4.2 Traditions of multimodal practices

Section 3 has already introduced the idea that wider social processes, including cultural practices, shape the ways we use language and create meaning. However, the introduction of the technology of writing interacts with traditional cultural practices and can be generative or transformative. Literacy can transform practices from ‘vision’ to paper: this new literacy is then adapted into its own multimodal cultural identity.

Swanwick (2002) highlighted a number of issues relevant to both deaf and hearing children, as they learned to write in English. The deaf children she studied had varying degrees of deafness and varying proficiency in British Sign Language (BSL). Some had hearing parents and siblings; some did not.

Swanwick pointed out that deaf children learning to write English have to shift between, and make sense of, three modes of communication simultaneously: sign language – visual; English – spoken; English – written. Monolingual hearing children only have to cope with two. Some of these deaf children may have a visual-gestural code as their ‘inner speech’, thus making it harder for them to translate into written English than their hearing or partially deaf counterparts, whose inner speech is spoken English. Swanwick noted that differences between the two languages, such as the importance of facial gesture and word order, make the literacy development of deaf children very different from the biliteracy development of hearing children. Some meanings in BSL, moreover, are not amenable to direct translation.

Swanwick concluded that the children used a variety of strategies to write their stories in English, and suggested that those with more developed speaking skills appeared to find the writing task easier, as they can think in English rather than only in BSL.

4.1 What is multimodality?

4.3 Widening interest in multimodal texts