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ANU-CoEDL ZOOM Seminar: Multimodal Metaphors, Haoyi Li, 13 Nov

Australian National University

Date: 6 November 2020

Seminar: Multimodal Metaphors: the semantics and syntax of tropes in the language and art of Ganalbiŋu (Djinba)

Speaker: Haoyi Li

When: 13 Nov 2020, 3pm

Where: via zoom (please email for zoom link invitation)


Language and art are tools integral to the mediation and performance of social identity, culture, and religion in Australian Aboriginal communities. The Yolŋu people of north-eastern Arnhem Land make use of painting, dance, and song, in many aspects of ritual and traditional culture. Paintings used in rituals are rich in sociological significations, designating the clan of the artist and portraying important ancestral stories associated with the land and sacred objects belonging to the clan.

Given the sociocultural significance of art for the Yolŋu, the aim of this thesis is to explore links between the linguistic structures of Yolŋu languages, predominantly the Ganalbiŋu dialect of Djinba and the related language Djinang, and the visual languages used by these communities in artistic and ceremonial contexts.  Yolŋu art and anthropology is well studied (e.g. Keen, 1977, 2006; Morphy, 1991; Tamisari, 1998; Curkpatrick, 2013) however the artistic practices of Djinang and Djinba speakers remain undocumented. Similarly, Djinang and Djinba are understudied sub-languages of Yolŋu Matha, with only one grammar (Waters 1989) which primarily describes a dialect of Djinang.

One way of investigating the intersection between language and art is through the phenomenon of metaphorical and metonymic tropes inherent in linguistic structures involving body-part nouns in Djinang and Djinba. The cognitive saliency of these productive tropes suggests broader presence in other modalities of communication, such as in the visual and kinesic domains, not just limited to spoken language. Following this hypothesis, my thesis will address the following research questions:

  • How do linguistic tropes (metaphors and metonymies) influence the structure of communication in its various modes - verbal, visual, kinesic?
    • Verbal modality: What are common tropes in spoken language? Can systematic networks of tropes be established? Are these reflected in other modalities of communication?
    • Visual modality: What are tropes underlying the structure of art? What use of metaphor is specific to the language of art, and not to other communicative contexts?
    • Kinesic modality: Do tropes also manifest in gestures, which either map onto the verbal/visual domains, or show a mismatch?

Examining the semantics and syntax of tropes used in the visual language by Yolŋu may shed light on structural and meaning-based similarities and differences shared by verbal discourse. This in turn informs our understanding of Yolŋu ontology and epistemology, such as how the body is perceived and its significance in the conceptual space of speakers in understanding the world. This thesis focuses primarily on the verbal and visual modes, but kinesic data involving gesture may also be considered. The methodology, consequently, adopts an interdisciplinary stance in order to adequately examine multimodal data in a variety of communicative contexts. An appropriate method of analysis will be developed, drawing from studies on metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Ponsonnet, 2014), Yolŋu art (Morphy, 1991), visual language (Cohn, 2013) and multimodality (Green, 2014). A preliminary analysis of Ganalbiŋu data will also be presented in this TPR.

  • Australian Government
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  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University