Tag Archives: ENGL 806

ENGL 806 Create a Sign Activity/ Stratified Model of Language

Stratified Model of Language (Adapted from Martin, Hasan, Bernstein)

For this activity I tried to create a stratified model of language that maps the dialectical relation between social structures and the instantiation of texts. The stratified model of language was borrowed from SFL textual analysis and then adapted, following the work of O’Halloran and Kress, to images. The model maps the minutest elements of language, showing how each level of language is nested within or realizes the other. So, at the minutest level we have graphology/phonology or symbols/graphics, which are then formed into sentences or visual representations, which form a text’s meaning as a whole, which is influenced by the context of the situation (register), realized through the context of a culture (genre), influenced by ideologies, which are in turn shaped by one’s social positioning, determined by the codes generated by the social structure. As you can see, social structure ultimately generates the codes that shape texts instantiated in our culture, but texts, themselves, can go on to influence ideologies and in turn transform cultural codes and ultimately social structures. The connotative levels of meaning are parasitic, meaning they must use lower-level systems to instantiate their meaning.

I paid particular attention to mapping tenor, or interpersonal meanings here, which at the level of register forms the concepts of power and solidarity, which is instantiated as appraisal and involvement at the discourse level. Little work has been done in multimodal discourse analysis on the interpersonal aspects of visual rhetoric and ideology. I plan to further analyze how power and solidarity are conveyed within social activist memes. The model makes clear that ideological and political stances we instantiate through texts are in large part determined by our positioning within the class-based social structure.

ENGL 806 Bib #3 “Memetics—A growth industry in US military operations”

Prosser, M. B. (2006). Memetics–A growth industry in US military operations (Unpublished master’s thesis). Thesis (Master’). doi:http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a507172.pdf

This thesis argues that contemporary warfare will need to involve non-linear warfare tactics, such as the creation and distribution of memes, to influence and combat the alternative ideologies of insurgent groups operating within the 21st century, networked media landscape. Following Richard Dawkins, the author defines memes as “‘units of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation’. Said another way, memes are bits of cultural information transmitted and replicated throughout populations and/or societies” (p. 1). The author argues the military will need to move past traditional models of combat—physical military incursions on the battlefield—and into the realm of meme warfare, if the military wants to succeed in curbing insurgent ideologies. The author argues that ideologies are inherently complex, transcendent ideas that are “difficult to eradicate kinetically” (p. 1). The author suggests that ideologies should be conceptualized from an epidemiological perspective, as a disease that “replicates and spreads” as an adaptive system. Memes, too, function as viral, replicable, adaptive systems that can counteract and persuade enemies’ beliefs in “the hotly contested battlefields inside the mind” (p. 3).

The author provides a case study of how the corporation 3M used an innovation meme to cultivate a culture of innovation within the company, which led to significant gains and financial growth. Although not directly related to military warfare, the author suggests that 3M’s corporate model, where the CEO and leaders of the company promote a meme as a “transcendent idea” that then filters down and influences employees and customers, serves as a useful model as to how meme creation can go on to “infect” stakeholders. The author suggests the development of a meme warfare center that would provide “the most relevant meme combat options within the ideological and nonlinear battle space” (p. 11). The meme center would be divided into internal and external branches. The internal meme center would be focused on generating a desired ideological climate within the military, while the external meme center would be more outward looking, promoting the cultural engineering of societies. Key to this project would be “meme engineering,” which entails “meme generation, targeting, and inoculations” (p. 14). Meme engineering is a complex and sophisticated operation, which the author believes would take an interdisciplinary team of experts in cultural anthropology, linguistics, behavioral science, game theory, cognitive scientists, and experts in warfare. Meme engineering is an iterative process that must include the continual cultural analysis of memes over time, as well as an understanding of how memes can be effectively transmitted and distributed through global media.

Although this thesis was written before the explosion of memes as we know them today, this paper still offers an eye-opening perspective on mimetic power and how memes can be used to shape and reshape ideologies. The author provides complex conceptual models of how ideologies and memes function as adaptive pathological systems. One aspect of global communication and memetic power that has certainly changed is the concept of contact. The author argues, “in the absence of contact, memes are not transmitted, replicated, or re-transmitted” (p. 4). This was obviously an issue back in 2006 when not everyone was globally connected through the internet. Now, even insurgent populations most likely have access to the internet, making contact no longer an issue: through contact, almost any ideology can be spread or combatted through social media. Also, through metadata the tracking of the propagation of memes is much easier. What I am not sure the military foresaw at this time was the bidirectional nature of mimetic warfare, where “insurgent” groups can just as easily spread and combat ideologies online.

