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Utopian Discourses Across Cultures

Scenarios in Effective Communication to Citizens and Corporations

Edited By Miriam Bait, Marina Brambilla and Valentina Crestani

The term Utopia, coined by Thomas More in 1516, contains an inherent semantic ambiguity: it could be read as eu topos (good place) or ou topos (no place). The authors of this volume analyze this polysemous notion and its fascination for scholars across the centuries, who have developed a variety of visions and ways to explain the «realization» of utopian discourses. The experts in the fields of sociology, political science, economics, computer science, literature and linguistics offer extensive studies about how utopian scenarios are realized in different cultural contexts.

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Online University Presentations in German: Virtual, Utopian and Green. A Multimodal Analysis

← 126 | 127 →

Marina Brambilla−Valentina Crestani

Online University Presentations in German: Virtual, Utopian and Green. A Multimodal Analysis1

1.  Introduction

In our paper, we propose a multimodal analysis of texts that belong to the genre of online presentations. We focus our attention specifically on university presentations as forms of institutional communication, which follows the model ‘one-to-many’. The institution presents itself to students and their families with the main purpose of informing them about available educational offerings. On the one hand, these presentations have an informative function; on the other hand, they also have a persuasive function in which utopian ideals are used as strategic elements to communicate effectively and to reach readers emotionally. By underlining values like open-mindedness, along with attention to young talent and merit, the communication conveys positive feelings like happiness, interest and hope to its readers. We refer to the utopian side of the university communication as green utopia, a concept related to the ecology-based idea of sustainability.

In the first part of this essay, we explain what we mean by using the concept green utopia in the academic world. The second chapter is devoted to the linguistic terminology adopted in our paper, referring in particular to the text as an intertext and multimedia text. In the third chapter, we present the main results of our analysis, which was conducted on the online presentation of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany – one of the youngest institutions of higher learning in Germany. In its verbal and graphic components, this presentation underlines ideals like supporting young talent and equal treatment, with concrete actions undertaken. As will be explained, this website is an interesting object of analysis to demonstrate how institutional communication can apparently create an ideal world based on principles of meritocracy. In order to support our thesis about ← 127 | 128 → utopian communication, we use the method of the multimodal analysis, which ensures consideration of:

Many modes of communication (e.g. speech, gesture, and symbols).

Communication as an interrelated object of analysis, which is realized in the form of texts with specific communicative functions.

The last chapter contains our final considerations.

2.  Green Utopia in the academic world

The concept of ‘green’ and the concept of ‘utopia’ may assume indefinite contours according to different contexts in which they occur. We use this expression with a specific meaning related to the university as an institution of research, teaching and growth. We will begin the analysis with a consideration of the meaning of the color adjective green, after which we propose our definition of the noun utopia, and finally, of the idea of green utopia in the educational world.

2.1  Green

The word green includes various denotative and connotative meanings and it encodes many perceptual and cultural aspects2. The semantic content of green depends on:

A. The context of occurrence;

B. The producer of the text;

C. The recipient of the text.

In our paper, we explain these three factors as following:

A. Context of Occurrence: green refers to the specialized fields of education offered at German Universities, of the architecture used in university-buildings and of nutrition related to meals sold in the student cafeterias. In the first usage, it relates to the widely used concept of sustainability, as will be shown in the next paragraphs. In the second usage, green is connected with the new architectural principles and rules governing the construction of new buildings and the renovation of old ones in recent years. These innovative criteria were established at the European level with the introduction of a series of indicators to build new houses or renovate old constructions (see the 2010 Directive on Energy Performance of Buildings3). With reference to the third usage in the field of nutrition, ← 128 | 129 → great attention is given these days to sustainable food; green is to be understood as food that is both good for human health and friendly to the environment, from production to the final consumption. Green criteria are important at a political-social level. European citizens are increasingly interested in sustainability, including topics like bioarchitecture, sustainable food and sustainable agriculture. Citizens are also paying more attention to the adoption of green criteria by institutions, industries, hotels, supermarkets, gyms, schools and in general all organizations that provide services to the community or sell products (see Nielsen Global Survey of corporate social responsibility and sustainability4). Educational institutions that make use of different types of buildings (e.g. universities, libraries, canteens) are an interesting field of analysis because:

1. Such institutions are of relevance to a large group of citizens. Their main target consists of teenagers, young adults and their families, who have to be made explicitly aware of the importance of sustainability.

2. As educational institutions for the citizens, they have to communicate with them in order to present their educational offerings, their philosophy, the buildings where students attend lessons, eat at lunchtime, live during the semesters, etc. Many institutes present themselves on the web according to ideas of transparency, usability and accessibility.

‘Green’ will be treated in the next pages not as a term but as a concept specifically referencing the academic world. We do not intend for this notion to be strictly associated with the fields of architecture or nutrition, as it is in the usual sense. In these two areas, ‘green’ is connected with the idea of sustainability and environmental protection. We assume that ‘green’ and ‘sustainability’ are concepts that can be applied to the academic field in various activities related with student life, including studying, living, doing sports and eating.

B. Producer of The Text: the producer of the texts that are the object of our analysis is a German university which offers an official website where aspects connected to the ideas of green are privileged. The texts belong to the textual genre of online presentations. This genre has key characteristics related to the explicit aim of presenting the institution as the only one the reader should choose, i.e. an optimistic presentation of the institute. Essential features of the macrostructure of the web presentation include:

A) Dividing the content in different sections, with titles as hyperlinks;

B) Describing the best qualities of the university as an educational institution; ← 129 | 130 →

C) Characterizing the university as a factual organization made up of different areas (such as studying, research, teaching, administration) and buildings (e.g. classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, student residences);

D) Offering interactive sections, where interested people can find contacts, social networks (like Facebook, Google+ etc.), contact forms, addresses and maps of the city and of the different buildings;

E) Presenting photography of groups of students, of rooms, of the buildings etc.

The main characteristics of the microstructure of the texts are:

Use of autosemantic words and expressions with an emotionally positive connotation (e.g. Offen im Denken; Inspiration an Rhein & Ruhr; Vielfalt als Potential5);

Brief sentences that have a paratactic relation. In case of hypotaxis, i.e. sequences of a main clause and subordinate clauses, these are at the first level of subordination in order to have texts with a low grade of complexity (e.g. Das bedeutet, dass während des gesamten Studiums kein Wechsel in eine gesetzliche Krankenversicherung möglich ist.6);

Nouns that are the result of a process of composition or of verbal derivation, which are compact and informative7 (e.g. Krankenversicherung, Bewerbungsphase, Studienplatzangebot, Studieninteressierte, Forschungsort, Finanzierung, Bewerbung, Einschreibung, Antrag).

C. Recipient of The Text: the main recipients of the texts are:

  1. Prospective students and their families;
  2. Current students who have successfully completed bachelor courses or master courses and who are interested in a higher level of education;
  3. People who need to take individual exams or who are interested in attending individual lectures;
  4. Professors who work at the university and teachers who work in schools.

The target group of the texts is an audience of prospective experts or of experts, if we consider graduates. In Germany, the autonomous life of university students has a great importance from a social perspective. It is common among prospective students to choose a university located in a city or town away from their family ← 130 | 131 → residence8. Online presentations of universities help students choose which institution to attend, where they will study and live for the next years of their life. For these reasons, a presentation that places students and their needs at the center will have greater success and prompt more students to apply to the university.

