Visualising Multimodal Patterning
Michele Zappavigna & David Caldwell
University of Sydney
This chapter considers how to represent visually different types of
multimodal patterning so that a single text can be explored or comparisons
can be made between different texts. Achieving such visualisation involves
solving problems of how to present aggregated views of complex patterns.
We explore how a single visualisation method, arc diagrams, originally
designed for visualising music, can be used by a linguist seeking to
represent the ‘building-up’ of meanings as a text unfolds. To limit the
scope of the exercise we restrict ourselves to considering how
GRADUATION (Martin & White, 2005) might be represented in terms of
repetition of arcs across a text. We take as our example scaling up of
graduation in a single rap song by Kanye West and two of his
collaborators. One measure of a rappers’ virtuosity is their capacity to
produce consecutive end-rhymes, which we consider a unique type of
graduation. We attempt to visualise consecutive end-rhymes with a view to
providing a way of representing such virtuosity, and ultimately, comparing
the rhyming capacity of different rap artists.
Text visualisation, Systemic Functional Linguistics, Graduation, Rap
music, Kanye West
Background: Text visualisation
Text Visualisation is an emergent field closely related to the more general
field of information visualisation that represents abstract data visually. The
objective is to computationally process a text so that it can be represented
in ways that leverage the “primarily preattentive, parallel processing
powers of visual perception” (Wise, et al., 1995:52). In short, visualisation
aims to make complex data, encoded by machines, meaningful to humans,
using tools such as colour, space and animation to produce visual
2 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
Discourse analysts are interested in making claims about text patterns.
Such patterning is often highly complex, involving different types of
linguistic features, depending upon the linguistic theory deployed. For
example, patterning of interpersonal meaning has been analogised with
These structures can be likened to the harmonic progressions in a piece of
music, which have a distinctive quality in themselves but also enter in
relationship with other ‘chord progressions’ in the piece and contribute to
the interpersonal structure of the text as a whole. (Macken-Horarik 2003:
Because of the high dimensionality of language, many such patterns are
not necessarily directly evident through manual inspection, especially in
the case of extended texts or corpora. Ware (2004) notes a number of
important advantages afforded by visualisation that may assist the linguist
in exploring large data sources:
Understanding of large amounts of data.
Perception of emergent properties of the data that were not
Detection of errors in the data that otherwise remain hidden.
Understanding of both local and global features.
Reconstruing “data” as “text” in the above, we may think of a visualisation
as a tool to assist the linguist in exploring text patterns and explaining
them to others.
This chapter introduces arc diagrams, a visualisation technique that
represents repeated patterns in text. We begin by explaining the technique
and its application to music and children’s poetry. We then introduce the
case study: end-rhymes in a Kanye West rap song. The technique of arc
diagrams is applied to rap song and the findings are discussed. We will
conclude by considering how arc diagrams may assist the linguist in
making claims about the virtuosity of rap artists and multimodal patterning
Arc diagrams: Visualising repetition
Methods for representing sequencing in strings have become particularly
important with developments in bioinformatics for understanding gene
sequencing. Arc diagrams are a novel technique that visualises repetition.
An arc diagram represents repetition in text strings “by using a pattern-
matching algorithm to find repeated substrings, and then representing
them visually as translucent arcs” (Watternberg, 2002: 2). The technique
represents relationships between sequences using area and by linking
matching pairs of sequences with a translucent arc as shown in Figure 1.
The wider the shading of the arc the longer the sequence that is repeated.
For example in Figure 1 the sequence ‘1234’ is repeated and linked by a
Figure 1. Arc diagram visualisation [adapted from Wattenberg (2002: 2)
Arc diagrams were initially developed for visualising music in a project
called The Shape of Song (Watternberg 2002). For example, Figure 2
shows an arc diagram of Chopin’s Mazurka in F# Minor produced by the
project. The elaborate nesting of this piece is very different to the simple
repetition of the refrain in the folk song, Clementine (Figure 3).
