Multi Modal Discourse Analysis Essay Sample

Multi Modal Discourse Analysis Pages
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Provided is an image from Siemens’ homepage Responsibility for our children’s world, which introduces the company’s Sustainability report from 2009. The home page image functions as an awareness campaign, where the main purpose is to encourage people to become (more) sustainable. The homepage image illustrates a picture of three little girls surrounding the “globe”, with their hands and heads placed around the globe. Here the text of the campaign seeks to elaborate on the image, with a headline saying “Responsibility for our children’s world”. In the image there is a link to a video provided by Siemens, with the member of the Managing Board and Chief Sustainability Officer of Siemens AG Barbra Kux. In the video she explains the content of Siemens sustainability advisor report and states the importance of behaving in a sustainable way in order to improve the state of the world. In addition, she explicitly states three goals of Siemens: 1. Increase revenue to 25 billion Euro, 2. Walk the talk and behave in a sustainable way and 3. Stretch out to the world and form alliances with key opinion leaders and key players in the area of sustainability.

The question is then, if the campaign is effective in their attempt to raise awareness about the challenges of the today’s world in securing the future of the generations to come? The first part of the analysis focuses on the visual interpretation of the images. I will account for the ideational, interpersonal and textual choices in both images. The visual analysis will draw on the theories presented by Kress and Van Leeuwen (2006). The second part of the paper concentrates on the textual analysis, here the concepts related to the ideational, interpersonal and textual resources will be analysed, drawing on the theories from Halliday’s register analysis, presented by Stillar (1998).

Furthermore, parts of Burke’s rhetoric as an approach will be included in the analysis, supplementing the ideational resource of Halliday’s register analysis. The above assigned textual analysis will be set in relation to the overall communicative goal of the campaign. Finally, based on the visual and textual analytical finding, I will account for social and discursive practices as multimodally expressed. I will make use of Fairclough’s (1989) theory of discourse as a social practice as well as Kress and Van Leeuwan’s (2001) notions on multimodal communication, in order to debate both the visual and textual aspects in a social content, hereby putting the main findings of the analysis into a broader context.

Visual Analysis
When aiming to identify and analyse the participants, the processes and the circumstances in images, we look at the ideational choices of an image. The ideational choices are ways of representing the world. The purpose of this part of the analysis is how it is done and why (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1996:42) Narrative processes serve to present actions. In the image “Responsibility of our children’s world”, there are two narrative processes. The most important one is the action process, where we see an example of a unitransactional action process, in which a vector (the three little girls hands) emanates from the three participants, in a protecting manner around the illustration of the globe. The three represented participants become actors and the globe becomes the goal, portraying how the gestures of the children serve to protect the globe. A second process is to be found in the image; noting the composition of the participant’s bodies one could argue that the image contains a non-transactional reaction process, since the gaze of the participants does not point at any other participant, but stares outside the image at something which is not visually accessible to viewers (the gazes of the children will be further elaborated on in the section of interpersonal function). A conceptual structure is found in the image; a classificational covert taxonomy.

The conceptual processes represent participants in terms of their class, structure or meaning. The classificational structures relate participants more specifically to each other in terms of the same class as in a taxonomy (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1998:79). The three little girls belong to the same class, looked upon as children. One could argue that the participant on the left side of the image, the child with the pink clothing is the superordinate, due to the composition of her body, and the two remaining participants are the subordinate. The fourth and final process found in the image is the symbolic one. The clothing of the three girls and the background, the illustration of a school stetting (the coats, the packed lunches in the lockers) contain symbolic value, as they construct the identity of girls; exemplifying the innocence and pureness of children.

Thus, these items function as symbolic attributes and the posing children as the carriers of the attributes. The relation between these processes, present from the various analysis’ in the image, embedded in one another, form a strong, multidimensional structure (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1998:109). The general message being that the children represented in the image are the ones serving to protect the unprotected and vulnerable planet (vulnerable because of the way the planet is explored in the image), this is further emphasized by the square image on the left side of the homepage. The image portrays the Chief of the Siemens sustainability, Barbara Kux. Although, she, as a front figure for Siemens, is attempting to raise awareness about the dangerous in connection with global warming, is not the one that is left with a damaged globe created by the previous generations (i.e. Kux’s generation).