In conclusion, the idea of ‘green’ applied to communication in the academic context concerns practical aspects of student life such as living, eating and studying. By associating the value of ‘green’ and the act of ‘academic communication,’ and by analyzing the connection between the two aspects, we intend to make a timely contribution to the description of institutional communication, which is oriented on the concept of advantages for all people.

2.2  Utopia

The noun utopia has a relatively long but extremely interesting history, which is outside the scope of this article. For our purposes, the term itself gives the idea of ‘no place’, as it is made of two ancient Greek elements with the meaning of negation (οὐ ‘not’) and of place (τόπος ‘place’) and the classical Latin suffix -ia. It was coined by Thomas More in his Libellus vere aureus nec minus salutaris quam festivus de optimo reipublicae Statu deque nova Insula Utopia (1516). In modern dictionaries such as Collins (<www.collinsdicionary.com>) for English and Duden (<www.duden.de>) for German, its definition connotes characteristics of dream, perfection, happiness for everyone and idealist features, which do not belong to real places, and which are typical of an imaginary society. Despite this idea of perfection, Thomas More leaves open the question of whether a perfect society is really ideal.

In the following essay, we explore the concept of utopia in relation to the academic world. In this world, it is the university (with its role as the producer of the presentation) that presents ideals as its fundamental characteristics:

Fairness in education.

Equal treatment.

Equal opportunities.

Meritocracy.

Open-mindedness. ← 131 | 132 →

The presentation also displays characteristics of auto-representation, which references real data for some aspects (e.g. number of students, professors, or apartments in residences etc.) but also abstract concepts (e.g. the challenge of equal opportunities).

2.3  ‘Green Utopia’: A Definition for the Academic World

‘Green utopia’ is a concept assuming that university students can study and live in a sustainable way for themselves, but also for their current and future society. We use ‘green’ as the idealistic metaphor for the sustainability-concept and the concept of sustainable development.

Sustainable development “is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (1987, World Commission on Environment and Development). Transferring this concept into the world of the university, we describe the educational process as development that connects the needs of the current students with the needs of the (future) society. The needs of the students and of the society include educating students to work and live according to principles of equality, progress and awareness of the needs of the other citizens. University students can undertake the following activities:

Studying, i.e. acquiring knowledge and developing interdisciplinary abilities and skills, which form the basis for a career;

Using different areas of the university such as libraries and cafeterias (where they can borrow books, use Wi-Fi to study, eat at the cafeteria and choose a variety of healthy, low-cost meals etc.);

Taking part in university life;

Living in a place with a comfortable atmosphere for studying, meeting other students and participating in cultural activities.

3.  Object, Terminology and Method of Analysis

3.1  Object

In our paper, we concentrate on the linguistic analysis of the official website of the University of Duisburg-Essen (<https://www.uni-due.de/de/>, last accessed: October 2015). The reasons for using this university website include the following:

It is a user-friendly site, which should allow students in search of information to find the most important points in an easy way; ← 132 | 133 →

It offers a good overview of the academic world by adopting not only the verbal component but also the eidetic component of the language, which is fundamental in communication with citizens as a heterogeneous group;

It presents a young institution, whose foundation dates back to 2003 as the result of the fusion of the University of Duisburg and of the University of Essen. The new institution had to adopt cooperation criteria and sustainable criteria to deal with the fusion in the best possible way.

In order to conduct a deep examination of the website, we will provide insight into all sections and we will include not only the online component of the site, which is dynamic and can/must change, but also electronic written documents, which comprise the static part of the site.

3.2  Terminology

We use terminology that may not be familiar enough to untrained non-specialist readers, or which assumes a particular meaning in our article. In order to avoid confusion, we will give a brief definition of the main terms used in our essay.

First, our analysis is linguistically oriented and concentrates on the verbal component of the website, but it also considers the eidetic component by adopting a semiotic interpretation of the web content. The verbal component is in German9; the eidetic component includes graphic elements such as colors, photography, characters etc. We consider the relationship between the verbal and eidetic components by using a linguistic-semiotic perspective10; this perspective allows us to analyze words not only in relation to internal characteristics (meaning, connotation, word-formation etc.) but also in relation to their external characteristics displayed on the website (color, size, position in the page etc.). The analysis of the connection between the verbal and eidetic components is a good way to understand the principles and ideas expressed on the website.

Second, we consider the website a text. Defining the text from a linguistic point of view may lead to long discussions, which is beyond the purposes of our research. We refer to De Beaugrande and Dressler (1981) and to Brinker / Cölfen / Pappert (2014) for a linguistic definition of ‘text’11. In our paper, we adopt the concept of ‘multimedia text’ (see Laskewicz 2004): ← 133 | 134 →

The text is made of a verbal and an eidetic component, which are strictly connected and have a dynamic relation. The eidetic component is the dominant one, as it allows access to other verbal parts through the use of hyperlinks, which have a different color and are underlined. In addition to this informative function, the graphic component has a persuasive and expressive function: through the use of colors, pictures, characters etc., the reader is persuaded to read the text, which expresses the auto-representation of the institution;

The verbal part is organized as a multilevel component (the different levels are obtained through the eidetic part). Each level (i.e. each hyperlink) represents a deeper level of information and content. It has a core thematic argument (i.e. the specific university) and related arguments, which can be found in separate sections in the website or on other websites, which are explained verbally and visually.

We consider the text as:

  1. “Signifikante Praxis” (Barthes 1973), i.e. the activity of giving meaning to the text, when a person reads it or listens / sees it (in case of videos).
  2. A dynamic product: it is a medium of communication and of representation. The language in the text is to be understood and to be deconstructed by the reader, who begins to ‘play’ with the different meanings of the text. That same reader then reconstructs the text.
  3. Intertext, i.e. as a transformation of other texts that were given a meaning from the reader and then reconstructed12.

3.3  Method of Analysis

A text, as explained in paragraph 3.2, needs to be analyzed with a multimodal method in order to avoid considering the text only as a sequence of words, ← 134 | 135 → sentences and clauses that have precise semantic, syntactic, textual and pragmatic relations to each other.

Multimodality assumes that communication (realized through written or oral texts) has to be described in terms of:

A multiplicity of modes, i.e. linguistic, spatial, and visual modes used to create the text;

The relationships between the modes.

In other words, the approach of multimodality sees communication not only as language, but as the interrelation between different modes, which are more than the single verbal mode. Multimodality is based on two main assumptions:

  1. Communication exploits various modes (e.g. the visual, gestural, spoken, and written) depending on different contexts, all of which contribute to the final meaning. The full range of modes has to be analyzed in order to describe how people make meaning.
  2. Modes are organized sets of semiotic resources that people use to make meaning. They are socially relevant and culturally shared.

Multimodality is a concept that is often used for the study of oral communication, particularly face-to-face-conversations. We nevertheless assume that multimodality is an effective method for analyzing web-communication. On the web, communication practices are neither simply written or oral; they take on mixed forms and can be written with features of oral communication (e.g. chats, instant messaging) or can be oral with features of written communication (e.g. video-tutorials)13. In the case of online presentations (e.g. presentations of universities, of organizations or of companies), there is a visual and often an audiovisual aspect (a video is assumed to be communicative and effective). That is the main reason why we propose multimodality as method of analysis.