Figure 2. Arc diagram of Chopin’s Mazurka in F# Minor (Watternberg, 2002)
Figure 3. Arc diagram of the folk song, Clementine (Watternberg, 2002)
An existent, widely used technique in bioinformatics for visualising
repetition in sequential data is the dotplot often used for comparing gene
sequences (left image, Figure 4). Repetition in this form of representation
4 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
is shown through shading identical cells. A diagonal line occurs when
there is a common subsequence, that is, a series of items that occur in both
sequences. Arc diagrams may be thought of as an improvement on this
technique depending on the kind of conclusions that the analyst is trying to
make with the diagram. Watternberg demonstrates how the arc diagram
technique reveals repetitions in substrings that are difficult to appreciate in
the “visual clutter” of a dotplot (Wattenberg, 2002:3). As Figure 4 shows,
the fact that two substrings in the sequence are repeated only once is
difficult to ascertain from the dotplot but is clearly apparent in the arc
Figure 4. Comparison of a dotplot and arc diagram for the same string
(Watternberg, 2002: 3)
Arc diagrams offer both a synoptic view of the text, by making the text
tractable on a single page or screen, depending on the level of aggregation
selected, and a view of logogenesis (the text unfolding). Providing both
these perspectives is an important aim of linguistically-motivated text
visualisation (Zappavigna, 2007). It is an attempt, following Martin
(2004), to avoid submerging texture as we seek to obtain an overview of
the text. While the arc diagrams produced in this chapter were drawn
manually to exemplify the technique on a small data set, arc diagrams can
be produced automatically using a patterning matching algorithm. This
algorithm may define two items as matching based on criteria specified in
the algorithm. While this restricts the criteria to features that may be
automatically detected in text, more complex features could be employed
using an annotated text. This would enable linguists to represent features
that are pertinent to their particular projects.
A recent application of Arc diagrams of direct relevance to our study is
animated arc diagrams (Byron, 2007). Animated arc diagrams were
developed to assist children in learning about rhythm, repetition and
rhyming. Byron’s (2007) system dynamically renders arc diagrams while
an audio-text unfolds (see an example at http://www.vimeo.com/734478).
The system uses a “simplified text to speech engine to break down the
poem into individual phonemes, so that “Once upon a time” becomes “w-
ah-n-s ax-p-aa-n ey t-ay-m”” (Byron, 2007). Once the phonemes are
identified patterns of rhyme, rhythm and alliteration can then be shown
visually using arcs to link repeated units (Figure 5). Rhythm is represented
beneath the arcs by grey horizontal bars.
The animated arc system was developing into an interactive limerick
writing assistance application. A rhyming engine was used to create an
application in which a child would begin to type a line and is prompted
with information about how many syllables remain to be used in that line.
As you exhaust “remaining syllables the words become shorter, if you
begin to type a word, words that begin with what letters you have typed so
far are presented” (Byron, 2007). While the authors in this paper do not
have access to the code used to develop this system, the same interactive
system could be used to enable young people to explore rhyming and
repetition in rap music.
Figure 5. Dynamic arc diagram visualisation of ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ (Byron,
Data: Rap music, rhyme and Kanye West
The data for this chapter is from contemporary, ‘popular’ North American
rap musician Kanye West. The song chosen for analysis is titled
Spaceship, part of West’s inaugural album: The College Dropout (2004).
The lyrics (which, for copyright reasons are only reproduced here as
6 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
individual rhymes) have been accessed online from The Original Hip-Hop
Lyrics Archive (www.ohhla.com).
Drawing inspiration from Wattenberg (2002) and Byron (2007) and their
visualizations of music, we considered rap music an attractive source of
data. Generally speaking, the vocal performance of ‘rapping’ requires a
performer to match the rhythm of their voice to the beat of music, and this
is often unrehearsed and spontaneous. In addition, rapping is articulated in
poetic form so it involves rhyme, as well as African-American language
practices such as narrativizing, toasting and punning (Richardson 2006:
Rap, possibly more than any other kind of vocal performance, is about
virtuosity. It is a means by which one can establish a reputation within the
hip-hop community. And in most cases, rap artists are explicitly judged by
that community in terms of their capacity to ‘flow’: to synchronize their
vocals to the beat of the music, as well as their capacity to select lyrics that
appeal for both sound and sense. While these are just some of the more
general markers of virtuosity, they are integral to the way in which people
compare the skills of different rappers. Of these measures of virtuosity, we
have chosen to focus exclusively on the repetition of rhyme. According to
rap expert Keyes, “the ideal rendering of lyrics must be grounded in poetic
flow... Effective rhyming in rap, as with most poetic forms, requires
selecting words for both sound and sense” (Keyes 2002: 126-27). There
are of course many different ways in which rappers deploy rhyme into
their rap music and these are reviewed extensively by Alim (2003). An
analysis and visualization of every type of rhyme in a set of rap lyrics is
not only beyond the scope of this chapter, but would most probably be
very difficult to effectively visualize with arc diagrams. Therefore, we
have limited our analysis to end-rhymes (see Alim 2003: 70).