The interpersonal metafunction accounts for the relations between the represented participants and the interactive viewer (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1998:114). In the Responsibility for our children’s world campaign we take a look at this interaction. First we look at the contact between the represented participants and the viewer. The three participants in the image establish contact with the viewer through their gaze – this suggests that we are dealing with a demand image – where the participant is addressing the viewer directly. This is further strengthened by the scare photo on the right side of the image, where the Chief for the sustainability office in Siemens is portrayed. This also proposes that the image is demanding something from its viewer. If we examine the facial expressions of the children, we notice an innocent smile, the notion of innocence is further reinforced by the body language of especially the child on the left, with her hands placed up against her face, leaning on the “globe”.

In that sense she is depending on the adults of the earth to protect her, and yet she, along with the other children surrounding the “globe”, are the once literarily and visually expressed, protecting the world. There is a second dimension to the interactive meanings of images which is applicable to the image. This dimension is related to the “size of frame” which again is related to the choice of social distance. In this image we see that picture is taken from a long-shot where the three children occupy more than half the frame, suggesting that the focus should be placed there – on the children of our world. According to Kress and Van Leeuwen “social relations determine the distance (litterarly and figuratively) we keep from one another” (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1998:124), this suggests that the distance between the children is “close personal distance”, this also proposes that they are in the same boat, their children depending on the adults to improve the state of the world their growing up in.

The choice of distance, however, also suggests a relation between represented participants and viewers (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1998:124), here the distance is that of a “far personal distance”. This proposes that something is wrong; the viewer is distancing himself/herself from the children and the world. The children are, nevertheless, demanding from the viewer to take responsibility. This is further stressed by the choice of perspective in the image, the image is subjective, suggesting that we see the world from the children’s point of view. The children are in the image, from the frontal engagement of the face saying “what you see is a part of our world” (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1998:136). The children are in that sense demanding the viewer to get involved and be aware of the fact that we have a vulnerable globe, in need of protection and care. Modality in relation to images refers to the reliability of the image (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1998:154). In general this image has a high level of modality, since the image appears naturalistic. Neither the colours, the depth, the illumination nor is the brightness manipulated in any dramatic way, which suggests that there is a high reality value in the image. This is a deliberate choice as the campaign wishes to raise awareness and portray the reality of the world.

The textual metafunction consists of elements which make the images coherent and establishes the text as a whole (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1996:176). We are, thus, analyzing the image in relation to the text as a whole. The Siemens homepage is structured along the horizontal axis, where the left side of the campaign, the text functions as “given”, and the right side as the “new”. The text is presented as something the viewer is already familiar with; we know we are responsible for our children’s world and we are aware of the fact that the world is in danger because of global warming. However, the new; the right side of the campaign (the children and the globe), is the most salient part, as it is the most eye-catching element, due to the size of the globe with the children around it. Hence, we are drawn to the left side of the campaign, portraying the innocence of children and their protecting gestures, surrounding the globe. Thus, appealing to the viewer’s emotion, which strategically is a good move, when wishing to raise awareness about a global issue, because people tend to be emotionally driven. This, therefore, suggests that the viewer must pay attention to the fact that we need to protect our planet in order to take responsibility for our children, by making an effort and behaving in a sustainable way.

Furthermore, there is an absence of framing between the text and the image of the children and the globe, these two elements are visually joined. This suggests that the text and the image function as “a single unit of information” (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 2006:204), what is linguistically articulated in the text (children having a good idea of what the world should look like) is visually expressed in the image, as the children are acting on their thoughts of the world and protecting the earth. We do, however, not have to look closer to notice that there are tracks of framing devices in the image. Looking at the left side of the homepage, we notice a square photo of the spokesperson of Siemens; Chief and member of the managing board of sustainability.