4.  University Presentation as a Multimodal Object

In the following paragraphs, we present the results of our linguistic-oriented analysis by adopting a thematic criterion. This means that we do not offer an analysis of single sections of the site, but we evaluate the different sections according to three specific themes: living, studying and eating. ← 135 | 136 →

These topics were chosen due to their relevance for university students: as it was said, a large percentage of students in Germany live in the place where they attend university. Because they spend a good deal of time on campus studying and attending classes, they often tend to eat at the university. For each of the three topics, we consider the linguistic and visual strategies that contribute to ideas of perfection, happiness, and opportunity for all students. We will demonstrate that the website is really only accessible for a group of people. The ideal reader of most sections of the website should be:

German-speaking or English-speaking: with at least a B2- or a C1-level of proficiency according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Not disabled: blind students cannot access content of some parts of the site and deaf people cannot hear the video presented on the home page, because there are no subtitles or audio-description of the libraries14.

Technologically competent and equipped: the reader must have an Internet connection and a PC, a tablet or a smartphone to access the website.

4.1  Living

The term living refers primarily to the state of life in a student residence or in an apartment with other fellow students. It also relates to a student’s experience of a place by going to the cinemas, theatres, pubs and restaurants etc. and by taking part in the cultural and social life of the city.

4.1.1  Experience the City

For this topic, there is extensive use of emotional words, whose meaning is directly connected with the action of doing something pleasant and worthwhile. Therefore, living in Duisburg and in Essen is an Überraschung ‘surprise’ ← 136 | 137 → 15 (<https://www.uni-due.de/de/universitaet/leben.php>), because the city has a reichhaltige Geschichte ‘rich history’. Students can nachspüren ‘follow’ the history of the city when they visit the new Ruhr-Museum. Here, there is a fine play on words and concepts between the ancient origins of the city and the city’s new and innovative turn in the last decades. Duisburg offers not only history but also a direct link with nature and animals; the zoo is legendär ‘legendary’, and its brief description gives readers the impression of visiting an exotic land with pandas and dolphins, two animals that evoke positive impressions because they are symbols of sustainability16. Culturally speaking, Duisburg and Essen are well developed; the Theater- und Musikkulturszene ‘theater and music scene’ offers europäische Spitzenklasse, i.e. it is excellent and of European standard. By living in these cities, students are provided with good entertainment opportunities such as a lebendige Kneipenkultur ‘lively pub culture’ and niveauvolles Shoppen und Genießen, i.e. stylish shopping areas and culinary highlights.

The takeaway message is that Duisburg and Essen are very nice places to live because they offer many experiences to live life to the fullest. The producer of the site is aware of the emotionally charged experiences of culture, nature, shopping and going out with friends, and he / she uses these experiences to create a text that proposes a sustainable way of life.

The history of the region is ancient and today it is a lively, thriving area. Up to the 1970s, however, the Ruhr metropolis was perceived as a dirty, cold region, based on the coal and steel industries since the nineteenth century17. The image of a grey city, damaged by pollution and exhaust fumes, is replaced with the image of green areas in the city and around the city, with open-air cafés packed with people enjoying life (see <https://www.uni-due.de/de/universitaet/leben.php>). The sky, which can be seen in the photography featured on the site, is blue with white clouds, a positive image testament to the environmental protection work that has been successfully undertaken since the 1970s. White clouds are in ← 137 | 138 → antonymic relation with the grey fumes of the industries. The color of the most important part of the site is also blue, which for a contemporary audience connotes elegance, simplicity, refinement or something official. According to Agnello (2013: 26), the blue color is “il colore preferito dalle istituzioni (ONU, Consiglio d’Europa, UNESCO ecc.) nonché il colore ufficiale delle aziende che vogliono veicolare serietà e tradizione […].” Institutions as well as companies often use blue to communicate values of seriousness and tradition. We can assume that the reader will associate the emotionally connoted words with the sense of something official, of an objective description of the city and of a reality that is described. That motivating force leads to a utopia. The reader is involved in a play of words and mental associations, which encourage him / her to think about Essen and Duisburg as utopian microcosms, where he / she can live in harmony with himself / herself, with other people and with the environment, keeping in mind the affluence of the region is due to its industrial history. This is the weak point of the utopia hidden behind the text: the photography represents a green world while the words refer to the region’s economic power. People cannot forget that the region is based on heavy industry, although good results have been achieved in protecting the environment. Despite their awareness of this region’s industrial legacy, recipients can substitute the idea of a drab, grey place with the idea of happiness, because the positive graphic component of the presentation is dominant and they are strongly influenced by the power of the visual communication.

The idea of happiness and of the best opportunities that students can find in the region is the thread of all related topics of the experience.

4.1.2  Experience the University

The university offers opportunities in sports, music, theater and cinema. Their description is based on expressions like ein breites kulturelles Angebot ‘a broad cultural offer’ (<https://www.uni-due.de/de/studium/kultur_div.php>), where the adjective breit ‘broad’ refers to the idea of an educational concept of European openness. In the section, sports in nature such as sailing and boating competitions in which both students and professors get involved are emphasized:

1. Beim gestrigen Essener Firmenlauf waren insgesamt 200 Studierende, ProfessorInnen und MitarbeiterInnen aller Bereiche unserer Universität angemeldet. Wieder gelang ein hervorragendes Ergebnis. “In yesterday’s race in Essen, there were 200 students, professors and employees from all areas of our University. Once again we achieved an excellent result.”

The idea of a very good result (ein hervorragendes Ergebnis) is related to the gender-orientated use of the plural: Studierende, ProfessorInnen and MitarbeiterInnen include both male and female people. This plural form (instead of forms ← 138 | 139 → like Studenten, Professoren and Mitarbeiter, which refer only to men) is intentionally used to avoid gender discrimination18. The field of Genderlinguistik (gender linguistics) is a sociolinguistic field of analysis that was developed in the 1970s with the aim of finding out whether language differences between women and men can be explained through the different roles they have in the society. Furthermore, this field attempts to develop rules to avoid sexist use of the language. The category of natural gender plays an important role in our society and in the language used, as observed by Spieß, Günther and Hüpper (2012: 1): “Das ‘altertümliche Dual’ prägt weiter unsere Sprache, unsere Mode und nicht zuletzt die Gehaltsverteilung in unserem Land.” According to the three authors, the medieval dual male-female continuously influences our language, our practices and – last but not least – the differences in salary in Germany.

In the sport section of the university website, photography is the most meaningful part, with a predominance of blue and green colors (including the sport uniforms of the group of students and professors taking part in a competition). Blue and green refer to open-air sports.

In addition, the section about the Essener Studentenorchester (<http://www.eso.uni-due.de/>) underlines values like liveliness and cooperation among (former) students: Wir sind eine lebendige Truppe aus aktiven und ehemaligen Studierenden “We are a lively group of students and ex-students”. Here the word Studierend instead of Student ensures that both male and female students are taken into consideration. Another important value highlighted from a verbal and a visual perspective is the attitude of openness towards other students, who are invited to join the group of musicians. The concept of invitation is repeated three times with the following visual organization. First, it is integrated in the text and second, it has a special section, a box with a yellow background, and it is written in the same font (in bold). Finally, the verb mitspielen! “play in the orchestra with us!” is written in a red color (red is used to attract the user’s attention). This word is separate from the text and it is marked in italics. The italics extend a personal invitation to the reader, as the curvy font conjures something hand written, perhaps even by the conductor of the orchestra. The meaning is “You are invited to play with us”.