End-rhymes, in contrast with internal rhymes, occur at the end of a clause,
and generally carry the major pitch movement. In contrast, internal rhymes
do not occur at the end of the clause and do not necessarily have any
notable pitch movement. Following the ‘rhyme tactics’ described by Alim
(2003: 63), we include any type of end-rhyme in our analysis, including
masculine rhymes (one rhyming syllable, e.g. ‘chain’, ‘fame’ ‘game’) and
feminine rhymes (two rhyming syllables, e.g. ‘musc-le’, ‘russ-ell’ and
‘hust-le’), as well as assonance and basic repetition. As illustrated in the
previous sentence, when coding for rhyme, we will only highlight (using
bold and underline) the vowel phoneme(s), which we will simply refer to
as the rhyming ‘sound’. Finally, we will only code a text arc for an end-
rhyme that is consecutive and the same sound. We will discuss the
exclusion of strings of non-consecutive, differing sounds when we
introduce the visualizations.
So, why Kanye West? We chose West mainly because he is not renowned
for having the best rapping skills, despite his immense commercial
success. In fact, he is much more renowned within the hip-hop community
for his editing, sampling and production skills. As co-producer of his rap
songs, West will often collaborate with other rap artists. And generally,
those artists are more highly skilled, ‘well-credentialed’ rappers.
Accordingly, we are interested in how West’s rhyming skills compare with
such collaborators, in this case, the rappers GLC and Consequence in the
rap song Spaceship (West 2004).
Method: Rhyme and Graduation
From a more theoretical perspective, we are also interested in relating
rhyme, particularly the kind of consecutive rhyming in rap lyrics, to the
Appraisal system of GRADUATION (Martin and White 2005). Appraisal,
from Systemic Functional Linguistics, is an analytical framework designed
to identify interpersonal meanings in language. With respect to the main
Appraisal systems, ATTITUDE concerns the semantic resources used to
negotiate emotions, judgements, and valuations, while GRADUATION and
ENGAGEMENT concern the resources that amplify and engage with
ATTITUDE. We are focused exclusively on GRADUATION and the extent to
which it relates to the kinds of consecutive rhyming in rap music.
The linguistic realization of GRADUATION covers a wide range of
resources, all of which are used to grade one’s evaluations. In other words,
they help express greater or lesser degrees of positivity or negativity.
While Appraisal was initially designed to identify evaluative ‘meanings’ in
the discourse semantics of language, there has been growing interest in its
application to other modes of meaning:
... work on paralanguage (gesture, facial expression, laughter, voice quality,
loudness etc.) and attendant modalities of communication (image, music,
movement etc.) are central arenas for further research on the realization of
attitude [and graduation] as we move from a functional linguistic to a more
encompassing social semiotic perspective.
(Martin and White 2005: 69)
8 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
In terms of consecutive rhyming and its relationship to GRADUATION, such
theoretical ‘scope’ is important. In a simple way, one could argue that
consecutive rhyme is a type of repetition, in which case, it is already
accounted for in the GRADUATION system as a sub-type of FORCE:
INTENSIFICATION (see Figure 6 below). However, when we think closely
about rhyme, its semiotic ‘force’ or INTENSIFICATION is much more like
‘paralinguistic’ repetition than discourse semantic repetition. Firstly, while
the ‘sense’ or meaning of consecutive rhyming might have some kind of
semantic thread between the particular lexemes (see examples in Figure
6), this is not necessarily the case. Moreover, we would argue that it is the
‘sound’, or ‘sensory force’ of consecutive rhymes, particularly of the same
sound, that signifies INTENSIFICATION or ‘force’. In a way, it can be likened
to a gradual increase in loudness (or crescendo in musical terms), albeit
realised through the repetition of sounds that do not necessarily increase in
amplitude. So, with respect to the system of GRADUATION (Figure 6), we
include consecutive rhyming (of the same sounds) as part of the
INTENSIFICATION system, and in particular, the sub-system of repetition.
