Matter, Meaning and Semiotics

We inhabit two worlds – the world of matter and the world of meaning (Halliday, 2005). I investigate these two worlds and the physical, biological, social and semiotic systems which connect them, using concepts from social semiotic theory (Halliday, 2009). In the first instance, humans receive information about the physical world through senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, in addition to other senses for balance, body position and movement, pain, and temperature. However, sensory input from the environment is perceived and conditioned by social factors and influences, which include the context, culture, beliefs and values, and life experiences. These social systems are enacted, maintained, and changed through semiotic systems, conceived as systems of meaning. Following Halliday (2005), semiotic systems constitute a new order of complexity, because they involve physical systems (the material sign itself), biological systems (humans), social systems (society and culture) and meaning itself. In this talk, I focus on this last dimension; the world of meaning and its significance. I explore how language and other semiotic resources structure thought and reality and how semiotic combinations result in semantic expansions and changes in the semiotic landscape (O'Halloran, 2014). Lastly, I explore reality in the digital age as a one-way mirror, and discuss the implications for the future.

Halliday, M. A. K., ‘On Matter and Meaning: The Two Realms of Human Experience’, Linguistics and the Human Sciences, vol. 1(1), 2005, pp. 59–82.
Halliday, M. A. K., Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday (10 Volumes), London & New York: Continuum, 2009.
O’Halloran, K. L., ‘Historical Changes in the Semiotic Landscape: From Calculation to Computation’, Handbook of Multimodal Analysis, 2nd ed., ed. C. Jewitt, London: Routledge, 2014, pp. 123–138.

Kay O’Halloran

Department of Communication and Media, University of Liverpool

Professor Kay O’Halloran is Chair Professor and Head of Department of Communication and Media in the School of the Arts at the University of Liverpool and Visiting Distinguished Professor at the Martin Centre for Appliable Linguistics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. Prior to this she worked at Curtin University, Western Australia (2013–2019), and the National University of Singapore (1998–2013) where she was a member of the Department of the English Language & Literature, and Director of the Multimodal Analysis Lab in the Interactive & Digital Media Institute. Kay is an internationally recognized academic in the field of multimodal analysis, involving the study of the interaction of language with other resources in texts, interactions and events. A key focus of her work is the development of digital tools and techniques for multimodal analysis. Kay is currently working with research teams at the University of Liverpool to develop multimodal mixed methods approaches for big data analytics.

semiotic systems
M.A.K. Halliday
semiotic landscape
digital culture