The contribution of embodied paralanguage in building disciplinary knowledge and values in lectures in the sciences and humanities 

Susan Hood

The University of Sydney


Over several decades now, studies in SFL have made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the nature of academic discourses; from the general ways in which they differ from everyday, common-sense meaning making, to broad distinctions between the discourses of the sciences, social sciences and humanities, to deeper understandings of the discourses of specific disciplinary fields. Our combined efforts continue to provide us with knowledge and tools to support more effective pedagogic interventions and greater equality of access. To date, much attention has focused on genre, register as field, and the mode of reflective written text. While maintaining that focus, we are now encouraged by a growing body of SFL research in multimodality to extend our attention to other modes of interaction, to other kinds of semiosis and to inter-semiotic relations. Such a shift is also timely given rapid developments in technologies of communication and changes to the nature of pedagogic interaction in higher education.

The research reported here reflects this shift in orientation. It draws on a corpus of videos of live (face-to-face) undergraduate lectures in a variety of disciplinary fields in which we have a coming together of multiple semiotic systems including static and dynamic images, written text, spoken language and the often-overlooked semiotic potential of the lecturer’s embodied paralanguage. This presentation focuses on the contribution of paralanguage to the building of academic knowledge and values in these multimodal settings. The study is informed by current SFL work (e.g., Martin & Zappavigna, 2019; Hao & Hood, 2019; Hood & Hao, forthcoming; Ngo et al., forthcoming) that itself builds from earlier important contributions (e.g. Martinec 2000, 2002, 2004; Matthiessen, 2009; Cléirigh in e.g. Zappavigna et al., 2010; Hood, 2011). A major advance is the building system networks of paralinguistic meaning potential related to each metafunction (Thu et al., forthcoming). This significant step enables us to consider, in other than notional ways, the inter-semiotic relations that hold in co-instantiations of speech and paralinguistic expression. Analyses of inter-semiotic convergences and divergences in meanings expressed in lectures from the sciences and humanities reveal consistent patterns of difference that reflect the contrasting nature of their disciplinary fields.



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Hood, S. (2011). Body language in face-to-face teaching. In S. Dreyfus, S. Hood, & M. Stenglin (Eds.), Semiotic margins: Meaning in multimodalities (pp. 31-52). London: Continuum.

Hood, S., & Hao, J. (forthcoming). Grounded Learning: Telling and showing in the language and paralanguage of a science lecture. In K. Maton, J. R. Martin, & Y. J. Doran (Eds.), Studying Science: Knowledge, language, pedagogy. London: Routledge.

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Martin, J. R., Zappavigna, M., Dwyer, P., & Cléirigh, C. (2013). Users in uses of language: embodied identity in Youth Justice Conferencing. Text & Talk, 33(4-5), 467 – 496.

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Martinec, R. (2002). Rhythmic hierarchy in monologue and dialogue. Functions of Language, 9(9), 39-59.

Martinec, R. (2004). Gestures which co-occur with speech as a systematic resource: The realisation of experiential meanings in indexes. Social Semiotics, 14(2), 193-213.

Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2009). Multisemiosis and context-based register typology. In E. Ventola & M. Guijarro (Eds.), The world told and the world shown: Multisemiotic issues (pp. 11-38). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ngo, T., Hood, S. Martin, J.R., Painter, C. Smith, B. & Zappavigna, M. Forthcoming. Modelling Paralanguage Using Systemic Functional Semiotics, London: Bloomsbury

Zappavigna, M., Cleírigh, C., Dwyer, P., & Martin, J. R. (2010). The coupling of gesture and phonology. In M. Bednarek & J. R. Martin (Eds.), New discourse on language: Functional perspectives on multimodality, identity and affiliation (pp. 219-236). London: Continuum.