Reading Verbal and Visual Signs (MLI345)

The course combines the study of verbal and visual signs from both linguistic and literary/cultural studies perspectives. The linguistics part of the course focuses on the pragmatics and semantics of verbal and visual signs and on the 'grammar' of images, as well as on the interaction between material/medium, function and form in verbal and visual texts. The literature part of the course focuses on analysis of verbal and visual signs as symbols in literary texts, but also as formal features arising from a particular social milieu and tradition of text production. Cultural studies and post-colonial approaches also inform the reading of texts (such as picture books and stand-alone images taken from contemporary culture i.e. advertising, art, photography, and more) in the literature half.

The course has a limited number of places.

Course description for study year 2024-2025. Please note that changes may occur.


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Semester tution start


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The linguistics part of the course focuses on the pragmatics and 'grammar' of visual signs and their interaction with verbal signs in texts. It examines the structure, function and uses of verbal and visual signs, including images, pictograms and writing, and the ways in which they combine to make meaning. Approaches from material philology and pragmatics are applied to a holistic study of written texts from different historical periods and representing different media.

The literature part of the course explores the ways reading, seeing, writing, and creating verbal and visual signs takes on meaning in literary landscapes via literary theory. Mythological/Archetypal theory, New Formalism, Cultural studies/Post-Colonial and Process-based approaches are among the methods that could be used to interpret texts and discover complex relationships and methods of interpretation in the literature half.

Learning outcome


The students will gain knowledge of:

  • the structure, functions and uses of verbal and visual signs
  • pictograms, proto-writing and different kinds of writing system systems
  • the ways in which meaning is produced through a combination of verbal and non-verbal elements
  • the interaction of material/medium, function and form in texts
  • visual literacy as a set of skills for interpreting images
  • theories of language, literacy, myth/symbol and identity
  • the contribution visual and verbal signs make to literary structure


By the end of the course, the students will be able to:

  • define and describe verbal and visual signs
  • relate the use of visual elements to the medium, context and function of a text
  • apply a range of descriptive and critical tools to the analysis of visual elements
  • examine and inquire into the attitudes, values and beliefs conveyed by visual elements in a text
  • decode and interpret verbal and visual signs
  • critically discuss issues of positioning that underlie all text and signal intertextuality with previous ones
  • explain the way signs are built into the structure of texts

General competence

By the end of the course, the students will be able to:

  • relate different uses of visual and verbal elements to changing media and functions
  • critically discuss the attitudes, values and beliefs conveyed by a text
  • apply theories from literacy studies, traditional literary theory, and cultural studies to analyze verbal and visual elements of texts

Required prerequisite knowledge

The general requirements for admission to the MLI program: a completed BA degree or equivalent, with a major in English (including both linguistic and literary elements). Other subject combinations may be considered equivalent and must be approved by the MLI teaching staff.


Text Analysis in Linguistics, Literature and Culture

Form of assessment Weight Duration Marks Aid
Home exam 1 1/2 1 Weeks Letter grades All
Home exam 2 1/2 1 Weeks Letter grades All

The linguistics home exam of minimum 2500 words involves both theoretical questions and hands-on analysis of images. The literature home exam of minimum 2500 words includes analysis of visual and/or verbal signs.In the assessment, English language and academic writing skills including source selection will be taken into consideration in addition to the course content.

Coursework requirements

Compulsory attendance part 1, Compulsory attendance part 2, Assignment
  • One obligatory assignment (min. 350 words) in the Literature module. Pass/Fail. A pass is required to sit the exam.

If an assignment is assessed as not approved on the first attempt, students are given one opportunity to submit a revised assignment by a specified deadline.

  • Compulsory attendance at seminars is required for each homexam, with no more than two absences in either half of the course.

Students who are absent from more than two seminar meetings in one half of the course will not be allowed to sit the exam relating to that half. The student must be present for at least 2/3 of the duration of the individual seminar meeting for attendance to be recorded.

Course teacher(s)

Course coordinator:

Merja Riitta Stenroos

Course teacher:

Allen Clarence Jones

Course coordinator:

Allen Clarence Jones

Course teacher:

Merja Riitta Stenroos

Study Adviser:

Signe Ekenberg

Method of work

Lectures and / or seminars.

Open for

Literacy Studies - Master's Degree programme and Lektor programme - students with English as a major.

Limited number of places. When you sign up on Student Web you will see whether the course has already been filled or not.

Course assessment

There must be an early dialogue between the course supervisor, the student union representative and the students. The purpose is feedback from the students for changes and adjustments in the course for the current semester.In addition, a digital subject evaluation must be carried out at least every three years. Its purpose is to gather the students experiences with the course.


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