Words and images: a royal wedding?

Marianna Bolognesi

How do words and images, respectively, construct meaning in the increasingly frequent multimodal messages to which we are exposed on a daily basis? Are images used to simply decorate linguistically-conveyed messages, or do they construct specific meanings in a more efficient way than words would do? Advertisements on billboards, for example, are often composed of images enriched with linguistic slogans and text detailing the main features of the advertised product, or the humanitarian aim of a social campaign.

Often, these multimodal messages encompass visual metaphors: a car may be advertised on billboards that show wild horses running free. The viewer is expected to map core properties that we commonly associate with wild horses (e.g. beauty, power, elegance etc.) onto the advertised product. In some cases, the images play on metaphoric expressions in a given language. For example, in an American advertisement for a famous brand of DVD recorders, the machine is displayed on top of a razor’s handle, as if the recorder itself was a razor blade. The slogan reads: “The sharpest image quality”. Image quality can be ‘sharp’ in English, but not, for example, in Italian. Therefore, even the visual part of the advertisement would not work for an Italian speaking audience, because it plays on the metaphoric expression by which English speakers define image quality in terms of sharpness.

The identification and analysis of visual metaphors in multimodal advertisements displayed in different countries and languages was the focus of Dr Marianna Bolognesi’s invited keynote lecture at the University of Turin (Italy). The talk was part of a one-day international event entitled Intertext and Intermedia, which featured seven talks and two keynote lectures, and was organized by the PhD fellows in Digital Humanities at the universities of Turin and Genoa. The lecture given by Marianna sparked enthusiasm and interest in the audience about the objectives and topics addressed by Creative Multilingualism, and new potential collaborations are currently being discussed to develop effective ways to teach modern languages in contemporary societies, where images play an increasingly robust role, in comparison to words.

Dr Marianna Bolognesi is a Post-doctoral Researcher working on Creative Multilingualism's first strand: The Creative Power of Metaphor.

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