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


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.

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Text & Talk (founded as TEXT in 1981) is an internationally recognized forum for interdisciplinary research in language, discourse, and communication studies, focusing, among other things, on the situational and historical nature of text/talk production; the cognitive and sociocultural processes of language practice/action; and participant-based structures of meaning negotiation and multimodal alignment.