Danielle Barbosa Lins de Almeida

Universidade Federal da Paraíba/CNPq


Toys, in their myriad versions, have been historically considered as objects of investigation insofar as their educational use, play and effects are concerned. Nevertheless, it must be said that academic research in the direction of toys’ multimodal configurations and meaning-making potential has been quite scant, despite a few relevant studies in the area (Caldas-Coulthard & van Leeuwen, 2001, 2002, 2003; Machin & Van Leeuwen, 2009; Almeida, 2006; 2008; 2009; 2014; 2017; 2018). This presentation offers an overview of the findings and methodological developments in toy semiotics research through the projects Toys on Focus (2015-2018) and Multimodality & Childhood (2018) aimed at expanding the agenda of academic investigation on children’s narratives in different discursive domains. Both projects have focused on the verbal and visual configurations of childhood representations such as toy packages, fashion and  baby dolls, nursery rhymes, inclusive toys, birthday scenarios, Disney characters, etc., by combining a linguistic approach to toy semiotics with debates from interrelated fields [1], to account for a more accurate analysis of the contextual dimension of these visual semiotic structures. Methodologically, I will attempt at demonstrating how systems of signification derived from the Grammar of Visual Design (VG) by Kress & van Leeuwen (1996; 2006) – such as the subsystem of modality (reality value) – have been proved effective as a theoretical tool to toy semiotics by allowing to go beyond the investigation of the two-dimensional perspective of their advertisements to check on material configurations such as texture, smell, kinetic possibilities and the degree of realism of these three-dimensional childhood representations. By means of primarily linguistic lens, I believe to contribute to social semiotic research through the articulation of the analysis of linguistic aspects of data with the discussion of social issues such as gender roles, diversity, representation and inclusion. All in all, my main intention is to propose an innovative, exploratory look into toys as texts as well as ideologically-loaded cultural artefacts.



Almeida, D. B. L. & Moreira Junior, M. (2018) Letrar Brincando: Cantigas de Roda como Textos Multimodais e Ferramentas Culturais no Contexto Escolar. In Zaira Santos, Clarice Gualberto, Sônia Pimenta. (Org.). Multimodalidade e ensino: múltiplas perspectivas. 1ed.São Paulo: Editora Pimenta Cultural, v. 1.

Almeida, D.B.L. & Soares, L.  (2018).  Brinquedos como Representação Social e de Gênero na Infância: A Resignificação do Conceito de Família. Discursos Contemporâneos em Estudo, 3 (2), 19.

Almeida, D.B.L (2017). On Diversity, Representation and Inclusion: New Perspectives on Toys’ Discourse. Revista Linguagem em Discurso. Santa Catarina: Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina.

Almeida, D. B. L. (2014). The political values embedded in a child s toy: The case of Girl Power in the Brazilian doll Susi. In David Machin (Org.). Visual Communication. Series: Handbooks of Communication Science (vol. 1, p. 539-564). Berlin: DeGruyter Mouton.

Almeida, D. B. L. (2009) Where have all the children gone? A visual semiotic account of advertisements for fashion dolls. Visual Communication, 8, 481-501.

Almeida, D. B. L. (2008).  Beyond the Playground: The Representation of Reality in Fashion Dolls' Advertisements. Linguagem em (Dis)curso, 8. 203-228.

Almeida, D. B. L. (2006). Icons of Contemporary Childhood: A Visual and Lexicogrammatical Investigation of Toy Advertisements. Unpublished PhD Dissertation. Florianópolis: Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. 

Brian Sutton-Smith (1984). A Toy Semiotics. Children's Environments Quarterly. 1(1), Toys: History, Theory and Ethnography, 19-21.

Brougère, G. (2014) Toys or the Rhetoric of Children’s Goods. In: Machin, D. (ed.). Visual Communication Series: Handbooks of Communication Science [HoCS] Vol. 4. Berlin: DeGruyter Mouton.

Caldas-Coulthard, C. R., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2001). Baby’s first toys and the discursive construction of childhood. Critical Discourse Analysis in Post Modern Societies, Special Edition of Folia Linguistica, XXXV (1–2), 157–182.

Caldas-Coulthard, C. R., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2002). Stunning, shimmering, iridescent: Toys as the representation of gendered social actors. In L. Litosseleti & J. Sunderland (Eds.). Gender identity and discourse analysis (pp. 91–110). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Caldas-Coulthard, C. R., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2003). Teddy bear stories. Social Semiotics, 13(1), 5–27.

Fleming, D. (1996) Powerplay: toys as popular culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 

Heljakka, K. (2013). Principles of Adult Play (fulness) in Contemporary Toy Cultures. Helsinki: Aalto University.

Kline, S. (1993). Out of the Garden: Toys and Children’s Culture in the Age of Marketing. London: Verso Press.

Kress, G. & Van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge

Machin, D & Van Leeuwen, T. (2009). Toy as discourse: children's war toys and the war on terror. Critical Discourse Studies, 6 (1), 51-64.

Peers, J. (2004). The Fashion Doll: from Bébé Jumeau to Barbie. Oxford: Berg.

Pinto, M. & Sarmento, M. J.  (1997). As crianças e a infância: definindo conceitos, delimitando o campo. In: As Crianças – Contextos e Identidades. Centro de Estudos da Criança: Universidade do Minho.

Seiter, E. (1993). Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Thibault, M, (2016). Towards a Semiotic Analysis of Toys. In New Semiotics. Between Tradition and Innovation: proceedings of the 12. World Congress of Semiotics, ed. K. Bankov, IASS Publications & NBU Publishing House.


[1] (1) Sociology of Childhood & Children Studies (Pinto & Sarmento, 1997); (2) Cultural and Media Studies (Heljakka, 2013; Peers, 2004; Fleming, 1996; Seiter, 1993; Kline, 1993); (3) Anthropology and Education (Brougère, 2014); (4) Toy semiotics (Brian Sutton-Smith, 1984; Caldas-Coulthard & Van Leeuwen, 2001, 2002, 2003; Machin & Van Leeuwen, 2009; Thibault 2016).