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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 0.400
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CiteScore 2018: 0.61

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Volume 34, Issue 3


Semiotic technology and practice: a multimodal social semiotic approach to PowerPoint

Sumin Zhao / Emilia Djonov / Theo van Leeuwen
  • Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
  • Institute of Language and Communication, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
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Published Online: 2014-04-29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2014-0005


The ubiquitous software PowerPoint has significant influence on evaluations of professional and academic success, and has attracted considerable attention from both social commentators and researchers in various fields. Existing research on PowerPoint considers the software, slideshows created with it, and PowerPoint-supported presentations in isolation from each other and is therefore unable to promote better understanding of the interaction between the software's design and its use.

This article proposes a model for exploring this interaction. Specifically, it introduces a multimodal social semiotic approach to studying PowerPoint as a semiotic practice comprising three dimensions – the software's design, the multimodal composition of slideshows, and their presentation – and two semiotic artefacts, the software and the slideshow. It discusses the challenges each dimension presents for discourse analysis and social semiotic research, focusing especially on the need to step away from the notion of text and to develop a holistic, non-logocentric, and adaptive multimodal approach to researching semiotic technologies. Using PowerPoint as a case study, this article takes a step toward developing a social semiotic multimodal theory of the relation between semiotic technologies, or technologies for making meaning, and semiotic practices.

Keywords: PowerPoint; semiotic technology; semiotic practice; software; slideshows; slideshow presentations

About the article

Sumin Zhao

Sumin Zhao is Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney. Her current project investigates preschool children's interactions with mobile technologies in home-settings by combining multimodal discourse analysis with other research methodologies. She publishes in the research areas of digital literacies, systemic functional linguistic theory, and multimodal discourse analysis. Her latest book (co-edited with Emilia Djonov), Critical Multimodal Studies of Popular Discourse, has just been published by Routledge.

Emilia Djonov

Emilia Djonov is Lecturer in multiliteracies at the Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University, Australia, and an honorary postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney, where she is researching the interaction between PowerPoint's design and use in higher education and corporate settings. Her research interests and publications are in the areas of (critical) multimodal and hypermedia discourse analysis, visual communication, social semiotics, systemic functional theory, and multiliteracies.

Theo van Leeuwen

Theo van Leeuwen is Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Professor of Language and Communication at the University of Southern Denmark. He has published widely on critical discourse analysis, multimodality, and visual semiotics. His books include Reading Images (with Gunther Kress) and Discourse and Practice. He is a founding editor of the journal Visual Communication.

Published Online: 2014-04-29

Published in Print: 2014-05-01

Citation Information: Text & Talk, Volume 34, Issue 3, Pages 349–375, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2014-0005.

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