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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton August 3, 2017

Internet memes as multimodal constructions

  • Barbara Dancygier EMAIL logo and Lieven Vandelanotte EMAIL logo
From the journal Cognitive Linguistics


This paper considers a range of so-called image macro Internet memes and describes them as emerging multimodal constructions relying as much on image as on text, and apportioning roles to images much like constructional slots, for instance to fill in a subject role in a subjectless clause, or even to provide the main clause content to a textually given when-clause. In addition to existing or partially altered linguistic constructions, many examples also rely on specific top text/bottom text division of labor, and crucially depend on frame metonymy, with limited formal means quickly cueing richly detailed frames (for instance by using iconic images). The popularity of memes, forming series and cycles of iterations and remixes, and their role in establishing and maintaining discourse communities seems to be driven by a need to express and reconstrue viewpoints, often starting from ideas, affects or stereotypes assumed to be intersubjectively shared with viewers, whose responses they solicit. This paper argues that a proper description of Internet memes of the type considered requires a construction grammar approach, complemented by an understanding of viewpoint dynamics in terms of a Discourse Viewpoint Space regulating the network of spaces and viewpoints.

Funding statement: The authors gratefully acknowledge the support provided by KU Leuven (Senior Fellowship, SF/16/004) which allowed Barbara Dancygier to carry out research at KU Leuven (September-December 2016) and which greatly facilitated our joint work on this project.


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Received: 2016-9-19
Revised: 2017-6-7
Accepted: 2017-6-9
Published Online: 2017-8-3
Published in Print: 2017-8-28

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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