The conceptual framework of ideologies and memes offered here will be useful to my research. I am also interested in exploring the concept of logogenesis—the evolution of signs and symbols over time— as it applies to the distribution and redistribution of memes. I find it useful that memes and ideologies are being conceptualized here within multidimensional and nonlinear space. Finally, the author provides a model of how ideologies influence behavior that I would argue is similar to Basil Bernstein’s model: “Memes influence ideas, ideas influence and form beliefs,” beliefs influence political positions, which in turn influence actions (p. 2).

ENGL 806 2/16-23 Visual Argument: Smokey Says, Resist

In their groundbreaking book Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design, Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) write that “Just as grammars of language describe how words combine in clauses, sentences and texts, so our visual ‘grammar’ will describe the way in which depicted elements—people, places and things—combine in visual ‘statements’ of greater or lesser complexity and extension” (p. 1). Following their work using SFL, I view the clause (the configuration of participants, processes, and circumstances) as the basic unit of experience, which also applies to images in terms of the construction of visual arguments as well. Designers create visual arguments using the available semiotic resources of their social contexts. I do not believe images can be created without some linguistic or contextual reference, as by definition, visual arguments are socio-semiotic constructs.

Smokey Bear Resist T-Shirt

When discussing the three sites of visual production—the technological, compositional, and social—Rose (2012) uses the work of Marxist and critical geographer David Harvey to help elucidate, in Harvey’s terms, The Condition of Postmodernity (1989) of our contemporary social environment. Here, I will briefly apply a “Harvey-ian” lens to the above image of Smokey The Bear as an activist, created after a faction of the National Park Service recently went “rogue.” Harvey (2005) argues that neoliberalism has radically restructured the economic and social landscape, creating a ruling elite of tech CEOs and billionaires, whose hegemonic ideology frames an interventionist, neo-imperialist foreign policy as a radical form of personal liberation and social justice. Central to neoliberalism is the co-option of 1960s activist discourses and new social movements centered on civil rights and sexual and identity politics, to legitimize and normalize state and global control in the hands of a few elites. The Smokey The Bear Resist image plays into a radical chic neoliberal doctrine of pseudo-activism, by coding a message in support of maintaining the status quo (a decades-long politicized techno-environmental science agenda) as an edgy social justice issue. Harvey’s method allows for a deeper, ideological critique of internet activism that would be nearly impossible to uncover from the mere denotative level of the visual argument. The Marxist irony is not lost, as this supposedly anti-consumerist message is being sold on t-shirts for $22.99.

Why This Method For This Artifact?

The theoretical methodology I am developing is a Frankentheory that needs to be capable of analyzing visual texts as well as their dialectical relations to culture. This notion of modeling both a text and its social relations comes from SFL, especially Firth, Hasan, and Halliday’s argument that language can only be understood within its context of cultural-use. Hasan (2016) writes, “the relation between language and society is dialectical. Language creates, maintains, and changes human society while this stable and yet forever changing society puts pressure on linguistic resources for making a specific range of meanings, with consequences that are far-reaching indeed for both language and society” (p. 12).

To analyze memes as visual texts I will be using SFL, specifically the stratified view of language pictured below. This model views language from the ground up at various stratified levels, beginning with the minutest level of phonology, to lexicogrammar, to discourse semantics (the text as a whole), to register (the context of situation dealing with field, tenor, and mode variables), to the context of culture (genre, a pattern of register patterns), to ideology. The level of ideology has been added to take into account patterns of meaning that cannot be understood by the text, register, or genre, alone. I will be applying this method of textual analysis to memes. Here the expression plane of phonology and grammar is represented by visual signifiers, while the content plane that goes beyond the text—register, genre, and ideology— will be considered the signified. Register analysis will be essential for understanding visual narratives in terms of the field (the experiential level of participants, processes, and circumstances), tenor (the emotional level, attitude, solidarity, power), and mode (the channel(s) of communication). Following Poynton (1992), ideology will be considered as dealing with evaluation (some form of judgment) and in terms of binary oppositions— “male/female, capitalism/socialism, war/peace,” etc. (p.10).

Yet, just analyzing visual texts with this stratified model of language is not enough to gain a full understanding of the dialectical relations between visual texts and culture, so from the cultural perspective I will be drawing from the work of cultural theorists such as Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, Basil Bernstein, and Jean Baudrillard. This methodology should provide a more fully contextualized and dialectical framework for understanding the role ideology plays in the construal of visual texts in our culture.

The method used to analyze this particular artifact draws from the cultural studies side of my framework by operationalizing several of Harvey’s concepts in terms of Neoliberalism and pseudo-activism to better understand the connotative meaning, motivations, and power relations, behind social media activism.

Language and its semiotic environment (Martin, 1992, p. 496)

What Did The Analysis Reveal?