Her image is framed, disconnected from the rest of the page by white lines of the square. According to Kress and Van Leeuwen (2006) “the stronger the frame of an element, the more it is presented as a spate unit of information”, this suggests that there Siemens initially has a hidden agenda. They portray the innocent faces of children around the globe and putting emphasize on the headline of the homepage “responsibility for our children’s world”. However, Siemens number one goal (Increasing revenue to 25 billion Euro. States in the introduction) does not correspond with what is portrayed in their homepage. Since the younger generations are the future of our world, should the number one goal not be to protect the world in order to secure the future of our children and the world they live in.

Textual Analysis
The overall communicative goal of the text is to raise awareness and encourage people to behave in a sustainable way. Following Halliday’s register of the three general resources I intend to analyse the text which is a part of Siemens homepage. I intend to apply parts of Burke’s rhetoric in the ideational resource, supplementing Halliday’s theories. Burke’s ratios are concerned with the relation between terms, and speak of ratios and substance. Different scenes, agents, agency and purposes will act and together with this act create a substance. According to Stillar, “the ideational function concern language’s resources for constructing content” (Stiller, 1998:20), we are, thus, intending to find out what the text is about. First, we consider the structures and process types as a part of the ideational resource. Unsurprisingly, there are several relational process types, denoted by verbs with a form of “to be”; “Children often have a pretty good idea of (…)” is an example of a relational structure of possession emphasized by the verb have, which gives substance to the way the children think, thus, establishing children as philosophers. “it should be “green”” and “these are the challenges we are meeting” are also examples of relational structures of identification; the children are identifying what the world should look like in their opinion.

And Siemens is confirming that what the children are proposing the world should like. These relational process have a expository value as they expose and explain by identifying the challenges of today’s caused by global warming. This contributes to the communicative goal of the homepage as raises awareness and increases credibility of the text and helps the reader gain a wider perspective in connection to global warming by employing the thoughts of children in the text. Secondly, we take a look at the circumstantial roles in relation to the ideational resources. Circumstances of manner are found in the text, introduced by the adjunct with, through examples such as: “with clean water”, “(…) flooded with light” and “(…) with our innovative products (…)”. These circumstances indicate the manner in which Siemens tend to go about the problem (“we are meeting our innovation with products and solutions”).

Furthermore, “Join us on a journey” is an example of an agent:act, where us is the agent and the act is to join. Another agent:act example goes as follow: “we are meeting” here the agent is we and meeting is the act. This illustrates that Siemens is armed and ready to meet the challenges and fight against global warming. Thus, emphasizing that they have the tools to improve the states of the world, in that sense promoting their business. Thirdly, we look at the time frame and perspective. The text consists of verbs in the present simple tense. This is illustrated in the following example: “Children often have”, “these are the challenges we are meeting” and “(…) discover outstanding sustainability projects”.

The present simple tense is used to illustrate to the reader that the problem is happening now, rather than in the past or the future. Hence, the perspective is ongoing, this perspective is used in the text to emphasize that the problem has to be dealt with right away, as global warming is affecting and damaging the world we live as we speak. This further supports and reinforces the importance of the communicative goal, by stating the relevance for the reader and attracting the readers’ interest. Finally, in relation to concept taxonomies hyponomy is found, here the colour green, the clear water and the fast trains function as subclasses to the class sustainability. Additionally, the more abstract meronomy is present in the text, responsibility is a part of the whole idea of children. These two go hand in hand. This make the reader connote the subclasses of sustainability with what it would mean to secure the future of our planet world and take responsibility of our children. This contributes to the overall communicative goal as Siemens manages to set things in perspective for the reader; to put children on earth means taking responsibility for them, and the way to do this is by behaving in a sustainable way.

The interpersonal function of language focuses on what role the language plays in interaction (Stillar, 1998:32). Hence, we are concerned with the relationship between the sender and receiver; how the sender positions himself in relation to the receiver and how the reader is positioned. Additionally, sentence structures are speech functions are included. The text of the homepage expectedly makes use of predominantly declaratives sentence: “Children often have a pretty good idea of what the world should look like: it should be “green”, with clean water, fast trains, and flooded with light”, here the sender (Siemens) presents the statements as something factional and thereby imposes authority on the reader, by assigning children as experts on how the world should look like. Siemens position themselves as knowledgeable on the subject, because the implementation of children’s thoughts is covertly Siemens own. Thus, this speech function has a positional purpose as the statements assigned above indicate Siemens thoughts on how the world ought to look like.

