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Multimodal argumentation: Beyond the verbal/visual divide

Assimakis Tseronis
From the journal Semiotica

Abstract

What would the consequences be for the interpretation and analysis of arguments if we were to accept that communication, within which arguments are produced and interpreted, involves the intricate use of more than just the verbal mode? In this paper, I discuss the shortcomings of the conception of argument as a purely verbal phenomenon and of the mere juxtaposition of the visual argument to the verbal, as suggested in the discourses of the sceptics and the advocates and of “visual” argument, respectively. Instead I propose a multimodal perspective on the analysis of argumentative discourse, according to which there is no a priori division of labor between the verbal and the visual mode, and attention is paid both to the (verbal and visual) content and to the (verbal and visual) style. In this view, argument is neither verbal nor visual, since argument is not to be defined on the basis of the verbal, visual or other semiotic means by which it is realized in communication. As a case in point, I analyze an ad campaign for the promotion of the British newspaper The Guardian in the United States.

Acknowledgements

The text is a substantially revised and extended version of parts of the paper published under the title “Argumentative functions of visuals: beyond claiming and justifying” in the proceedings of the tenth Conference of the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation, held in Windsor, Canada. I wish to thank Scott Jacobs for his commentary paper and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback and suggestions.

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Published Online: 2017-11-07
Published in Print: 2018-01-26

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