I had briefly touched on the concepts of semiotics and multimodality in a prior course, reviewed in this previous post.
In basic terms, Kress wants us to see signs as making meaning through three parts: writing, image, and color.
Just looking around my room and work area, I can see a multitude of examples that demonstrate the same concept of the car park. My computer or phone’s on/off switch gives me visual cues via images and lights. My chair has a somewhat complex adjustment system that’s explained with only a couple words, but mostly pictures and bright color on the most basic of tasks.
Another interesting concept that Kress brings up is calling classical grammar “an obstacle to necessary action”. (7) Semiotic demands replace ‘grammar’ as a true way to make meaning from communication.
Though this may be a bit of a tangent, it brings to mind a conversation I’ve had quite a few times. I am not multi-lingual. I took a few years of Spanish in high school and college, and can speak and understand bits and pieces of very basic phrases. I was always disappointed at the amount of time that was spent on verb conjugation. At the time when I was in class, I did halfway decently. I doubt I could still conjugate irregular Spanish verbs, but I do remember some of the language: vocabulary that has visual or auditory cues. Putting a foreign language into practice, I was better able to use vocabulary and other semiotic cues to communicate than I was by using only flawlessly executed language. As Kress says, “No degree of power can act against the socially transformative force of interaction.” (8)
But signs have often relied on culturally available resources. Again using the example above, translating language is often not the only step in understanding communication. Kress brings up the issue of translation across cultures, not languages, as the key hurdle in true universal communication. Though the specific culture escapes me at this moment, the first thought that comes to mind is an example I read of a soccer match overseas. Even the simplest communication such as clapping can mean different things to different cultures, as was the case with this particular soccer club. It had gained some bandwagon supporters after some surprising upsets, but was appalled to hear fans clapping at them when they ran onto the pitch. Clapping, to them, was a negative cue. The real rhetorical question is: do we, as creators of communication, seek out globally recognized cues and avoid all others, or do we as a global community decide on set standards?
Kress goes on to explain the concept of prompts in communication. That specifically, it’s only a prompt when it’s received and acknowledged. If you, as a communicator, ‘prompt’ me to do or understand something, but I do not necessarily receive the intended message, Kress believes it’s not truly a prompt. But going back to the soccer team analogy, is clapping not a prompt when it’s improperly received? On the surface, I would think Kress would agree; however, in true multimodal communication, other cues could likely be used to make meaning.