This element involves the reader, and given the presence of the button Gefällt mir “like” for Facebook at the end of the section, the reader can actually respond to the content. ← 139 | 140 →

The invitation to be part of university life is present in other sections such as the Universitätschor Essen (<https://www.stud.uniessen.de/~sh1053/>), where the invitation is open to students who fulfil the following three requirements:

Singst du seit deiner Kindheit und immer wieder mal Stücke von Musicals?

Gerne verwandelst du dich beim Singen in einen Star wie Rihanna oder Ed Sheeran?

Dann sind auch alle Texte der Wise Guys eine Leichtigkeit für Dich?!

These three questions refer to a growing level of skill, but most of all they act emotionally on the reader and invoke their dreams (e.g. a childhood dream of singing, the dream of being a famous singer like Rihanna or Ed Sheeran, or the dream of singing difficult lyrics like those of Wise Guys): “Have you been singing songs from musicals since your childhood?”; “Would you like to use your singing transform yourself into a star like Rihanna or Ed Sheeran?”; “So all songs by Wise Guys are easy for you to sing?!”. The three questions are also graphically depicted as growing in difficulty; the increase of difficulty is underlined by marking the first words of the questions in bold, i.e. Singst du “Do you sing”, gerne “like” and dann “so”. The last question is intended as a direct consequence of the positive answers to the first two questions (if you’ve been singing since the childhood and you want to become a star like Rihanna or Ed Sheeran, then you are probably able to sing songs by Wise Guys).

In the English theater section (<https://www.uni-due.de/duet/>), the sense of invitation to be part of the university is less clear from a verbal perspective. The text always has a positive connotation in the visual component: the background is blue with tones of yellow and green.

Green and blue are colors that reference sustainable development at the university (<https://www.uni-due.de/ifn/>). Students are invited to take an active part at the Initiative für Nachhaltigkeit – Universität Duisburg – Essen, which has three important keywords, all the results of word-formation-processes (composition and derivation), and all convey a high degree of information with syntactic compactness:

Zukunftsfähigkeit ‘future potential’

Lebensqualität ‘quality of life’

Nachhaltigkeit ‘sustainability’

In this initiative, students can actively participate in events and discuss the preservation of the environment with experts to guarantee a good quality of life for both the present and future generations. This project is described using positive words and expressions, which has two main functions: ← 140 | 141 →

– A persuasive function, such as wir laden Euch herzlich zu unserer Veranstaltung „Corporate Social Responsibility im Dialog“ ein / “We warmly invite you to our event “Corporate Social Responsibility in dialogue””, where the reader is directly invited to the event.

– A connotative function, such as Liebe Freunde der Initiative, where the reader is considered a friend deserving of a personal invitation addressed to the recipient of an informal letter or newsletter (“Dear friends of the initiative”).

In this description of the initiative, the utopian background of the project becomes evident. The reader is defined as a friend who can cooperate with other friends to make suggestions about sustainability and to discuss important topics. The reader is thus involved in a utopian world created by the producer of the text. From November 2014 to October 2015, the text was not changed19. A particularly careful reader would conclude that the initiative did not have a great deal of success, and that concrete actions to deal with an important topic like that of sustainability are probably taken only once a year. The symbol for the initiative is also utopian: a circle with light green contours and interconnected lines, which represents the earth and its connections to different places. The idea of connection among people is really a utopia; however, the only possible way for the reader to get in touch with the people organizing this initiative is with an email-address, which is difficult to find, as it has been placed at the end of the page and is written in a small font.

The concept of sustainability also assumes utopian contours in other fields, such as living in a dorm and eating in the canteen, as will be explained in the next paragraphs.

4.1.3  Living in the City

Students who must leave their family home search for a place to live that is comfortable, perhaps with other students, and where the costs for rent are not very high. The website of the University of Duisburg-Essen offers information about and descriptions of the student residences that belong to the university. The Studentenwerk, a sort of student union that provides financial, social and medical services for students, runs the student residences (<http://studentenwerk.essen-duisburg.de/wohnen/>). The student residences present general information on cost of rent, number of rooms, types of rooms and the furniture provided. Expressions like saniert ‘updated’ and modernste Standards ‘the most modern standards’ ← 141 | 142 → often appear, which reference energy efficiency requirements. They are, however, the only references to the idea of sustainability, which seems to be important for the institution (as explained, a single section of the web site is dedicated to the Initiative für Nachhaltigkeit – Universität Duisburg – Essen). In some cases of the student residence descriptions, there are also more technical words borrowed from the language of bioarchitecture. Some examples include wärme- und geräuschdämmend ‘thermal and noise insulation’ and Photovoltaikanlage ‘photovoltaic system’.

These compound expressions all refer to important aspects of sustainable buildings, such as the thermal and acoustic characteristics. The theme of sustainability concerns not only the material aspects of buildings, but also accessibility for disabled people and foreign students. This is, however, also utopian: the reality speaks against the utopia of sustainable opportunities for these people. Only one residence has an apartment that is wheelchair accessible. Foreign students also have difficulties finding a room, because they tend to have fewer financial resources in comparison to German students20. Accordingly, a prospective student reading this website would get a different impression about the university’s capacity to welcome students in need of special accomodation. German students themselves can also have difficulties finding a room, as there is a gap between the number of students and the number of available rooms financed by the state:

2. „Die Schere zwischen der Zahl der Studierenden und der Zahl der staatlich geförderten Wohnheimplätze geht immer weiter auseinander“, erklärt DSW-Generalsekretär Achim Meyer.”21 “The gap between the number of students and the number of rooms financed by the state is becoming increasingly bigger”, as the general secretary of DSW, Achim Meyer, explains.”

On the homepage of the university, there are expressions like offen im Denken ‘open-minded’ (which is the motto of the institution) and Vielfalt als Potential ‘Diversity – Realizing potential’. They all refer to values like:

Open-mindedness: this concept has many semantic interpretations and it can be understood as an umbrella-concept for a wide spectrum of ideas (e.g. fair education, good educational opportunities for all people, combating discrimination and homophobia). As an abstract concept with many related ← 142 | 143 → concepts, open-mindedness represents the prototypical example of a utopian concept.

Diversity as potential: the goal of achieving diversity in society is a widespread idea. Diversity can refer to:

A. Gender equality among men and women: good examples are linguistically inclusive-forms (e.g. Studierende), which include both groups.

B. Inclusion of disabled people: the most important word is here Inklusion “inclusion”, a derived word with a specialized meaning in the field of the educational sciences. It is an approach in which students with special educational needs spend most of their time with non-disabled students (see Baglieri and Shapiro 2012). The deverbal noun Beratung “advisory service” is a keyword here:

3. Schwerpunkte der Beratung sind in der Regel Nachteilsausgleiche im Studium, wie im Bereich der Studien- und Prüfungsmodifikation, der Hochschulzulassung […].22 “Important issues for the advisory service are usually balancing out disadvantages in the course of study, e.g. modifications to examinations, to access to the university […].”