However, we do note that this is not the same as repetition of the discourse
semantic kind; it is better classified as a kind of paralinguistic or ‘sensory’
intensification (for want of a better term).
Figure 6. Some examples of GRADUATION: FORCE, including Repetition (after
Martin and White 2005: 154)
number: a few, many, heaps...
mass/presence: tiny, small, large...
Qualities: slightly corrupt, very corrupt...
Processes: like, love, adore...
A deplorable act, disgraceful, despicable act [Quality]
We laughed and laughed and laughed [Processes]
Nothing’s there, nothing’s fair, I don’t ever want to go back
Arc diagrams and ‘virtuosity’
The following set of arc diagrams aim to visualize the ‘virtuosity’ of a
rapper in terms of their capacity to produce consecutive end-rhymes using
syllables of the same sound. As mentioned, there are 3 data sets: Kanye
West, GLC and Consequence, all of which have been taken from the same
song: Spaceship (West, 2004). A basic generic structure of Spaceship is
Figure 7. Generic Structure of Spaceship (West 2004)
We have limited our analysis to the three verses of Spaceship. Each verse
slightly varies in size: West’s verse comprises 41 clauses, GLC’s
comprises 50; and Consequence’s comprises 25.
Before we introduce the analysis of the data, it is important to explain the
way in which we have used the texts arcs to represent the build-up of
consecutive end-rhymes. Figure 8, presented below, is one segment of
analysis of West’s data set:
Figure 8. Arc diagram of consecutive end-rhymes from Kanye West in Spaceship
Verse 1 (Kanye West)^
Verse 2 (GLC)^
Verse 3 (Consequence)
man man man again him up up back gap cheque scratch
10 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
The horizontal axis represents time, or more technically, logogenesis; the
text as it unfolds ‘in the world’. Each horizontal axis is segmented into
smaller components with a single, vertical line. Each of these segments
represents a single line of text, basically equivalent to a clause, tone group
and poetic ‘line’. Below the horizontal axis, and within each of these
segments, is the lexical realization of the end-rhyme. While it would be
more accurate to place the end rhyme to the far right hand side of each
segment, there is simply not enough space to do so. A single, non-
translucent arc is used to represent repetition; in this case, a consecutive
end-rhyme of the same sound, e.g. ‘again’/‘him’ and ‘up’/‘up’ (see Figure
8 above). However, we do not code for any end-rhymes that are not
consecutive, or that are not the same sound (with some exceptions
discussed below). So, for example, the end-rhymes ‘again’/‘him’ and
‘up’/‘up’ only constitute two arcs. In other words, there is no arc between
‘him’ and the initial ‘up’. Unlike Wattenberg (2002), we are only using
non-translucent, lower level arcs because the small quantity of instances
we have does not really offer us the potential to show patterns of patterns,
However, on several occasions, we do ignore some ‘non-consecutive’
rhymes so as to visualise a lengthy, consecutive end-rhyme coding. As
illustrated above for example, ‘back’, ‘gap’, ‘cheque’ and ‘scratch’ are all
coded as part of a consecutive string, indicating a wave of repetition
beyond a basic rhyming couplet. In this case though, ‘cheque’ does not
actually rhyme with either ‘gap’ or ‘scratch’. The smaller, non-translucent
arc extends from ‘gap’ to ‘scratch’, missing ‘cheque’ all together. In cases
where a rapper deviates from consecutive rhyming for maybe one, two or
three end-rhymes, we still code it as a larger segment of repetition. The
fact that the rapper quickly returns to their initial rhyming sound is usually
not coincidental. And importantly, in those cases, the ‘force’ or sonic
Intensification is still maintained, despite the momentary lapse in rhyming
The following three sets of text arcs begin with West, then GLC and
man man man again him up up back gap cheque scratch
Figure 9. Arc diagrams of end-rhymes from West in Spaceship (West, 2004)
Figure 10. Arc diagrams of end-rhymes from GLC in Spaceship (West, 2004)
stole fault stole caught pat me khakis walk in blackie kanye store marl
hits hits rhymes mind helpin’ quit welcome struggle hustle hustle dude
sum- sum- num- that back base- space- bloaw
ers ers bers ment ship
job mob time grind momma mind love mine signed time alone ya’ll
ball fall mine mine now prime mine twelve now shelves myself
go be streets ‘ye beat feet sweat g goatee key nope god folks
see g g g g me weed gs me peace niece piece bloaw
12 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
Figure 11. Arc diagrams of end-rhymes from Consequence in Spaceship (West,
We will explain this arc diagram using an aggregated view in the
Summary of findings
Before we compare the rhyming capacity of the three rappers, it is worth
noting that there are very few instances where the rappers do not rhyme.
