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That’s funny!: The humorous effect of misappropriating disciplinary-specific semiotic resources
Uppsala University. (Department of Physics and Astronomy)
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Science and Mathematics Education. (UMSER)
2014 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The socialization of disciplinary outsiders into an academic discipline has been described both in terms of becoming fluent in a disciplinary discourse (Airey, 2009; Airey & Linder, 2009; Northedge, 2002) and achieving disciplinary literacy (Airey, 2011, 2013; Geisler, 1994). In this paper we investigate disciplinary boundaries by documenting the responses of academics to a semiotic disciplinary hybrid. The hybrid we use is the Physikalisches Lied, a bogus piece of sheet music into which disciplinary-specific semiotic resources from the realm of physics have been incorporated to humorous effect.

The piece is presented to three distinct disciplinary focus groups: physicists, musicians and a group of academics who have had little contact with either discipline. In order to elicit disciplinary responses that are free from researcher prompts, each focus group is first asked the simple, open-ended question What do you see here? Once discussion of this question is exhausted the focus groups are asked to identify as many puns as they can—essentially all the disciplinary items that they feel have been misappropriated—and to attempt to explain what this means from a disciplinary standpoint. The differences in the responses of the three groups are presented and analysed.

We argue that semiotic material focused on by each of the three groups and the nature of the explanation offered, provide evidence of the degree of integration into the disciplines of physics and music. Our findings shed light on the process of becoming a disciplinary insider and the semiotic work involved in this process.



Airey, J. (2009). Science, Language and Literacy. Case Studies of Learning in Swedish University Physics. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Science and Technology 81. Uppsala Retrieved 2009-04-27, from

Airey, J. (2011). The Disciplinary Literacy Discussion Matrix: A Heuristic Tool for Initiating Collaboration in Higher Education. Across the disciplines, 8(3).

Airey, J. (2013). Disciplinary Literacy. In E. Lundqvist, L. Östman & R. Säljö (eds.), Scientific literacy – teori och praktik (pp. 41-58): Gleerups.

Airey, J., & Linder, C. (2009). A disciplinary discourse perspective on university science learning: Achieving fluency in a critical constellation of modes. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(1), 27-49.

Geisler, C. (1994). Academic literacy and the nature of expertise: Reading, writing, and knowing in academic philosophy. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Northedge, A. (2002). Organizing excursions into specialist discourse communities: A sociocultural account of university teaching. In G. Wells & G. Claxton (eds.), Learning for life in the 21st century. Sociocultural perspectives on the future of education (pp. 252-264). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-93612OAI: diva2:750368
The First Conference of the International Association for Cognitive Semiotics (IACS), September 25-27, 2014, Lund, Sweden
Available from: 2014-09-29 Created: 2014-09-29 Last updated: 2015-05-19Bibliographically approved

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Berge, Maria
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