Developing this field of "visual language" research has required us to create several new terms and/or borrow terms from the broader field of linguistics. Below is a listing of several of the terms used in visual language research. They are grouped by major subfields.
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Iconic reference – a type of reference where a sign gets its meaning through resemblance to what it means.
Indexical reference – a type of reference where a sign gets its meaning through a causal or associative connection to what it means.
Modality – a channel by which human expression can take place. (i.e., verbal-auditory, visual-manual, visual-graphic).
Sign – something that is meaningful to someone.
Symbol – a type of reference where a sign gets its meaning only through the association of a systematic form to meaning through a rule or convention.
Adjacent Awareness (AA) – a underlying semantic primitive of Carriers specifying whether entities of a scene other than a Root have “awareness” of the contents of a Carrier (i.e., speech balloons are +AA, while thought balloons are –AA).
Carrier – a visual morpheme that holds information within it that is bound to a Root through a Tail (such as a "speech balloon" or "thought bubble")
Eye-umlaut - a class of conventional visual signs where one sign (like a heart or X) is substituted for the eyes of a character.
Framing Plane (FP) – a plane of representation that contains non-"narrative" information , such as panel borders and Carriers.
Haplotic – a representation that is structurally “conceptually simple,” as in a "cartoony" or "simplistic" image.
Morphology - the component of visual language related to the meaningful elements of images, both the "open-class" items like representational images, and the "closed-class" items like conventional visual symbols.
Motion lines - path lines that depict motion along a path (also "action lines").
Non-sentient – a type of Carrier where the Root has no consciousness and thus cannot know what it contains (-Root Awareness), leaving only adjacent entities aware of it’s contents (+Adjacent Awareness).
Path lines - a conventional pline that depicts a path going from a "source" to a "goal," as in motion lines or scopic lines.
Polymorphic – a representation that repeats entities in different stages of an action.
Private – a type of Carrier where only the Root has awareness of what is inside of it (+Root Awareness, -Adjacent Awareness), prototypically, a "thought bubble" or first person "narrative caption."
Public – a type of Carrier where its contents is known by both the Root and all other entities in a representation (+Root Awareness, +Adjacent Awareness), prototypically a "speech balloon."
Representational Plane (RP) – a plane of representation that contains "narrative" information.
Root – the elements to which a Carrier is attached in an Emergent interface (i.e., as in the "speaker" of a "speech balloon")
Root Awareness (RA) – an underlying semantic primitive of Carriers specifying whether the Root has an awareness of the awareness” of the contents of the Carrier they are connected to (i.e., speech balloons are +RA, while sound effects are -RA).
Satellite – a type of Carrier where no entities in the representation know its contents (-Root Awareness, -Adjacent Awareness).
Scopic lines - path lines that depict the line of a character's gaze, such as with a dotted line or a line of hearts to depict a loving or lustful gaze.
Tail – the element that binds a Carrier to its Root, both depicted or not (i.e., the linkage between a "speech balloon" and its "speaker").
Upfix - a class of conventional visual morphemes where a sign (like hearts, gears, or a lightbulb) hovers above the head of a character.
Zoom lines - lines showing a "rushing in" toward a character to draw further attention to them or heightened emotion (also "focal lines").
Active entities – the parts of a panel that are relevant to the sequence, and/or change across the sequence.
Amorphic – a panel that holds no active entities, often containing only background, evironmental information
Attention units - the capacity of panels to select certain information while omitting other information, like a "window" on a scene.
Divisional – a single image that is broken up into multiple smaller panels.
Inactive entities - the parts of a panel that are not relevant to the sequence, and/or do not change across panels (i.e., they stay the same across panels).
Macro – a panel that depicts more than one acting entity.
Micro – a panel that depicts less than one acting entity, prototypically a close-up.
Mono – a panel that depicts one acting entity.
Panel – an encapsulated attention unit that is put into the sequence of visual language, with or without visible borders.
Arc - the maximal node of a narrative. A canonical narrative arc follows the order: Establisher-Initial-Peak-Release.