The analysis reveals a deeper ideological level embedded in the text that is difficult to retrieve solely from the denotative level. At the denotative level, the image conveys an unproblematic liberal humanist message about standing up for one’s beliefs and the environment against those willing to destroy it. At a deeper level, however, the analysis reveals a complex ideological system with possibly unstated ulterior motives. These ulterior motives can manifest as “weaponized discourse,” think the “meme wars,” unduly influencing viewers with sophisticated ideologies at an almost subconscious level. Within this framework, social structures generate specific codes based on class-specialization, giving rising to various forms of consciousness. In general, members of the old middle class believe in a strong classification (such as border walls, extreme vetting), while the new middle class believes in weak classification (open borders, weak categorizations of gender roles, etc.). These sorts of class-strata differences in terms of code, realized through visual texts such as memes, lead to ideological conflicts within the  the middle class, potentially causing economic, social, and ideological divisions.

What Does The Analysis Miss?

At this point in time, this analysis misses the “how” of visual texts. From a semiotic perspective, how does the image of Smokey the Bear convey its specific denotative and ideological messages? This is where visual analysis using SFL comes into play, especially a register analysis of field, tenor, and mode. But as stated earlier, mapping the ideological plane is necessary for a full understanding of the text, so that is why a dialectical theory of text and culture is necessary.


Harvey, D. D. (2006). A brief history of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA.

Hasan, R. (2016). Context in the system and process of language (J. Webster, Ed.). Sheffield, UK: Equinox.

Kress, G. R., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading images: The grammar of visual design (2nd ed.). London: Taylor & Francis.

Poynton, C. (1992). Language and gender: making the difference. Geelong, Australia: Deakin University Press.

Rose, G. (2011). Visual methodologies: An introduction to the interpretation of visual materials (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.


J.R. Martin, “Grammaticalising Ecology: The Politics of Baby Seals and Kangaroos” Bib Entry 1

Martin, J. R. (1986). Grammaticalising ecology: The politics of baby seals and kangaroos. In T. Threadgold, E. A. Grosz, G. Kress, & M. A. Halliday (Eds.), Language, Semiotics, Ideology. (Vol. 3). Sydney: Sydney Association for Studies in Society and Culture.

In “Grammaticalising Ecology,” Martin argues a fourth level of ideology needs to be added to SFL’s three-tiered, multi-stratal model of language. Unlike denotative semiotic systems such as music, where there is a one-to-one correspondence between meaning and expression, Martin (1986) believes connotative semiotic systems are parasitic—”they don’t have a phonology of their own; instead they take over another semiotic system as their expression form” (p. 226). In this model, language serves as the expression of register (the context of situation made up of field, tenor, and mode variables); register serves as the expression of genre (the context of culture made up of register patterns); and genre serves as the expression of ideology (p. 226). However, these patterns of meaning can cut across various levels, as ideology can be encoded in lexis (wording), for instance, calling a crowd a mob or riot. Martin argues that without theorizing a plane of ideology it is difficult to predict why certain groups choose different genres for communication, and it is also difficult to predict how genres will be realized in specific contexts. A looming question regarding ideology is the role of access in terms of what social groups have access to what meanings.

In the article Martin provides a model for mapping the ideological positions of different social groups in terms of their stances towards political issues. Martin (1984) believes it is useful to look at disputes as “ideology in crisis”: “When ideology is in crisis, the linguistic choices reflecting one or another stance are foregrounded” (p. 228). Martin’s model for ideology in crisis begins with a particular issue. Issues have two sides, pro and con. On each side there are antagonists, those concerned with stirring up an issue, and protagonists, those concerned with resolving disputes in an effort to maintain the power of the dominant group. The full model divides issues into Right and Left sides, the Right concerned with maintaining power and the Left concerned with gaining power, each side also containing antagonist and protagonist roles (see Figure 1.).

Figure 1. Issues as ideological systems

Martin uses this model of ideological systems to analyze two texts. The first text, from Habitat: A Magazine of Conservation and Environment, discusses whether Australia should kill kangaroos for population control, while the second text, taken from International Wildlife: Dedicated to the Wise Use of Earth’s Resource’s, discusses whether Canada should continue to hunt baby seals. As a magazine dedicated to environmental activism, Habitat could be said to be on the political Left, while International Wildlife, dedicated to more “conservative” forms of conservation, is on the Right. Both texts use different genres to achieve their social purpose. Text 1 is an example of a hortatory genre to provoke a call to action. In terms of register, text 1 uses more dramatic lexis, using words like killing and murdering to convey the injustice of slaughtering kangaroos. Text 2, on the other hand, is expository and analytical, concerned with preserving power. Text 2 is less emotional, using words like population control and wildlife management, positing seals as a natural resource to be controlled responsibly.

