3Multimodality and Language Learning

MARK DRESSMAN

Introduction

The term multimodality in language education theory and research commonly refers to the coordination of multiple different systems of signification to communicate a single, or at least a unified, message or meaning. For example, a meteorologist on a nightly newscast stands before a map, explaining the progress of an oncoming band of thundershowers across a region, and gesturing to suggest its direction and speed via an overlay of color‐coded radar images. In this case, spoken language combines with multiple visual images and arm movements to convey a very complex message about an imminent weather event's strength, duration, timing, and likely consequences. In a similar combination of the linguistic, the kinetic, and the visual, political protesters wear bright pink knitted caps with two points during a public march, carrying signs that say, “Viva la Vulva!” and “NASTY WOMAN,” to protest a politician's vulgar remark about grabbing a part of a woman's anatomy. Or, more subtly and less provocatively, a child creates a birthday card for her mother, drawing a picture of the two of them with the caption, “I ♥ u, Mummy.”

The coordination of input from multimodal sources exceeds the intentional combining of the spoken, the written, and the visual in the examples above. From birth or perhaps before, the input from which we construct reality is a multisensory and almost infinitely complex array of sights, sounds, smells, ...

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