The text also makes use of imperatives in the form of a “induce action” sentence with a relational function; “Join us on a journey (…)”, here Siemens uses speech function of command, by ordering the reader to join them and improve the state of the world. Thus, addresses the reader directly and creating a personal text, by giving the reader a feeling of involvement with the sender. Modality is expressed by modal verbs, two examples of these is found in the text: “(…) what the world should look like: it should be “green”” here the modal should is communicating obligation. In this case it is the people of the world that are obligated to protect and take responsibility for the earth. The modal verb also indicates that something is not yet as it should be. The world should be green – meaning that it is not.

This contributes to the communicative goal of the homepage by further emphasizing that the world is in danger and that humans are the once to blame for the conditions of the world. Finally, attitudinal lexis is a vocabulary for expressing attitudes where adverbs, specific linking verbs and qualitative/emphasizing/classifying adjectives are chosen by the sender to position his attitude in the text. Examples of qualitative adjectives are found in text: green, clean, fast and outstanding these adjectives reveal a certain quality about the nouns they modify. These qualitative adjectives exemplify how Siemens views a world that is not threatened by global warming. An example of a sentence adjunct in the form of a vocative is as well used in the text, in that the sender has a naming for a specific group, namely children. Here the vocative performs an interpersonal function by assigning an addressee for the sentence (“responsibility for our children’s world”) and thus targeting who we are responsible for; the children – the future of our world.

The overall communicative purpose of the homepage is to raise awareness and encourage people to behave in a sustainable way. The textual resources used in the homepage contribute to fulfill this aim. According to Stillar, “the textual resources are used to structure the flow of information, link different parts of the text with another, and link the text with its context” (Stillar, 1998:45). Thus, we are concerned with the composition of the text, the development of the text, the channel and the medium of the text and how cohesion is created in the text as a whole. The homepage emanates from the Siemens 2009 Sustainability report. Hence, the text is communicated through the written medium as well a two-way communication channel, as there on the homepage is a link in the bottom right corner encouraging visitors to subscribe and involve. The sustainability report as a channel is perhaps not the best choice of channel, as it most likely, will not catch the eye the general public, as it will stakeholders.

Though, introduction of the homepage might originate from an advertising/a campaign, this would be a better choice of channel, as it is more likely to be seen and read by the public. Secondly, we look at how the textual resources in the text are used to create thematic progression. The thematic structure in the text is build up around the use of the active voice; “these are the challenges we are meeting” and “(…) discover outstanding”. Hence, these examples show the verb in the present tense marked by the active voice, implying that the text is of personal character because it comes across as being less formal. As assigned in the tenor section declarative sentences dominated the text, from this we can determine a several unmarked themes, where the subject occurs in its initial position; “Children of have”, “these are the” and “it should be “green””.

The unmarked theme of children is related to the collocation of responsibility. Thus, the concept taxonomies assigned in the tenor part of the analysis are related to thematic progression used to create thematic cohesion. Another concept taxonomy worth mentioning is that of repetition, the modal verb should is mentioned twice in the text (“what the world should look like: it should be (…)”, the use of repetition functions as a cohesive device as it relates two contexts (the world and what the world should look like). Hence, the thematic development in the in the text serves to structure the messages of the text for the reader and create a logical coherence in the text. The use of the additive conjunction “In essence” and the anaphoric reference “it should be “green”” further strengthens the logical coherence in the text, by relating the conjunction and the reference to something previously written in the text. The cohesive devices and thematic structures contribute to the communicative goal of the text as it becomes easier for the reader to follow a particular reading pattern, in that way the reader is able to focus on the message itself: Act responsibly and save the future of the earth.