While there are clear differences in terms of the extent to which the
rappers do, or do not rhyme consecutive syllables of the same sound, all
three rappers clearly display some kind of virtuosity in terms of their
capacity to rhyme consistently. And while that may not constitute or evoke
the same kind of semiotic ‘force’ as consecutive syllables of the same
sound, it does however, at the very least, demonstrate a capacity to rap. It
would be worth comparing these arc diagrams to other rap songs in which
the artists were not studio recorded. In ‘freestyle’ rapping for example,
these kinds of findings would show an even greater level of virtuosity
given that the performance is spontaneous, and does not afford the luxury
Most significantly though, the arc diagrams reveal a clear difference
between West’s rhyming techniques and that of his two collaborators.
Below, in Figure 12, is an aggregated text arc view which visualises the
entire verses and compares the consecutive rhyming of the three artists:
right right like night come go goes service cars shows me goatees
me me natu- act- fact- c’tas- me there fair there off off bloaw
rally ually ually trophe
Figure 12. Aggregated text arc view from Spaceship (West, 2004)
This aggregated arc diagram view shows that Consequence and
particularly GLC, rhyme consecutive end-rhymes of the same sound to a
much greater extent than West. So what does this then say about West’s
virtuosity as a rapper? Quite simply, we could argue that West’s status as
an ‘average’ rapper is somewhat justified, at least in terms of his use of
rhyme as a means of Intensification.
In addition, it is important to note that the really significant build up of
Intensification through end-rhymes occurs mainly at the end of both
GLC’s and Consequence’s verse. This appears to be a very deliberate
tactic, especially when we consider that all three rappers finish their verse
with ‘bloaw’, a reference to the metaphorical spaceship ‘taking off’. One
could certainly argue that both GLC and Consequence are very aware of
the ‘graduating’ function of consecutive end-rhymes and deploy them
accordingly. Moreover, this finding suggests that consecutive rhyming of
the same sound does function in a similar way to a crescendo in musical
From a slightly different perspective however, it could be argued that by
avoiding consecutive end-rhymes of the same sound, West is actually able
to express many more detailed and elaborate meanings in his lyrics given
that he is not continually limited by having to find appropriate lexis that
matches a particular sound. Compare for example, West’s rhyming
couplets with the consecutive end-rhymes from GLC:
Table 1. Comparing Rhyme Comparing Rhyme Tactics: GLC and West in
Spaceship (West 2004)
14 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
The point here, although it is difficult to recognise without a complete
clause, is that GLC’s phase is not as semantically ‘rich’ when compared
with West’s. Or perhaps, more technically, it lacks the same level of
semantic or ‘ideational’ coherence (see Martin and Rose 2003). In the
extract above, GLC first lists people he hopes to ‘see’, for example,
‘freddy g’ and ‘yousef g’. He then explains, without any obvious semantic
link, that police watch him (‘me’) smoking marijuana ‘weed’. It is only in
the final four clauses where GLC’s rhymes have some kind of semantic
coherence. In those clauses he is self-reflective: he recognizes that he has
people counting on him (‘me’), that he is trying to find ‘peace’, and that,
somewhat related, he should have finished school like his ‘niece’ instead
of using a ‘piece’, that is, a gun.
