Multimodal articulation

Multimodal articulation refers to the act of meaning-making with the multiple resources of the body (e.g. voice, facial expression, gesture) and/or by cultural tools (e.g. artefacts, instruments, hardware, software) available in a communicative context and discourse (Kress & van Leeuwen 2001; Johannessen 2011).

Articulation is always multimodal in the sense that the articulation draws on multiple resources in the making of a text/semiotic artefact, e.g. writing a blogpost typically involves resources from language, color, layout, typography, still images, video and so on.

Articulation is tied to and constrained by bodily activities and the social-cultural history of tools for articulation, thus the meaning articulated derives from the specific biological and cultural development of resources. Articulation is also tied to the interest of the sign-maker and the aptness of the resources available to the sign maker in different social practices (Kress 2010).

Using Kress and can Leeuwen’s four domains of semiotic practice, i.e. discourse, design, production, distribution (see entry on semiotic practice) as a framework, the making of a multimodal text can be described as multiple articulations. E.g. a website, perceived by a user and an object for perception and interpretation, is the result of a designer’s articulations with cultural tools. The discourse is articulated in the design which is the practice of conceptualizing the social knowledge, e.g. designing a website involves the use of sketches such as site maps, wireframes and other diagrams that visually represent one or more aspects of the discourse of the site. The design is further articulated in the production, which is the practice of making a semiotic artefact/text, e.g. the design of a website is produced by coding in HTML and CSS and various programming languages. The semiotic artefact is finally articulated in one or more media, e.g. the website is made available on the World Wide Web, distributed on different platforms and adapted to different screen formats so that the site may be accessed on desk tops, tables and mobile phones. Through each articulation, multiple layers to the discursive meaning are added.

The result of an articulation in one or more modes of a discourse would be a text or semiotic artefact: “Articulation leads to externally evident signs, texts, or text-like objects” (Kress & van Leeuwen 2001: 41). Articulation is seen as one side of semiotic production; the other side being interpretation.

Citing this entry:

Poulsen, Søren Vigild. 2015.  “Multimodal articulation.” In Key Terms in Multimodality: Definitions, Issues, Discussions, edited by Nina Nørgaard.


Johannessen, C.M. (2011) Forensic analysis of graphic trademarks: A multimodal social semiotic approach. PhD thesis, University of Southern University.

Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality – A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London/New York: Routledge.

Kress, G. & Leeuwen, T. v. (2001). Multimodal discourse: the modes and media of contemporary communication. London: Arnold.


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