The concept of Barrierefreiheit ‘accessibility’ is also very important. The word is a compound of ‘barrier’ and ‘freedom,’ referring to accessible rooms at the university, but also to the possibility of finding an adequate room or apartment to live in (<https://www.uni-due.de/inklusionsportal/wohnen.shtml>). Disabled people are not only rollstuhlfahrende und mobilitätsbehinderte Studierende “students in wheelchairs and students with mobility problems”, but also sinnesbehinderte und chronisch kranke Studierende “sensory impaired and chronically ill students”. The two groups of students are described as people with the possibility of eine bevorzugte Berücksichtigung “preferential treatment”. Students in need of a wheelchair or blind students need to be able to enter a classroom and have accessible solutions for ICT products. There is a sequence of words related to the concept of Barrierefreiheit: barrierefreie PCs “barrier-free PCs”, barrierefreie Notebooks “barrier-free notebooks”, barrierefreie Software “barrier-free software”, barrierefreie Plätze “accessible seats”, digitale Barrierefreiheit “digital accessibility”.

C. Integration of foreign people: Particular attention is paid to refugees (<https://www.uni-due.de/international/wege_an_die_ude.php>) as consequence of the dramatic influx of new refugees from Syria and other countries in recent years. The policy of Germany has been to welcome them and to offer them the chance to study. The words Weiterbildung ‘advanced training’, Nachqualifizierung ‘qualification’ and sportliche Aktivitäten ‘sports’ are used to explain to refugees what they ← 143 | 144 → can find at the university. The website offers different situations for refugees, e.g. if they are Schüler/in ‘pupils’, if they have schulpflichtige Kinder ‘children are required to attend school’, if they were students in their country etc.

D. Equality of homosexuals: here the potential of diversity refers to the concept of equality.

E. Socioeconomic diversity: merit and ability should determine whether a student attends school, not their family’s financial background. In addition to outlining available scholarships, the university also offers a video about the UDE-Stipendienprogramm “scholarship program of the UDE” (<https://www.uni-due.de/de/marketing/deutschlandstipendium.php>). The video begins with the following sentence:

Früher förderte das Ruhrgebiet Steinkohle.

Heute Talente.

This can be translated as follows: “Once the Ruhr area produced hard coal. Today it produces talented people”. The visual background of these words is a blue sky with white clouds and rays of sunlight. This image evokes the idea of sustainable education, open to talented students of all social backgrounds. This idea is represented in the words of the people depicted in the video, e.g. female students receiving the scholarship. One of these women explains that the grant provides very important financial support for students mit Migrationshintergrund “with a migrant background”, once again emphasizing the utopia of the possibility for migrant students to achieve a very good education at this university. The same student explains that the scholarship represents eine ideelle Förderung “ideal support”, using words with positive connotations. If we look at the data, we understand that the grant is an important form of financial support, even though it is not enough to cover all the costs for a university student. The video also goes on to explain that 1,422 scholarships were awarded in 5 years, which is good, but not enough to help all talented students. The utopia of great opportunities for all talented students is also recognized in the video, and it ends with the following sentence:

Wir haben noch mehr Talente!

This can mean: “We have more talented students!” or “We also have other talents!”. The university’s idea is to give scholarships to larger numbers of students or to underline many other positive aspects of its organization.

The list is longer than the examples mentioned above and includes a wide variety of situations. ← 144 | 145 →

The diversity portal of the university (<https://www.uni-due.de/diversity/>) contains a specific overview of what the institution understands as belonging under the term diversity:

Gender “gender”;

Familie “family”;

Internationales – Interkulturalität “interculturality”;

Gesundheitliche Beeinträchtigung − Behinderung “health impairment – disability”;

Lebenslanges Lernen − wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung “life-long learning” ;

Bildungsgerechtigkeit “educational justice’;

Bildungsaufstieg “educational success”.

In order to express the variety of concepts included in diversity, not only from a verbal but also from a visual perspective, the institution uses an image of a group of stick figures (men and women) in different colors. The reader is first involved in a play of visual decodification, which is then supported by the verbal component of the page. The different colors23 build a semiotic connection to the idea of diversity. It is surprising, however, that the idea of harmony and friendship among different people, which is well described from a verbal perspective, is destabilized by the image itself. Some stick figures are indeed represented as couples who speak together in a friendly way, but instead of using different colors for the two people involved in the conversation, the same color is used for the single pairs. So one couple is blue, the other couple is red, etc. The reader might understand the image as a contradiction of the verbal text, and as a result consider the values expressed in the text as a sort of utopia. Alternatively, he / she can interpret the figure as a provocation, directly enacted by the producer of the text, who is aware of the gap between the concept expressed in words and the real world.

The presence of negative words like Hürden “obstacles” supports this second interpretation of the image described above. These words are used in the same page to describe the project Essen 2030 Ich mach’ mit!, which aims to make Essen an attractive and future-looking city. The idea of diversity seems to be a fundamental one, as the reader sees by reading the last section of the page, where there is a list of the award-winners of diversity prizes. Here, the keyword of the text is Diversity-Kultur ‘diversity culture’, which is a hybrid compound made of the English word ← 145 | 146 → diversity and the German word Kultur. Again, words speak in favor of the positive effects of the diversity and of its importance, as the compound is effectively a union of two languages and two cultures. In another section on the website, the concept of diversity is again emphasized: Vielfalt als Potential ist ein gelebter Leitgedanke der Universität Duisburg-Essen ‘The potential of diversity is a central idea lived by the University of Duisburg-Essen’, referencing the third diversity day in June 2013. Core concepts referred to by the statement are Chancen “opportunities”, vielfältig “diverse”, Austausch “exchange”, Herausforderungen “challenges”, Projekte “projects”. The university defines itself as a Universität der Potentiale ‘university of potential’, referencing its diversity management. The poster explaining this concept (<https://www.uni-due.de/diversity/projektposter_audit.shtml>) contains a definition of diversity for the university. This definition is based on:

A. Two-word or three-word compounds with a positive connotation (Chancengerechtigkeit ‘equal opportunities’, Potenzialentfaltung ‘development of potential’, Diversity-Kompetenzentwicklung ‘competences development according to diversity-principles’).

B. Derived lexemes, which also share a positive connotation (e.g. Innovationen in Lehre und Forschung ‘innovation in teaching and in research’, Öffnung der Hochschule für neue Zielgruppen ‘university for new target groups’, Kooperationen und Vernetzung ‘cooperation and networking’). These words, which are associated with abstract concepts, are supported by more concrete expressions such as Übersetzung von Formularen des Studierendensekretariats ins Englische ‘English-translation of the student forms’, which are a minority part in comparison to abstract expressions. The reader of this text must have a good deal of knowledge about specific concepts (e.g. diversity management) to understand the presentation.

4.2  Studying

The term studying refers to following aspects in the presentation under analysis:

A temporal aspect: the activity of studying is intended as a future action (for prospective students), as a present action (for students currently enrolled at the university) and as a past action (for graduates). Utopian ideas have a particular influence on the group of people who are in search of the best university to study at.

An ethical aspect: as an institution, the university in general is connected to the idea of meritocracy. All people who (can) achieve good grades theoretically have the right to attend. This universal concept of “all people” is related to hypothetical situations: foreign students must have the same opportunities as Germans; female students must have the same chances as male students to earn ← 146 | 147 → scientific degrees in fields such as mathematics, chemistry, and physics, which are typically dominated by men; and students with few financial resources must be given the concrete opportunity to attend.

