The language of new media design
Today I would like to discuss a book which may be of interest to scholars and students who work within the framework of systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and multimodal critical discourse analysis (MCDA). This book presents researchers with SFL analytical tools for studying such complex modern media products as websites, photographs, and mixed (multimodal) discourse.
One of the central ideas of the book is that linear (plain/verbal) texts can be converted into multimodal texts and vice versa. According to Martinec and Van Leeuwen (2009), this can be done with the help of a two-stage analysis which they refer to as “1st translation” and “2nd translation”:
1st translation – from linear texts into non-linear models; and
2nd translation – the translation of these non-linear models into actual new media products such as websites.
Martinec and Van Leeuwen (2009) distinguish six non-linear models which are represented schematically as follows:
Star (=Nucleus-Satellites =Centre-Periphery) – the key idea is central in the text and other information serves as attributes to the core.
Matrix (=Table) – 1, 2, 3 (rows) are compared according to a, b, c, d (columns); therefore, the elements should be of the same category (not apples and oranges). Tables are best for comparison.
Given-New – “Given” is structurally on the left, it is something that a reader/listener is familiar with (and thereby, safe). “New” is structurally on the right, it is something that needs to be explained.
Tree (=Taxonomy) – can be classificatory (a semantic unit is related to another semantic unit as a class to a subclass) or componential (a semantic unit is related to another semantic unit as a part to the whole).
Network (=Web) – information is not hierarchical (unlike trees); information is distributed rather than centralized (unlike stars).
Ideal-Real – “Ideal” is structurally on top, it is most important semantically; such information often appears in bigger fonts/bold type/italics. “Real” is structurally on the bottom, it is less important; such information often appears in small letters; it is more utilitarian or subsidiary information.
The underlying principle of these non-linear models is the semantic organization of information: coherent structures (new media products) are more efficient and effective communication-wise.
The strong point of the given theory is its semantic basis and its reliance on the SFL framework. The point which needs to be improved is the relatively inaccurate fixation of elements within new media products which may lead to inaccuracies in the analysis.
In brief, the book in question presents a coherent system of tools for analyzing new media design products (multimodal texts). The theory put forward in the book can be used as the theoretical foundation (or one of them) for a dissertation, a thesis, a final paper in a related course, or a research article. The book can be used as one of the resources in teaching a course in new media.
Martinec, R., & Leeuwen, van T. (2009). The language of new media design: Theory and practice. NY: Routledge.