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 proceedingChapterpeer-review

    14 Citations (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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