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• We investigate the visual construction of knowledge in EFL textbooks in Hong Kong both qualitatively and quantitatively.
• The ontogenetic change of the representational meaning of visual images in textbooks contributes to the sphere of knowledge changes in schooling.
• The visual construction of knowledge in EFL textbooks leads to the application of infusing multiliteracies into English language curriculum.
• We develop a socio-semiotic framework of investigating the representational meaning of visual images.
• We extend the examination of different registers in the semiotic system of visual images.
Addressing the need for multiliteracies in language education, this paper investigates the visual construction of knowledge in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) textbooks in Hong Kong and develops a social semiotic framework for infusing the senior primary (P4–6) and the secondary (S1–4) English language curricula with multiliteracies. By explicating the ontogenetic change of the representational meaning of visual images in textbooks, we find that textbook illustrations change from narrative to conceptual representations in terms of process, from specific to generic in terms of participant, and from local to global in terms of settings. The changes in image structure are found consistent with the change of text type from narrating to expounding, in accordance with students’ cognitive abilities. Such ontogenetic change contributes to the change of knowledge domain from the concrete and commonsensical in early years of schooling, to the abstract and uncommonsensical in later years of schooling.
Journal: Linguistics and Education - Volume 31, September 2015, Pages 115–129