A social aspect: University is seen as a unique institution where people can acquire the knowledge, skills and abilities to critically analyze real events, to find viable solutions to problems and use these competences in their future working life. From a social perspective, knowledge, skills and abilities are fundamental, because graduates can contribute to developing society in a good way, if they use their theoretical and practical background for the betterment of the world (i.e. protecting the environment for current and future society).

These three aspects are interrelated and all contribute to create the utopia of “Studying at the University is a right”. The University of Duisburg-Essen is actually an institution that presents itself as open and democratic, with the aim of guaranteeing the opportunity for everyone to study.

Referring to the ethical aspect, the university promotes equality initiatives, such as events inviting women to study engineering, mathematics and similar courses (<https://www.uni-due.de/abz/mmm/>). This initiative has a loaded name: MINT-MIX für Mädchen “MINT-MIX for girls”, where MINT is an acronym for Mathe, Ingenieurwissenschaften, Naturwissenschaften, Technik. This name is written with three different colors: cyclamen, light blue and light green. Light blue and green are the most commonly used color in the website, and these colors represent the idea of sustainability in the field of academic studies. Cyclamen identifies the target group: girls. The distribution of the color has connotative meanings:

Cyclamen is used for the words MINT and MIX and for the initial letter for the acronym MINT in order to emphasize the integration of female students in courses pre-dominantly attended by male students.

The other letters in the explanation of MINT are in light blue. The use of color in MATHE, TECHNIK forms a theoretical union of men and women who attend the same courses. The long form of the acronym highlights the first letter in cyclamen to make the first letter more visible to the user. Another possible interpretation of this graphic explanation is that most of the letters are light blue, because most of the students are male (traditionally light blue is coded with male, while pink connotes femininity). According to this second interpretation, the idea of equal opportunities for both genders comprises a utopia.

The phrase Für Mädchen is in light green. The idea of sustainability expressed here is that girls can achieve the same excellence in academic study as their fellow male students, and they can become important professionals in these fields. Light green is also the symbol of female, which is between the words ← 147 | 148 → MINT and MIX. There is a semiotic connection between the symbol and the expression Für Mädchen.

‘Equal opportunities between girls and boys’ is repeated several times on the web site24. The MINT-initiative is a project of the GeCKo, i.e. the Gender & Co. Koordinierungsstelle, a department tasked with coordinating gender initiatives. The main linguistic features used to describe the purposes of GeCKo include:

Use of rhetorical questions and of declarative sentences, which reference stereotypes in a humorous way (e.g. Jungs als Grundschullehrer – das passt doch gar nicht! Technik ist doch nichts für Mädchen!? Stimmt doch gar nicht! “Men as primary school teachers – it’s not true! Technology is surely not for girls!? It’s absolutely not true!”; Dass diese Aussage schon lange ein “alter Hut“ ist, können Mädchen auch in diesem Jahr wieder hautnah an der UDE feststellen. “Also this year girls can see here at the university that this statement has been nothing more than a cliché for a long time now”.

Use of complex words such as compounds related to the gender equality (e.g. gendergerechte Studienwahl “gender-sensitive course-choice”).

Use of the informal personal pronoun du “you” to create a context of personal and direct interaction (e.g. Hier kannst du schnell und unkompliziert herausfinden, welche Projekte dich darin unterstützen können. “Here you can quickly and easily discover which projects can support you”).

The use of the pronoun du is a clear sign of a utopian world, which often only exists on the web25. In the reality, all official documents are written with the formal Sie pronoun. For example, students who want to apply online read sentences such as Eine Bewerbung ist erst möglich, wenn Sie Ihr Abiturzeugnis bereits erhalten haben. “You can apply only after you have received your Abitur certificate” or Um keine Termine zu verpassen und alle Abläufe im Blick zu haben, drucken Sie sich die Checkliste aus. “In order not to miss important deadlines and have all steps in mind, print out the checklist.” In addition, the verbal tense is different. In the introductory sections to the application, there are imperative forms and verbal ← 148 | 149 → expressions with a deontic meaning (e.g. müssen “must”, sollen “must”, sein + zu + infinitive “be + to be + participle”). The idea of possibility, which is expressed in the section of gender equality through the modal verb können ‘can’ is substituted by the idea of necessity; the idea of necessity must be respected in order to be admitted at the university.

The opportunity for foreign students to apply to the university also belongs to the ethical aspect. Here it is important to appreciate the fact that information is given in both German and English, which caters to an international audience. The reader can also choose between the two languages and read very important details about applying while still living in their home country. Among the information provided, there is advice about financing the costs of studying and living, which is also of interest for German students on a budget. Financing possibilities for German and foreign students are different, but in both cases, there are some aspects emphasized in funding schemes:

High performance of students.

Great talent of students.

Migrant background.

The aim is to support students to complete their studies successfully, and to promote good students by taking into consideration the different backgrounds and needs of the students. According to this view, the student as a person with his needs, problems, abilities etc. is the center of the academic communication. The communication is here very effective, as it describes a world in which strong performances and talent are taken into great consideration. Accordingly, the reader understands that excellent results (together with a difficult background) are the keys to obtaining a scholarship and/or financial support. Again, a utopian world is described here:

4. Mit dem Stipendium werden in diesem Förderzeitraum 336 herausragende Studierende für ihre Leistungen belohnt. Insbesondere leistungsstarken Bildungsaufsteigerinnen und Bildungsaufsteigern wird so eine realistische Chance auf ein erfolgreiches Studium geboten.26 “The grant is for 336 excellent students, who will be rewarded for their performance. In particular, the grant offers educationally ambitious students with the best performance to complete their studies with success.”

The words used here have a positive connotation related to the semantic field of excellence and to the real chance to be successful: herausragend “excellent”, leistungsstark “with good performance”, realistisch “realistic”, and erfolgreich ← 149 | 150 → “successful”. The number of students who can obtain a scholarship, however, is low when compared to the number of students who attend the university. Indeed, of the 41,160 students, only 336 receive scholarships – a very low percentage. In this section, which should be realistic and based on real data, there is a significant use of optimistic words and expressions:

5. Wir denken in Möglichkeiten statt in Grenzen. ‘We have a fresh way of looking at things.’

6. Wir sind stark in Forschung und Lehre, leben Vielfalt, fördern Potentiale […]. ‘We are strong in research and teaching, embrace diversity, promote academic potential […].’

In the examples, there are antonymic expressions (Möglichkeiten “possibilities” vs. Grenzen “limits”) and the university identifies itself with the positive expression (i.e. “possibilities”) and it builds a sequence of positive expressions in the text. This semantic isotopy27 gives the institution the image of a meritocratic institute, where the abilities of people and not their social or geographical background are taken into consideration. In another section, the idea of educational sustainability is emphasized:

7. Es werden junge Talente aufgebaut, die Region gestärkt und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung übernommen. “Young, talented people are supported, the region is developed and social responsibility is taken.”

