ACLC Seminar | Dr Charles Forceville (UvA)

The affordances and constraints of genre: visuals and visuals-and-words in unusual traffic signs and ‘traffic signs'

16Nov2018 16:15 - 17:30


Charles Forceville, ACLC, UvA, is the guest speaker at this ACLC seminar.


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.


Published by  ACLC