The thematic structure of homepages: An exploratory systemic-functional account

Leong Ping Alvin 1
  • 1 Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Leong Ping Alvin


The visual social semiotic approach, based on Halliday’s systemic functional linguistics (SFL), is widely used in studies on multimodal texts. As SFL is a framework focusing on the functions of language, several SFL categories are re-conceptualized in visual social semiotics to handle the analysis and interplay of extra-linguistic features; other categories, however, are excluded. A consequence is that any insights offered by these excluded categories in multimodal texts remain obscured. This paper focused on one such category, theme, as a generator of expectations. It analyzed the thematic structure of twenty homepages to show that the different SFL themes are applicable and evident in such multimodal texts. It underscores the importance of theme as a point of departure of any discourse, textual or otherwise, allowing us to form expectations about how the rest of the discourse may be acceptably developed.

  • Adami, Elisabetta. 2013. A social semiotic multimodal analysis framework for website interactivity. National Centre for Research Methods Working Papers. London: University of London.

  • Bottomley, Paul A. & John R. Doyle. 2006. The interactive effects of colors and products on perceptions of brand logo appropriateness. Marketing Theory 6. 63–83.

  • Braganza, Cameron, Kim Marriott, Peter Moulder, Michael Wybrow & Tim Dwyer. 2009. Scrolling behaviour with single- and multi-column layout. Paper presented at the World Wide Web 2009 Conference, Madrid, 20–24 April.

  • Callaghan, Jean & Edward McDonald. 2002. Expression, content and meaning in language and music: An integrated semiotic analysis. In Paul McKevitt, Seán Ó. Nualláin & Conn Mulvihill (eds.), Language, vision, and music, 221–230. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Callahan, Ewa. 2006. Cultural similarities and differences in the design of university websites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11. 239–273.

  • Daneš, František. 1989. Functional sentence perspective and text connectedness. In Maria-Elisabeth Conte, János Sánder Petöfi & Emel Sözer (eds.), Text and discourse connectedness, 23–31. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Djonov, Emilia Nikolaeva. 2005. Analysing the organisation of information in websites: From hypermedia design to systemic functional hypermedia discourse analysis: Sydney: University of New South Wales dissertation.

  • Djonov, Emilia Nikolaeva. 2007. Website hierarchy and the interaction between content organization, webpage and navigation design: A systemic functional hypermedia discourse analysis perspective. Information Design Journal 15(2). 144–162.

  • Falkow, Michele G. 2005. Visual literacy and the design of legal web sites. Law Library Journal 97. 435–466.

  • Firbas, Jan. 1992. Functional sentence perspective in written and spoken communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles. 1909. A complete guide to heraldry. London: T. C. & E. C. Jack.

  • Gurak, Laura J. & John M. Lannon. 2001. A concise guide to technical communication. New York: Longman.

  • Hall, Richard & Patrick Hanna. 2003. The effect of web page text-background color combinations on retention and perceived readability, aesthetics and behavioral intention. In Dennis Galletta & Jeanne Ross (eds.) Proceedings of the ninth Americas conference on information systems, 2149–2156. Atlanta, GA: Association for Information Systems.

  • Halliday, Michael A. K. 1967a. Notes on transitivity and theme in English (part 1). Journal of Linguistics 3. 37–81.

  • Halliday, Michael A. K. 1967b. Notes on transitivity and theme in English (part 2). Journal of Linguistics 3. 199–244.

  • Halliday, Michael A. K. 1968. Notes on transitivity and theme in English (part 3). Journal of Linguistics 4. 179–215.

  • Halliday, Michael A. K. 1994. An introduction to functional grammar, 2nd edn. London: Arnold.

  • Halliday, Michael A. K. & Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen. 2014. Halliday’s introduction to functional grammar, 4th edn. London: Routledge.

  • Harvey, Kevin. 2013. Medicalisation, pharmaceutical promotion and the Internet: A critical multimodal discourse analysis of hair loss websites. Social Semiotics 23. 691–714.

