings into play patterns of differing, where the new meaning draws from available resources for meaning, nevertheless transforming these; and the traces of meaning left in the world that are the residues of design. In an ontology of design, patterns of being (meanings-in) can never be separated from patterns of knowing (meanings-for). This applies to all sentient creatures, rats as well as humans, ants even. But this is only a matter of degree. Sentient life is the ground of an ontology of design. Then, there is the knowable, in the material structures of nature and society, but which are not yet known. This is where material structures of meaning exceed the ideal, for the moment at least, and perhaps elusively if some remain forever unknowns. And there is the imaginable, where ideal structures of meaning exceed the material, for the moment at least, and forever when the ideal is unrealizable in material reality.


Relation we define as the means by which structures cohere, where relations are established between kinds of things, parts of things, properties of things, and things that cause. But, despite our capacity to generalize relations, no two structures are the same, and no two relations within these structures.


A metaontology is an ontology of ontologies. If grammars are metalanguages or ontologies of language structure, then to the extent that we attempt to map all forms and functions of meaning, our grammar of multimodality is an ontology of ontologies. Metaontologies map the structure of the structures of meaning, patterns and patterns of patterns, with their repeatable commonalities and irreducible differences.

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. 259-61.