Conjunction - a function in Visual Narrative Grammar that allows multiple narrative categories of the same type to be repeated under a single node of that type.
Convergence construction - a narrative pattern that alternates between two (or more) characters each in their own panels before converging on a single panel containing both characters.
Environmental-Conjunction (E-Conjunction) – a function of Visual Narrative Grammar where different entities/characters are shown in various panels within a single narrative state, yet they are inferentially understood as belonging to a single spatial environment.
Establisher (E) – a category in Visual Narrrative Grammar that passively sets up the interrelation or interaction of the sentence without acting upon it.
Event structure - the knowledge of the structure of events and situations. In Visual Narrative Grammar, it is the meaning of a visual sequence.
Initial (I) – a category in Visual Narrative Grammar that initiates the interrelation or interaction of a narrative arc, prototypically as a preparatory action.
Narrative structure - the rules and principles that organize meaning into a coherent sequence. (see also, Visual Narrative Grammar).
Peak (P) – a category in Visual Narrative Grammaer where a narrative arc reaches its climax, prototypically with the culmination or interruption of an event.
Perspective (Per) – a modifier in Visual Narrative Grammar that alters the spatial viewpoint from that of another panel.
Orienter (O) – a category in Visual Narrative Grammar that provides a superordinate location, context, or setting that prevails throughout a narrative arc.
Refiner (Ref) – a modifier in Visual Narrative Grammar that hones in on the information of another panel.
Prolongation (L) – a category in Visual Narrative Grammar that provides a medial state in the narrative arc, prototypically a passive state or a medial state along the trajectory of a path.
Release (R) – a category in Visual Narrative Grammar that releases the tension of the Peak, prototypically the coda of, aftermath of, or response to an event in the Peak.
Set up - Beat - Punchline (SBP) construction - a patterned narrative sequence where all panels have text except for a penultimate "silent" panel that precedes a final panel containing a punchline.
Transition – a linear relationship of one panel to another across dimensions of time, space, or causation (also, "coherence relation").
Visual Narrative Grammar - a theory of sequential image comprehension that argues panels take on categorical roles in a broader narrative arc, and can be organized into groupings of "constituents" that can be hierarchically embedded into each other. In this theory, narrative structure is separate from meaning.
Assemblage - the basic principles guiding the navigation of comic page layouts: 1) Grouped areas > non-grouped areas, 2)Smooth paths > broken paths, 3) Do not jump over units,4) Do not leave gaps.
Blockage - a scenario in page layouts where smaller panels are stacked next to a single vertical panel that "blocks" a Z-path of reading.
External compositional structure (ECS) - the layout of a "canvas" of a visual language sequence (i.e., a "comic page").
Inset – a relationship between two panels where one panel (Enclosed/Inset) is placed within another panel (Dominant).
Navigational structure - the rules and principles that guide how a person moves through the "external compositional structure" or "page layout."
Overlap - in page layout, where one panel lies on top of another panel.
Separation - in page layout, where the space between panels is made so large that it may motivate a reader to group panels by proximity instead of following a canonical Z-path of reading.
Spatially-sequential – when the units of visual language are arranged physically next to each other.
Staggering - in page layout, where the gutters between panels do not align cleanly to form a continuous gutter.
Temporally-sequential – when the units of a visual language sequence are produced in real time, potentially in a single physical space.
Z-Path - a canonical reading path of a comic page that moves "left-to-right and down" similar to reading text.
Adjoined interface – a potentially bundled interface between text and image where they have no direct connection, but are related meaningfully
Bundling – the integration of certain relationships of text and image into cohesive attentional units
Composite signal – the integration of more than one modality of expression into a cohesive meaningful unit
Emergent interface – a bundled interface between text and image with a direct connection between them (such as in "speech balloons").
Independent interface – an interface between text and image where there is no visual connection whatsoever.
Inherent interface – an interface between text and image where one modality is located within the boundaries of the other (such as text on a street sign within the world of narrative).