  • Hasan, Layla. 2014. Evaluating the usability of educational websites based on students’ preferences of design characteristics. International Arab Journal of e-Technology 3. 179–193.

  • Jewitt, Carey & Rumiko Oyama. 2001. Visual meaning: A social semiotic approach. In Theo van Leeuwen & Carey Jewitt (eds.) Handbook of visual analysis, 134–156. London: Sage.

  • Knox, John. 2007. Visual-verbal communication on online newspaper home pages. Visual Communication 6. 19–53.

  • Kok, Kum Chiew Arthur. 2004. Multisemiotic mediation in hypertext. In Kay L. O’Halloran (ed.) Multimodal discourse analysis, 131–159. London: Continuum.

  • Koller, Veronika. 2008. Not just a colour: Pink as a gender and sexuality marker in visual communication. Visual Communication 7. 395–423.

  • Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen. 1996. Reading images: The grammar of visual design. London: Routledge.

  • Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen. 2002. Colour as a semiotic mode: Notes for a grammar of colour. Visual Communication 1. 343–368.

  • Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen. 2006. Reading images: The grammar of visual design (2nd edn.). London: Routledge.

  • Lane, Randall. 1991. Does orange mean cheap? Forbes 148(14). 144–147.

  • Lemke, Jay L. 2002. Travels in hypermodality. Visual Communication 1. 299–325.

  • Leong, Ping Alvin. 2004. Theme and rheme: An alternative account. Bern: Peter Lang.

  • Mackiewicz, Jo. 2004. What technical writing students should know about typeface personality. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 34. 113–131.

  • Madden, Thomas J., Kelly Hewett & Martin S. Roth. 2000. Managing images in different cultures: A cross-national study of color meanings and preferences. Journal of International Marketing 8. 90–107.

  • Martin, James R. 1992. Theme, method of development and existentiality: The price of reply. Occasional Papers in Systemic Linguistics 6. 147–183.

  • Matthiessen, Christian M. I. M. & James R. Martin. 1991. A response to Huddleston’s review of Halliday’s introduction to functional grammar. Occasional Papers in Systemic Linguistics 5. 5–74.

  • Nathan, Robert J. & Paul H. P. Yeow. 2009. An empirical study of factors affecting the perceived usability of websites for student Internet users. Universal Access in the Information Society 8. 165–184.

  • Nebeling, Michael, Fabrice Matulic & Moira C. Norrie. 2011. Metrics for the evaluation of news site content layout in large-screen contexts. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, 1511–1520. New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

  • Netcraft. 2015. February 2015 web server survey. (accessed 26 March 2015).

  • O’Halloran, Kay L. 2008a. Mathematical discourse: Language, symbolism and visual images. London: Continuum.

  • O’Halloran, Kay L. 2008b. Systemic functional-multimodal discourse analysis (SF-MDA): Constructing ideational meaning using language and visual imagery. Visual Communication 7. 443–475.

  • O’Toole, Michael. 1994. The language of displayed art. London: Leicester University Press.

  • O’Toole, Michael. 2004. Opera ludentes: The Sydney Opera House at work and play. In Kay L. O’Halloran (ed.) Multimodal discourse analysis, 11–27. London: Continuum.

  • Shaikh, A. Dawn, Barbara S. Chaparro & Doug Fox. 2006. Perception of fonts: Perceived personality traits and uses. Usability News 8. 1–6.

  • Stöckl, Hartmut. 2005. Typography: Body and dress of a text – a signing mode between language and image. Visual Communication 4. 204–214.

  • Weil, Henri. 1844. De l’ordre des mots dans les langues anciennes comparées aux langues modernes. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Zhang, Yiqiong & Kay L. O’Halloran. 2013. “Toward a global knowledge enterprise”: University websites as portals to the ongoing marketization of higher education. Critical Discourse Studies 10. 468–485.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Journal + Issues

The official journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969 as one of the first scholarly journals in the field, Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in the field, and occasional guest editorials and reports. The journal also publishes occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest.