Social semiotics

a theorist and a theory in retrospect and prospect

Emilia Djonov*, Sumin Zhao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Citation (Scopus)


While diverse in scope and perspectives, Van Leeuwen’s work is grounded in social semiotic theory. Van Leeuwen’s key theoretical contributions to social semiotics are captured in his book Introducing Social Semiotics (Van Leeuwen, 2005), written in his staple accessible yet intellectually rich style, with intriguing examples from a wide array of semiotic practices. For Van Leeuwen, social semiotics is “not ‘pure’ theory, not a self-contained field” but “a form of enquiry” that “comes into its own when it is applied to specific instances and specific problems” (Van Leeuwen, 2005, p. 1). It is thus a theory that is both an ‘appliable’ (Halliday, 1985) and necessarily agile and interdisciplinary. Social semiotic enquiries pursue three central goals:

1. collect, document and systematically catalogue semiotic resourcesincluding their history

2. investigate how these resources are used in specific historical, cultural and institutional contexts, and how people talk about them in these contexts-plan them, teach them, justify them, critique them, etc.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvancing multimodal and critical discourse studies
Subtitle of host publicationinterdisciplinary research inspired by Theo Van Leeuwen's social semiotics
EditorsSumin Zhao, Emilia Djonov, Anders Björkvall, Morten Boeriis
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781315521015 , 9781315521008
ISBN (Print)9781138697638
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge studies in multimodality


  • social semiotics
  • Theo van Leeuwen
  • critical discourse analysis
  • multimodality

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  • Cite this

    Djonov, E., & Zhao, S. (2018). Social semiotics: a theorist and a theory in retrospect and prospect. In S. Zhao, E. Djonov, A. Björkvall, & M. Boeriis (Eds.), Advancing multimodal and critical discourse studies: interdisciplinary research inspired by Theo Van Leeuwen's social semiotics (pp. 1-17). (Routledge studies in multimodality; Vol. 19). New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.