Semiotic resources

Semiotic resource is a term used in social semiotics and other disciplines to refer to a means for meaning making. A semiotic resource is always at the same time a material, social, and cultural resource. Van Leeuwen defines the term as follows: “Semiotic resources are the actions, materials and artifacts we use for communicative purposes, whether produced physiologically – for example, with our vocal apparatus, the muscles we use to make facial expressions and gestures – or technologically – for example, with pen and ink, or computer hardware and software – together with the ways in which these resources can be organized. Semiotic resources have a meaning potential, based on their past uses, and a set of affordances based on their possible uses, and these will be actualized in concrete social contexts where their use is subject to some form of semiotic regime” (van Leeuwen 2004:285). This definition highlights the historical development of connections between form and meaning, and as such is aligned with Bakhtin’s notion of intertextuality. These connections can be identified on all levels of social and cultural organization (so for instance, ‘genres’ are semiotic resources, and so are ‘modes’ and ‘media’). Kress (2010) emphasizes that these resources are constantly transformed. This theoretical stance presents people as sign-makers who shape and combine semiotic resources to reflect their interests. It is aligned with some sociological accounts of late modernity, highlights the potential for individual, social and cultural agency and change, and marks a shift away from conventional notions of grammar and lexis which represented people as reproducing already-existing signs within a relatively stable and fixed system of choices.

Editor: Jeff Bezemer
Other contributors: John Yandell.

Key References
Kress, G. (2010)
Multimodality
London: Routledge

Van Leeuwen, T. (2004)
Introducing Social Semiotics: An Introductory Textbook
London: Routledge

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