Karl Maton y Y. J. Doran, 2017: "Semantic density: A translation device for revealing complexity of knowledge practices in discourse,
part 1—wording", Onomázein Número Especial SFL, 46-76.
In education research ‘complexity’ is often viewed cognitively as a mental attribute and
so the complexity of knowledge practices themselves remains underexplored. Legitimation
Code Theory conceptualizes such complexity as ‘semantic density’, which describes how meanings
are condensed and interrelated within knowledge practices. This concept is becoming
widely enacted in education as a means of identifying and teaching highly-valued practices.
As yet, how ‘semantic density’ could be enacted to analyse the discourse of actors remains
uncertain. This paper is the first of two articles that introduce a means of enacting the concept
in analysis of English discourse. Together they offer a ‘translation device’ that explores
discourse for signs of the complexity of the knowledge being expressed. This first paper introduces
tools for exploring how the wording used by actors realizes different strengths of ‘epistemic-semantic density’, where meanings are empirical descriptions or formal definitions. It
provides typologies for identifying different kinds of wording and describes how these types
manifest different degrees of complexity. Two contrasting examples, from a secondary school
History classroom and a scientific research article, are analysed to illustrate the insights into
complexity offered by these tools. In the second paper we build on these ideas with tools for
analysing how words are combined to generate different degrees of increasing complexity, to enable a fuller understanding of knowledge-building.