Social and discursive practice
Based on the visual and textual analytical findings I now intend to account for social and discursive practices, as multimodally expressed. According to Kress and Van Leeuwen multimodality is “the use of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event, together with the particular way in which these modes are combined – they may for instance reinforce each other” (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 2001:20). As we have seen through the textual and visual analysis the Siemens homepage, functioning as an awareness campaign, has portrayed their message in such a way that what is textually articulated in the text is visually expressed in the image – this is the concept of multimodality. Through the social practice of what it means to be child, we in the image and through the text come across several discourses, thus containing elements of interdiscursivity. The homepage draws on a discourse of sustainability, apparently we are from, the children’s point of view, seeing how the world should be; it should be sustainable, safe and people should thus act responsibly in other to improve the state of the world. In that connection the homepage also draws on the discourse of responsibility.

In order secure the future of the earth and thus, the future of our children, we need to act in on the problem. Here Siemens implicitly states that they are acting on the global problem of the world; they are raising awareness and encouraging people to join them in the fight against global warming. Siemens further expresses in the text that they have the tools to do just to; by the use of what they claim to be innovative products and solutions. In that sense another discourse emerges; a sales discourse, where Siemens through the use of pathos (emotive appeal), i.e. speaking on behalf of the children, manages to implicitly promote their company. In this way discourses become rooted in one another and we notice how one discourse draws upon another discourse type (Fairclough, 1989:31) and how “discourse types determine discourse practice, reproduces discourse types” (Fairclough, 1989:39). Concepts, people, things, etc. are and will be read and interpreted differently in different, depending on the social context (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 2006: 192), consequently, people do operate from different discourses when analyzing multimodal texts as such.

The analysis above had various findings in relation to the Siemens homepage. Among the most important it was concluded in the ideational metafuction that the processes were embedded. The interpersonal function concluded that the images demanded from the viewer to take a stance and behave in a sustainable way. The textual metafunction concluded that the right side of the image, the new, is where people pay attention (the globe and the children). The textual function further concluded that the disconnecting framing of the scare image, portraying the Chief for the Siemens sustainability board, suggesting that Siemens has a hidden agenda; the portrayal of the image does not respond with Siemens number one goal (from the sustainability report: increasing revenue to 25 billion Euro) States in the introduction). The textual part of the analysis stated that the communicative goal of the text was to raise awareness and encourage people to behave in a sustainable way.

The ideational resources concluded that the text through the use of relational sentence structures, circumstances concept taxonomies, time and perspective the communicative goal was achieved, as Siemens managed to set things in perspective for the reader; to put children on earth means taking responsibility for them, and the way to do so is by behaving in a sustainable way. The interpersonal resource of the analysis concluded that the sentence structure and mood of the text imposed authority on the reader and that the choice of the modal verb should states that we do not live in a sustainable world.

The textual resources concluded that the text through use of various cohesive devices contributed to the communicative purpose of the text as it became easier for the reader to follow a certain reading pattern, in that way the reader was able to focus on the message itself: Act responsibly and save the future of the earth. Finally, based on the textual and visual finding the analysis concluded that the homepage is interdiscursive, as it draws on several discourse through social practices. The discourse of sustainability led to the discourse of responsibility, which further led to a sales discourse and pointed out how one discourse draws on other discourses, constantly reproducing discourse types. In conclusion, it can be stated that campaign is effective in their attempt to raise awareness about the challenges of the today’s world in securing the future of the generations to come.


Fairclough, N. (1989). Critical discourse analysis in practice. Interpretation, explanantion and the position of the analyst. In N. Fairclough, Language and power (pp. 141-168). Longman.

Fairclough, N. (1989). Discourse as social practice. Language and Power (pp. 17-31). Longman.

Kress, G. R., & Leeuwen, T. v. (2008). Reading images: the grammar of visual
desgin. New York: Routledge.

Kress, G. R., & Leeuwen, T. v. (2001). Multimodal discourse: the modes and media of contemporary communication. (pp. 1-44). Arnold

Stillar, G. F. (1998). The resources of discourse analysis. Analysing everyday texts. Discourse, rhetoric and social perspective (pp. 14-57). Sage Publications.

Stillar, G. F. (1998). The resources of Rhetorical analysis. Analysing everyday texts. Discourse, rhetoric and social perspective (pp. 58-89). Sage Publications.

Exam Number: 301786 Course: BaMMC 2nd Semester Exam title: Multimodal Discourse Analysis

May 25, 2011 Character (excluding spaces): 22682 Page 14 of 14

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