Cultural Affordances of Visual Mode Texts in and of Japanese Landscapes and Young Children’s Emerging Comprehension of Semiotic Texts

Authored by: Dylan Yamada-Rice

The Routledge Handbook of Literacy Studies

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415816243
eBook ISBN: 9781315717647
Adobe ISBN: 9781317510611


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This chapter describes three interlinking studies conducted in Japan (Yamada-Rice 2011a, 2011b, 2014) and brings together some of the findings in order to consider the role of environments and culture in young children’s emerging comprehension of semiotic texts. The first two studies considered the relationships between Japanese visual mode texts and landscapes. Specifically, the first project looked at texts that were in landscapes and the second was a study of visual mode texts of landscapes. Texts in and of landscapes is an important distinction that will be explored in this chapter because the two emphasise knowledge of the Japanese visual mode in different but interlinking ways. Data of visual texts in landscapes were collected from a project that used Google Street View to compare texts utilising the visual mode in urban landscapes of Tokyo and London. In contrast visual texts of landscapes were recorded from televised images of the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Both sets of data show how the visual mode has cultural affordances that derive from the Japanese context and challenge some of the universality with which the mode has been considered within theory to date (see e.g. Kress and Van Leeuwen 2006). The ultimate aim of this chapter is to question how knowledge of young children’s emerging understanding of communication practices changes when cultural affordances are foregrounded in thinking about emerging multimodal (the combination of more than one mode, such as sound, gesture, writing and image) communication practices. Thus the final study discussed in this chapter extends previous environmental print research (Goodman 1986; Hannon and Nutbrown 1997) that considered the link between writing in environments and young children’s emerging literacy practices. The study was a nine-month investigation into how seven young children (aged three to six years) living in and around Tokyo made sense of visual mode texts. Child-comprehension was considered in relation to the situated nature of visual texts within physical environments and the role of this in young children’s engagement with them. This chapter brings some of the findings of the above-mentioned three studies together in order to consider the role of environments and culture in young children’s emerging comprehension of semiotic texts. In particular, discussion focuses on two key points; first, that visual-mode texts use cultural affordances. Second, that when young children interact with and interpret these they do so in relation to their cultural upbringing and the physical environment. These key points relate to multimodal social semiotic theory (Hodge and Kress 1988), which construes that all communication practices are interlinked with social and cultural practices. Social semiotic theory is outlined in the next section that considers the historical perspectives within which this chapter is positioned. Next social semiotic multimodal theory is described in relation to Japanese communication practices within a section entitled ‘Critical issues and topics’, after which the three interlinking projects are described under the broader heading of ‘Contributions to research’.

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