Beyond languages, beyond modalities: transforming the study of semiotic repertoires

Annelies Kusters*, Massimiliano Spotti, Ruth Swanwick, Elina Tapio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents a critical examination of key concepts in the study of (signed and spoken) language and multimodality. It shows how shifts in conceptual understandings of language use, moving from bilingualism to multilingualism and (trans)languaging, have resulted in the revitalisation of the concept of language repertoires. We discuss key assumptions and analytical developments that have shaped the sociolinguistic study of signed and spoken language multilingualism as separate from different strands of multimodality studies. In most multimodality studies, researchers focus on participants using one named spoken language within broader embodied human action. Thus while attending to multimodal communication, they do not attend to multilingual communication. In translanguaging studies the opposite has happened: scholars have attended to multilingual communication without really paying attention to multimodality and simultaneity, and hierarchies within the simultaneous combination of resources. The (socio)linguistics of sign language has paid attention to multimodality but only very recently have started to focus on multilingual contexts where multiple sign and/or multiple spoken languages are used. There is currently little transaction between these areas of research. We argue that the lens of semiotic repertoires enables synergies to be identified and provides a holistic focus on action that is both multilingual and multimodal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-232
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Multilingualism
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2017


  • gestures
  • Multimodality
  • repertoires
  • semiotics
  • sign language
  • translanguaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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