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Dr. Giovanni Parodi Sweis

More than words: Contending semiotic systems and the role of disciplinary knowledge in specialized text comprehension.

Revista Ibérica, 33, 11-36. En coautoria con Julio, C.

Abstract:
Comprehending multisemiotic texts has become a demanding task in all disciplinary domains, not only academic but also professional. Reading tables, pictures, graphs and words, as a whole or separately, is a challenge that most students must face. Nowadays there exists limited research available combining descriptive and experimental data on this field of study. In this paper, we help fill this gap by combining linguistic corpus descriptions and experimental designs in order to assess reading capacity of university students. The general objective of the paper was to determine if it was possible to comprehend a passage from a disciplinary genre (Monetary Policy Report, MPR) through a single predominant semiotic system. In order to achieve this objective, an experiment with three versions of a text was designed: (a) the original text (verbal and graphs), (b) the text with predominance of graphs, and (c) the text with predominance of the verbal system. The participants were 151 students of a university program in the field of Economics in Chile. They were divided into two groups: first and third year university students respectively. Overall results show no statistically significant differences between the three conditions of the experiment for each group. Nonetheless, there are significant differences between the reading scores of both groups, particularly, when the texts were composed predominantly of only one semiotic system (verbal or graphs). No differences were determined in the texts that required an integrated reading of verbal and graph systems. Results indicate that students with a higher level of disciplinary insertion (third-year students) were able to comprehend information coded solely through graphs or words and produced a summary that contained the core semantic meaning of the texts given. These findings show that reading graphs is a skill that students acquire during instruction in specialized programs, by increasing their knowledge of disciplinary genres such as the MPR.

Keywords: multisemiotic written genres, reading comprehension, specialized disciplinary texts, economics discourse, Monetary Policy Report.

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