In contrast, West’s lyrics are much more semantically coherent and they
clearly relate to the ‘macro’ theme of the song. Spaceship is basically
about leaving one’s ordinary circumstances and ‘taking off’ to a better
place, hence the metaphorical ‘spaceship’. West’s rhyming couplets
provide a really clever juxtaposition of his adverse circumstances and his
tenacity, for example, West contrasts the fact that he receives ‘hits’, that is,
punches (metaphorical or not), but at the same time, writes ‘hits’, that is,
successful song lyrics. Or, despite his job not ‘helping’, he quits with a
departing phrase, ‘you’re welcome’. And in the final three rhymes West is
even more explicit, where he claims that no one knows his ‘str uggles’, but
at the same time, they can’t match his ‘hustle’, that is, his tenacity.
Perhaps this hypothesis, which would obviously benefit from an analysis
of more data, is best explained in terms of ‘sound versus sense’. When the
‘sound’ or sonic Intensification of the consecutive rhyme is foreground, as
it is here with GLC, then the artist must compromise their lyrical meaning
potential. If however the artist, like West, foregrounds their lyrical
meaning potential, then it is more likely that the artist cannot foreground
the sonic force, in this case, through consecutive end-rhymes of the same
At times in the history of linguistics one ideology of
empiricism or another has tended to privilege
generalizations across groups of texts over close readings
of single ones. It may be that the rise of corpus linguistics
heralds a new phase of generalizing privilege of this order.
If so, as social discourse analysts we need to guard against
studies that submerge unfolding texture in processes of
counting and averaging that look for trends across texts
rather than contingencies within them.
(Martin 2004: 341-342)
This chapter has applied only one type of text visualization to a very small
and unique data set. And despite these obvious limitations, it has proved to
be a good illustration of the need to complement large-scale corpus
analyses with methods of analysis that enables us to visualize large
amounts of qualitative data. In the case of Kanye West and his
collaborators, some noteworthy findings and hypotheses may never have
been considered if we were not able to visualise such a specific linguistic
variable like rhyme as it unfolded throughout a complete text.
The arc diagrams revealed a logogenetic patterning of rhyme that would
have almost certainly been lost with large-scale, quantitative methodology.
It was found that both GLC and Consequence dramatically increased their
rhyme as they neared the end of their verse. This logogenetic
Intensification or ‘crescendo’ is important and should never be lost or
submerged. It means something. And in this case, those rappers
deliberately built-up their rhyme to reach a point of semantic and sensory
salience which perfectly coincided with their spaceship ‘taking off’:
16 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
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Journal of English Linguistics 31 (2003): 60-84.
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18 Visualising Multimodal Patterni
Michele Zappavigna is a postdoctoral Fellow in Linguistics at the
University of Sydney. She completed her PhD in the School of
Information Technologies using Systemic Functional Linguistics to create
an interview method to assist IT professionals. She is currently working on
a project with JR Martin and Paul Dwyer on the discourse of Youth Justice
Conferencing, a form of restorative justice employed in NSW.
Zappavigna, Michele, Dwyer, Paul, & Martin, JR. “Syndromes of
meaning: exploring patterned coupling in a NSW Youth Justice
Conference.” In Questioning Linguistics, edited by Ahmar Mahboob, &
Naomi Knight, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.
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spoken discourse”. In Proceedings of the 10th Americas Conference on
Information Systems, edited by C. Bullen & E. Stohr, Hoboken, 2195-
2204. New Jersey: Stevens Institute of Technology. 2004.
David Caldwell is an applied linguist from the University of Sydney who
is currently completing a doctoral thesis in linguistics in which he is
anlaysing ‘popular’ rap musician Kanye West (Caldwell, 2008a and
2008b). As a discourse analyst, David has a particular interest in the theory
of Systemic Functional Linguistics and its application to both language, as
well as music. David has also completed a Masters in linguistics at Deakin
University during which he was a member of the Language of Depression
research team (Caldwell, Tebble and Clarke, 2005).
Caldwell, David. “Affiliating with Rap Music: Political Rap or Gangsta
Rap?” Novitas Royal 2(1) (2008a): 13-27.
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(Conference Proceedings from Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics
Association Congress, University of Wollongong, 2008b).
Caldwell, David, Helen Tebble and David Clarke, The Language of
Subjective Well-Being (7th Australian Quality of Life Proceedings, Deakin
University, Toorak, 2005).