Dr. Charles Forceville, ACLC, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam
The affordances and constraints of genre: visuals and visuals-and-words in unusual traffic signs and ‘traffic signs'
Charles Forceville is the guest speaker at this ACLC seminar, the title and abstract of this lecture are now available.
The key idea of relevance theory is that communication is governed by the awareness, shared by a message’s sender and addressee, that the former tries to be optimally relevant to the latter. Mass-communicative visuals and visuals-plus-texts are often rich in information, but are also claimed to run the risk of divergent interpretations by different individuals in the mass-audience. In this paper it is argued that relevance in mass-communicative texts is achieved to a considerable extent by the fact that interpretation is enormously constrained by their belonging to a specific genre. Correct genre attribution, in turn, is partly governed by text-internal signals (e.g. colour, form) and partly by pragmatic factors – specifically by when and where one comes across the text. The genre of traffic signs is a case in point. The heavily coded nature of such signs, which function as “speech acts,” enables at least partial comprehension even of unfamiliar instances in this genre. Understanding for a given addressee depends on a combination of knowing the code and, in many cases, recognizing phenomena from everyday life. Given this basis, the genre-conventions can even be deployed to make rhetorical claims in non-traffic-related circumstances. Several of these latter will be shown and discussed.
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