By reading further sections on the website, the reader is informed that the amount of a grant given by the University is 300€ per month (<https://www.uni-due.de/de/marketing/deutschlandstipendium.php>). Although the amount is not low, it is not enough for a student to cover all the costs of studying, particularly when we consider that a room in a residence hall costs at least 230€ per month. A student who cannot receive financial support from his / her family must therefore find other financial support. Equal opportunities are simply not guaranteed to all. The university describes itself as one of the most successful German universities in the field of scholarships. This is an objective statement, based on quantitative comparisons and rankings. The utopia is thus present, as explained above. The idealization of the scholarships as a guarantee for talented students is also emphasized in the photography presented in the specific section for the scholarship application (<https://www.uni-due.de/de/marketing/studierende.php>). The photography has the communicative function of introducing the text, where students can find out about the required information and the prerequisites for the application. In the photograph, there are three students (from left to right: boy, ← 150 | 151 → girl, boy) who stand in a line holding a tray in their hands with a fork, a spoon, a knife and a paper napkin on top of a place mat. The figure on the place mat has an associative relation with the photography present in all sections of the website: a blue sky with white clouds. It is evident that semantic isotopy is not only produced in the verbal component of the website but also in the graphic component. The relation between photography and text is one of denotation. The photography can be interpreted in two ways:

A. Students stand in a line waiting for the results of their application; and B. The three students have received their scholarships. They now have a specific position in the list and are metaphorically waiting to attend lecturers and learn.

In both interpretations, it is evident that only a few students can receive the scholarship: there is a ranking and not all students with good marks will obtain the scholarship. The importance of the photography for the text is visible in the corresponding section in English (<https://www.uni-due.de/de/marketing/students.php>). The text is here less informative, as it is semantically reduced, and the photography is different from that in the German section, but it is still extremely communicative. Here, five students (four girls and one boy) are together walking outside, but only one of the students is of a clear non-German ethnic background. The idea of educational sustainability, as expressed in the German version, is abandoned here.

4.3  Eating

Nutrition is a field in which sustainability is a value of great importance (see Crestani, accepted). The presentation of canteens and cafeterias (<https://www.uni-due.de/de/services/mensen.php>; <http://studentenwerk.essen-duisburg.de/gastronomie/>) is based on schematic descriptions of opening hours, menus and costs. A short description of the buildings where the canteens are located is also offered. The concept of sustainable food is highlighted in the general presentation of the canteens offered by the Studentenwerk:

8. Wo dies möglich ist, setzen wir auf ein regionales, saisonales und biologisches Angebot. So verarbeiten wir ausschließlich Bio-Nudeln und Bio-Reis und beziehen ausschließlich Fair-Trade Kaffee, in der Regel auch in Bio-Qualität.28 “When possible, we serve regional, seasonal and organic food. We use organic pasta and rice and we buy exclusively fair-trade coffee, which is usually organic quality.” ← 151 | 152 →

In all canteens, attention is payed to products like coffee, pasta and rice, which are certified as organic. The reader can immediately recognize which products on the menu are certified with the logo.

The idea of green is also really emphasized in the cafeterias, for example in the cafeteria ins Grüne (<http://studentenwerk.essen-duisburg.de/gastronomie/mensen/bistro-insgruene/>):

9. „insgrüne“- die Duisburger Mensa hält, was der Name verspricht. Die Räume an der Bismarkstraße präsentieren sich lichtdurchflutet und stilvoll im Grundton Grün eingerichtet.29 “‘insgrüne’ – the canteen in Duisburg holds the promises of its name. The rooms in the Bismarkstraße are flooded with light and are rich in style with their light green color.”

The general presentation of cafeterias underlines sustainable aspects through keywords and expressions such as Bio-Kaffee “organic coffee”, aus fairem Handel “fair-trade goods”, die Schonung von Natur und Umwelt “the conservation of nature and the environment”, eine sorgfältige Müllvermeidung bzw. -verminderung “proper waste prevention and reduction”, Mehrwegflaschen “returnable beverage bottles”. Compounds in the field of sustainable food often use the confix bio- as first element or deverbal nouns as second elements to build Rektionskomposita (synthetic compounds, see Gaeta 2010 and Crestani 2015b). These compounds are informative and very compact; they substitute entire clauses (e.g. Müllvermeidung → Es wird vermieden, Müll zu produzieren) and they help to describe the ideal of sustainable nutrition. The Studentenwerk presents itself as a sustainable institution:

10. Das Studierendenwerk Essen Duisburg ist biozertifiziert durch die DE-ÖKO-039-Kontrollstelle. Der Einsatz fair gehandelter Kaffeeprodukte sowie die Berücksichtigung regionaler Anbieter sind für uns selbstverständlich.30 “The Studentenwerk Essen Duisburg is organically certified by the DE-ÖKO-039-Kontrollstelle. The use of organically produced fair-trade coffee-goods and the consideration of regional farmers are our principles.”

The idea of regional products is one of the principles of sustainable nutrition (see Crestani, accepted) and it is frequently highlighted in the website (e.g. regionale Lieferanten “regional suppliers”, regionale Produzenten “regional producers”). Other principles include the conservation of the environment (Umwelt- und Ressourcenschutz) and recycling methods and recycled products (Recyclingpapier, Mehrwegflaschen-System).

Despite paying great attention to the processes, nutrition, in the sense of what food to eat, receives little attention on the website. The lack of information about ← 152 | 153 → nutrition is utopian in a negative sense because students need to be informed about the best food for their health and for the preservation of the planet. These days, a large number of students are interested in a healthy diet31. It also seems ineffective that an informative section about diet is not included in the university presentation.

5.  Conclusions

In our paper, we discussed how the concepts of ‘utopia’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘education’ can be analyzed together in the specific communicational context of online presentations. The hypothesis that guided this study was that online presentations of institutions, which are important for specific groups of citizens such as young adults and their families in the case of university websites, are a very good place where utopic ideas and concepts can be expressed. To verify our idea, we concentrated on the website of the University of Duisburg-Essen, a very young institution of higher learning, which had to find effective modes of communication in order to reach a wide audience of users interested in becoming students.

In order to analyze how the institution communicates utopian ideals in their online presentation, we adopted the method of multimodality, using the following principles to orient our study:

The online presentation is a multimodal object that can be studied as the interrelation of several modes of communication (visual and verbal, visual and non-verbal, visual and acoustic etc.) and of several levels of construction.

The user of the website is the subject who interprets the meaning of the text using a decodification system in order to discern meaning and give an interpretation of the modes of communication and the levels of construction of the text.

The act of making meaning is an act that depends on cultural values and on the social conventions present in the text, as well as the values adopted by the user.

We offered an analysis that considered the different modes of communication and their interrelations. The interrelations can be summarized as follows:
← 153 | 154 →

Symmetric: the modes of communication are interdependent and they are in a relationship of support with each other. An example is the text on the MINT-MIX project, where the graphic and the verbal parts follow the same principles, with the graphic component emphasizing the verbal component.

Antonymic: the modes of communication are in opposition. An example is the opportunity for foreign students to apply for a scholarship from the university. They are allowed to apply (as explained in the rules), but the photography contradicts the possible results of the application (there is only one foreign student in the group of five students).

Scalar: the modes of communications are used to express meanings, which are in increasing degrees of a range. An example is the project of fair education. This value is expressed on the university’s page of information for prospective students and it is increasingly emphasized in the different sections and subsections of the website, in both verbal and non-verbal aspects.

The utopian ideals are visible in particular when the modes of communication are in antonymic relation. Utopian communication is also realized with the symmetrical and scalar relations; in order to understand the hidden utopia, the user has to carefully read all sections of the presentation (including external links) to decode the text as a whole.

