With these questions in mind, A/P Kay O'Halloran set up the multimedia Laboratory for Research in Semiotics (LRS) in the Department of English Language and Literature (ELL) with funding from a Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FASS) Research Grant. The study of spoken and written language was to be accompanied by the study of visual imagery, movement and gesture, facial expression, clothing, music, dance, scientific symbolism, architecture and the use of space, and all those other resources which construct meaning in written, printed and electronic texts, animation and film, and three-dimensional material sites. The LRS was suitably equipped with twenty-four computers with specialised software programs useful for analysing anything ranging from cartoons and newspapers, to films, mathematics texts and cities. The LRS was decked out with a multimedia table with a main computer, large screen, DVD player, video player, high quality speakers, a scanner and coloured printer. The challenge was on!
The word soon spread, and students flocked to find out what they could possibly learn in A/P O'Halloran's undergraduate and postgraduate modules in Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and multimodality. The modules are taught in the LRS using Systemics 1.0, software for linguistic analysis developed by Kay O'Halloran and Kevin Judd (2002), and other software applications for visual and audio analysis. Students found out they could analyse and interpret (or at least try to) advertisements, their favourite film clips, web sites and games, literature texts, scientific texts, the sculptures found on campus, and their latest email correspondence. You name it, they could study and analyse it! It was mind-bogglingly difficult (imagine trying to analyse a Madonna music video, a science textbook, or a clip from Shrek 2!). At the same time, it was simultaneously challenging and rewarding (or so it appeared to be). The Semiotics Research Group (SRG) was formed (consisting of Kay O'Halloran and students), dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge through the study of semiotic systems and the way in which linguistic, visual and audio choices interact to create meaning in the world around us! It was a heady time. Some Honours students even dubbed it 'systemic functional life' (SFL).
The result is an amazing array of research projects in systemic functional linguistics and multimodality in the Department of English Language and Literature. Honours students completed projects on museum exhibitions, webpages, computer games, children's picture books, the supermarket and newspaper advertisements. Some of these students continued their research in multimodality for MA (Research) degrees, and some MA (Coursework) students went on to study for MA (Research) and PhD degrees. Other postgraduate students came from overseas to study SFL and multimodality. MA and PhD projects include the study of corporate television advertisements, educational CD ROMs, biology textbooks, Singapore as a city, hypertext, political discourse, national day songs, newspaper reports, cartoons and food labels. Better news still, SRG international publications include the book volume:
O'Halloran, K. L. (ed) (2004) Multimodal Discourse Analysis. London & New York: Continuum.
The volume features research papers by MA students Safeyaton Alias, Cheong Yin Yuen, Arthur Kok, Victor Lim and Alfred Pang and PhD student Guo Libo. These talented postgraduate students have careers which span engineering (Safeyaton Alias), teaching (Cheong, Yin Yuen; Arthur Kok, Victor Lim and Alfred Pang) and academia (Dr Guo Libo who works at NIE). Other postgraduate students completing research in multimodality include graphic designers, journalists, newspaper editors, polytechnic lecturers, Ministry of Education personnel, and tourism and business executives.
SRG international publications include, the book and software:
O'Halloran, K. L. (2005) Mathematical Discourse: Language, Symbolism and Visual Images. London & New York: Continuum.
O'Halloran, K. L. and Judd, K. (2002) Systemics 1.0. Singapore: Singapore University Press.
The end result of the LRS & SRG research project is an international profile in multimodal research at the Department of English Language and Literature. This is evidenced by other international publications by SRG postgraduate students, which signal the quality of their research projects and international conference presentations. In addition, Kay O'Halloran has given plenary addresses on multimodality at international conferences in Australia, Austria, England, Italy and Japan, plus other invited talks and conference presentations around the world. Plans are also underway to establish a Multimodal Social Semiotics Research Centre of Excellence in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at NUS to further explore this area of learning.