While the modeling of ideological systems is still in its early stages, Martin does raise several questions related to meaning, texts, and ideology. What ideologies and range of meanings do different social groups draw from? How can social groups “stir up” and resolve ideological conflicts through discourse? How do social groups mischaracterize and attack their opposition intertextually?

I will be able to draw from Martin’s work by applying this linguistic model to the realm of images. This model will be useful in analyzing the “meme wars” of our current political climate. Martin’s approach provides a tangible method for beginning to understand the complex relations visual rhetoric has to design, text, intertextuality, power, and social context. By mapping an ideological plane of visual rhetoric, rhetoricians have more systematic tools for understanding the gendering of discourses, as well as the unequal distribution of access to genres in terms of social power.

Visual Rhetoric Artifact #1

Donald A. Norman’s discussion of tea and teapots in Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things made me reflect on my own love of coffee as a cognitive/emotional enhancer, as well as a daily ritual. The Waffle House coffee mug (pictured above) is by far my most treasured coffee cup for a number of reasons. I only just purchased this mug about a month ago from a Goodwill in Easton, Maryland. Having recently regretted passing up a very good find at this thrift store (R. Kelly’s 2003 club anthem “Ignition (Remix)” on vinyl), I knew I had to purchase this coffee mug from the moment I saw it—and then held it in my hand. Norman argues there are three key aspects of design: the visceral (having to do with aesthetic experience), the behavioral (having to do with the pleasure an object brings and its effectiveness), and the reflective (having to do with the intellectualization and rationalization for owning the object). First of all, I am a rabid fan of Waffle House. I view this mug as an extension of the Waffle House experience, eliciting deep interpersonal ties and a sense of nostalgia. As an aesthetic experience, the mug harkens back to 1950s diners. The mug depicts the steam coming from a cup of coffee in the form of a cosmic spiral, alluding to the 1950’s emphasis on rocketry and all things aeronautical. From a behavioral level, or ergonomically, the mug fits the user’s hand perfectly—like a glove. What you cannot see from the picture is the overall thickness of the mug. From a usability perspective, the mug’s thickness does decrease the volume the cup can hold. In a diner, this size is perfect because the customer can keep asking for refill after refill, providing one satisfying experience after another. At home the mug’s thickness can make using the mug somewhat impractical because the user has to keep getting up for refills. However, the overall feel and the reflective aspects of the mug (as a carrier of overall Waffle House-icity) makes this cup one of my most valued trinkets, something I use almost everyday, leading to a more positive attitude and better overall quality of life.

Visual Ideology: Moving Beyond the Image

Visual Ideology Pinterest

In “Rhetoric of the Image” Roland Barthes asks, “How does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond?” (152). It is this question—what is beyond the image—that I am trying to answer in my current research. Moving beyond the image pushes us into the realm of ideology. To help answer this question I will be drawing from scholars in visual rhetoric and functional linguistics. The linguist Ruqaiya Hasan argues that meaning arises out of a dialectical relation between a text and its social context. To study the social construction of ideology, we need not only deal with semiotics, but semantics, the study of meaning, as well. So one of my major research questions is how to map the semantic plane of ideology bridging visual texts and social context.

Take, for instance, a comparison of the visual design of the front pages of Drudge Report and Huffington Post. Both pages, visually, are nearly identical. Drudge did popularize the triptych or three-paneled layout that is now a hallmark of most news websites. Yet, if the websites are so similar, how are they able to construe such different ideologies and be geared to such different subjects? The websites’ denotations are quite similar, yet their connotations could not be more different.

One way ideology is at play here is the complimentarity between text and image. Both sites choose unflattering pictures of their opponents to help discredit their opposition. The sites may use the same image but attach negative or positive textual statements to that image. Yet, even the complimentarity between text and image does not fully explain how ideology is conveyed. Both sites could publish the same image, knowing their viewers would respond differently. So, we need to move beyond the image and begin mapping the semantics that arise out of text and social structure. Using Charles Peirce’s terms, we would have to posit that both sites assume a different interpretant. In other words, each site assumes a different type of reader, from a different social context while simultaneously producing different subjectivities that interpellate the viewer. Huffington Post would appear to have a more narrative structure and editorial stance because Drudge does not produce news content, just aggregates news from other sites. However, Drudge is by no means ideologically transparent. The site is meticulously designed and curated to present a particular ideological view. Lastly, we cannot assume that the connection between signifier and signified is completely arbitrary, as Saussure argues, or we would have no way of analyzing why news sites are designed as they are. There are important ideological and semantic reasons for structuring a news site around a large headline, with less “important” headlines underneath.