Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


This case study uses Systemic Functional theory to describe and analyse the multimodal communication of an eight year-old boy, Bodhi, with both a severe intellectual disability and a severe communication impairment. The study specifically explores the meanings Bodhi makes and the resources he uses instead of speech to make those meanings. The study also examines the underlying system of language Bodhi draws on to make his meanings. The theoretical resources of the Systemic Functional model of language are used to capture both what occurs within Bodhi’s communicative turns and also what occurs across the turns at the level of discourse semantics. Within the turn, the study uses the theoretical resources of the interpersonal, ideational and textual metafunctions; above the turn, the study uses the resources of Exchange Structure Analysis. The corpus consists of data collected via tape recorder and observation notes. In order to capture the effects of different communication partners on the interactions with Bodhi, data collected via tape recorder consists of two transcripts of Bodhi communicating with different communication partners, his father and his grandmother. Each transcript was segmented into exchanges and moves. These were quantified to expose patterns of communication. Each move was examined for the presence of metafunctional meanings, which were also quantified. The study demonstrates that Bodhi makes meaning in ways that are different to speakers (of English). The findings also show that while he occupies a restricted semiotic space, having what could be construed as a form of protolanguage, Bodhi’s communication also has features of transition and adult language. The study also shows that while Bodhi is a persistent communicator, intent on getting his meanings across, contributions of the communication partner are crucial for the success of Bodhi’s meaning making. This success relies on a willingness on the part of the communication partner to work together with Bodhi in the joint negotiation and joint construction of meaning. This study also identifies a lack of research within the field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication that describes the meaning making of ambulant nonverbal multimodal communicators with severe intellectual disabilities. The study also provides an opportunity for understanding how the ‘other’, the nonverbal multimodal communicator makes meaning.

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