Some people within semiotics and multimodality use a style of diagramming called system networks to map the meaning potentials of a mode. It is a diagrammatic taxonomy of the systematic, semiotic options that are possible within a semiotic or lexico-grammatical system. The options should preferably be of the either or type, usually indicated by square brackets. As described by Halliday (1994), for instance, a linguistic utterance may either be a ‘demand for information’ (question) or an ‘offer of information’ (statement) – it can not be both. A ‘demand for information’, in turn may either be ‘polar’ (yes/no question) or not, and so on. When analyzing other modes than language, some semiotic relations are better described as scaled along a continuum.
System networks provide an analytical tool for mapping the range of semiotic resources and options made available by a mode in a given context. They can also be used to map and compare how semiotic resources have been used in different contexts or by different users. In this way system networks provide a way to push the formal analysis of a mode (or a semiotic resource) to a logical limit.
System networks have been used to describe the semiotic options available within a range of modes including language (Halliday, 2004), visual communication (Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996), action (Martinec, 2000), sound (van Leeuwen, 1999), as well as three-dimensional objects (Bjorkvall, 2009).
Editor: Carey Jewitt
Other contributor: Anders Bjorkvall
Bjorkvall, A. (2009)
“‘Practical function and meaning: a case study of IKEA tables.” In Jewitt, C. (ed.) Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis
Halliday, M. A. K. and Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2004)
An Introduction to Functional Grammar
Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (2006)
Reading Images: A visual grammar of design