Typography refers to the visual design of language through the selection of type font, size, line, and spacing. From a multimodal perspective Typography represents a mode/code in its own right, which interacts with other modes. Hartmut Stockl (2005) outlines a tentative typographic `grammar’ as a structured set of networked resources that accounts for typographic meaning making and its communicative effects. Just as there is no speech without voice qualities and intonation, Stockl argues that there is no written document without (typo)-graphic qualities.  He leads a semiotic and multimodal trend to acknowledge the crucial function of typography and text design and how it contributes to textual meaning in numerous ways. A trend that has been taken up by Theo Van Leeuwen, Sue Walker among others.

Stockl models the ‘grammar’ of typography with a four-part division of typographic resources’. Within this grammar Stockl sees the highest level of the typographic sign system as consisting of four domains or dimensions of typographic work which represent typographic or textual units of varying size: (i) ‘micro- typography’ refers to fonts and individual letters features (e.g. size, face, font, colour); (ii) ‘meso-typography’ concerns the configuration of typographic signs in lines and text blocks (e.g. spacing, alignment, position, direction); (iii) ‘macro-typography’ deals with the graphic structure of the overall document (e.g. indentions, paragraphs, emphasis); and (iv) ‘para-typography’ which is concerned with typographic media, i.e. surface materials and instruments for producing typographic signs material (e.g. the quality of paper).

In Typography and Language in Everyday Life (2001) Walker provides a detailed look at graphic as well as linguistic aspects of language and suggests there is much to be gained from collaboration between typographers and applied linguists. In Introducing Social Semiotics (2005) and his article ‘Towards a semiotics of typography’ (2006), Van Leeuwen outlines a social semiotic approach to analyzing the ideational, interpersonal and textual meaning potentials of letterforms with a focus on features such as weight, expansion, slope, curvature, connectivity, orientation and regularity.

See also: Mode

Editor: Carey Jewitt
Other contributor: Hartmut Stockl

Key References
Stockl, H. (2005)
‘Typography: body and dress of a text’
Visual Communication, 4, 2

van Leeuwen, T. (2006)
‘Towards a semiotics of typography’
Information Design Journal, 14, 2, 139-155

Walker, S. (2001)
Typography and Language in Everyday Life
Longman Pearson