In conclusion, when it comes to communicating about fairness and sustainability in education, positive words and expressions can be effectively used to create a utopian world. This world exists in the verbal component of the presentation, but it is sometimes ‘destroyed’ in the graphic component of the website. Two examples of this include:

The verbal component that speaks about financial support for foreign students, while the photography shows students with blond hair, which is stereotypical for German students.

The numbers and data about the scholarships are evidence that not all excellent students can be financed.

In other cases, the photography supports the utopian ideals (e.g. the blue sky as a symbol of the absence of pollution and of a good way of life). While photography apparently has characteristics of objectivity and reality, it is actually the result of a process of selecting and structuring the real world (see Brucculeri 2009: 17).

The interaction between verbal and graphic components seems to show the desire of the institution to find a balance between reality and utopia. Utopia is intended as a place to be reached gradually, and with concrete actions. ← 154 | 155 →

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<www.duden.de> (Accessed August 2015)

<www.nielsen.com> (Accessed September 2015)


1 This paper has been written according to common ideas of the two authors. Paragraph 1 has been written in cooperation. Paragraphs 2.2 and 3.1 were written by Marina Brambilla. Paragraphs 2, 2.1, 2.3, 3.2, 3.3, 4, 4.1, 4.1.1, 4.1.2, 4.1.3, 4.2, 4.3 and 5 were written by Valentina Crestani.

2 See Agnello (2013: 29–31).

3 <http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32010L0031>

4 <www.nielsen.com>

5 Examples taken from the University of Duisburg-Essen, <https://www.uni-due.de/>.

6 Example from the University of Duisburg-Essen, <https://www.uni-due.de/>.

7 See Crestani (2010).

8 See the article Erstsemester mit Heimweh: Ausziehen! (Der Spiegel, 17.10.2014): <http://www.spiegel.de/unispiegel/studium/studium-erstsemester-studenten-erzaehlen-ueber-heimweh-a-997128.html>. 40 percent of German students who attend their first semester at the university live with their parents; 60 percent leave their families and live in another city or town.

9 The website offers an English translation or a summary for the most important sections (e.g. its online application and information on living in a student residence).

10 See Brucculeri (2009) for an example of semiotic analysis in the field of tourism.

11 De Beaugrande and Dressler (1981) assume that a text is a “kommunikative Okkurrenz”, i.e. a communicative occurrence that meets seven principles of textuality: 1. Cohesion; 2. Coherence; 3. Intentionality; 4. Acceptability; 5. Informativity; 6. Situationality; and 7. Intertextuality. If one of these principles is not present, the entity is a non-text and is not communicative.

12 See Barthes (1973 : 1015) : “Tout texte est un intertexte ; d’autres textes sont présent en lui, à de niveaux variables, sous de formes plus ou moins reconnaissables ; les textes de la culture antérieure et ceux de la culture environnante ; tout texte est un tissu nouveau de citations révolues. […] L’intertextualité, condition de tout texte, […] ne se réduit évidemment pas à un problème de sources ou d’influences ; l’intertexte est un champ général de formules anonymes, dont l’origine est rarement repérable, de citations inconscientes ou automatiques […].”

13 See Siever, Schlobinski and Runkehl (2005) for communication in chats and Crestani (2015a) for communication in video tutorials.

14 <https://www.uni-due.de/ub/abisz/audioguide.shtml>. In another section of the library presentation (<http://duepublico.uni-duisburg-essen.de/go/ub-film/Mit_der_Bibliothek_durchs_Studium_1.mp4Z>), there is a video that is primarily visual, as it shows how a student can find good books in the library to do his homework without any audio-description. This video is accessible to deaf people, but not to blind people. Moreover, it has mainly a persuasive function and not an informative one, as it is in the audio-description of the libraries.

15 The symbol “is used for the official English translation offered by the University. Words and expressions that do not have an official translation, will be explained with”.

16 See the logo of WWF with the giant panda as symbol of the environment; the dolphin was used in the Greek mythology with a positive connotation.

17 In the 1960s, air pollution was a visible problem in the Ruhr area due to the dust, ash and soot from furnaces, steel converters and coke ovens. Willy Brandt stated in the speech at the Bonn Beethoven Hall (April 1961) that “der Himmel über dem Ruhrgebiet muß wieder blau werden“ / “the sky over the Ruhr region must be blue again.” This statement represents the start of systematic environmental thinking in German politics. Since the 1970s, this challenge has been met with success. See <http://www.umweltbundesamt.de/en/press/pressinformation/federal-environment-agency-sky-over-ruhr-is-blue> for more information on pollution today.

18 See Miemietz (1993), Schwarz (1999) and Robustelli (2000). Miemietz and Schwarz in particular deal with possibilities and borderlines of the morphological motion in the person designation and in the job designation.

19 The text was then modified in October 2015 to present a new event on the topic of the Zukunftsstadt “city of the future”.

20 See the article „Wohnungssuche ist das größte Problem ausländischer Studierender in Deutschland“ (22.07.2015), <http://studentenwerk.essen-duisburg.de/nc/wohnen/newsdetails/archive/2015/juli/artikel/wohnungssuche-ist-das-groesste-problem-auslaendischer-studierender-in-deutschland/>.

21 <http://studentenwerk.essen-duisburg.de/nc/wohnen/newsdetails/archive/2015/oktober/artikel/mehr-preisguenstiger-staatlich-gefoerderter-wohnraum-fuer-studierende/>

22 <https://www.uni-due.de/inklusionsportal/beratungsstelle.html>

23 It is interesting that black and grey are not used because of their semiotic meanings, referred respectively to death and moral rigidity (black) and old age (grey) (see Agnello 2013: 38–39, 41).

24 Additional examples can be found in the section Bildung: gleiche Chancen für alle ‘Education: Equal opportunities for everyone’, <https://www.uni-due.de/de/universitaet/chancengleichheit.php>. In this text, the isotopic sequence is evident in expressions like eine gerechte Bildung ‘fair education’, jedes engagierte Talent ‘every motivated talent’, zu einem erfolgreichen Abschluss ‘to a successful degree’, unabhängig von Geschlecht, ethnischer oder sozialer Herkunft ‘regardless of gender, ethnic, or social background’.

25 Students would prefer the use of du-forms also in the real academic world in the communication between professors and students (Brambilla 2012).

26 <https://www.uni-due.de/de/marketing/deutschlandstipendium.php>

27 See Heinemann (2000).

28 <http://studentenwerk.essen-duisburg.de/gastronomie/>.

29 <http://studentenwerk.essen-duisburg.de/gastronomie/mensen/bistro-insgruene/>

30 <http://studentenwerk.essen-duisburg.de/gastronomie/kundeninformationen/umwelt-und-ressourcenschutz>

31 See <http://www.asu-arbeitsmedizin.com/ASU-2008–11/Studie-zur-Ernaehrung-von-Studentinnen-BRTeil-II-Wie-ernaehren-sich-Studentinnen-in-Deutschland,QUlEPTIyNDA3OCZNSUQ9MzAwMTA.html>. According to a survey conducted among female students in Germany in 2007 about their nutrition habits, the students periodically consume organic products; more than 50% consume fruit, salad and vegetables at least once a day and only few eat fast food meals. Many students (in particular those who are overweight) often consume sweets and snacks. Despite this, the conclusion of the survey is that female students are generally interested in a healthy way of eating.