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BY 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter 2018

One does not simply process memes: Image macros as multimodal constructions

From the book Cultures and Traditions of Wordplay and Wordplay Research

  • Eline Zenner and Dirk Geeraerts


This paper presents a Cognitive Linguistic analysis of image macros, a subgenre of Internet memes. Internet memes encompass all kinds of online objects that are copied and imitated, altered and modified, propagated and diffused by participants on the web. Image macros are a specific example of such online content, consisting of text superimposed on an image. Whereas the image and discursive theme of image macros are typically fairly consistent in the replication process, the text is particularly open to the online “remix culture” that characterizes Internet memes. Given this pivotal role of variation and modification, it is not straightforward to define the ultimate set of characteristic features of an image macro. The first goal of this paper is to define image macros in a way that captures precisely this interplay between conventionality and creativity. To this end, we will combine insights from Construction Grammar and prototype theory, presenting image macros as multimodal constructions that share characteristics with jokes and traditional wordplay. Moreover, the verbal elements in the memes often also include such instances of traditional wordplay. A second goal of our paper is to explore the processing difficulties involved in these occurrences of traditional wordplay in image macros. Specifically, we present four dimensions that together indicate how the image macros vary along a typicality cline with regard to the degree of multimodality, multilingualism, intra-genre intertextuality and external referencing included in the construction. As such, we open up promising research avenues for the study of this often banalized, but highly popular subgenre of Internet memes.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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