Communicating science through verbal-visual discourse: the role of multimodal metaphors in new media as means to convey complex messages
Media play a central role in society and shape human experiences, and in contemporary society have assumed a fundamental function in allowing specialist senders to communicate proficiently with lay audiences, especially those with limited educational opportunities and scientific knowledge. Amongst said senders are Public Administration (PA) departments, that nowadays primarily use digital platforms and channels. However, their use of such channels frequently appears rudimentary and at times ill-informed for two reasons: the messages are predominantly verbal and highly technical, and rarely combine language with information in visuals by images, videos and animations.
My PhD is aimed at studying the institutional communication of complex information on new media and digital channels, with a case-study of Italian public health departments. The main question that this research aims at answering is whether - and if so, how - the use of multimodal metaphors can simplify and enhance this kind of communication. To address these questions, the project shall investigate the content of a selection of digital channels used by PAs chosen on the basis of their popularity, specifically analysing the multimodal images and videos shared in such channels. The project is rooted in Conceptual Metaphor Theory/CMT (Lakoff and Johnson 1980), according to which metaphors are cognitive processes reflected in language structures in which abstract/complex phenomena (“target domains”) are metaphorically represented in terms of concrete/perceptible phenomena (“source domains”). The research thus questions whether multimodal metaphors can facilitate the comprehension of complex messages to the general public if they draw on source domains that are familiar to the envisaged audience. In this talk I will analyse two ineffective case-studies and compare them to a much more user-friendly example, addressing how health-related information can be conveyed much more efficiently by structuring the information multimodally.
KEY WORDS: multimodal metaphor, inclusivity, health-care communication