Critical Review of Myrrh Domingos Linguistic Layering

The following post is my critical review assignment of Myrrh Domingo's paper; Linguistic layering: social language development in the context of multimodal design and digital technologies.

The paper is not freely available online however Domingo's website "Migrating Literacies" has some excellent videos, Pinoy audio tracks and discusions of her findings:

T.S. Elliot once said, one of the most momentous things that can happen to a culture is that they acquire a new form of prose. Myrrh Domingos qualitative research into contemporary social language development and “linguistic layering” of multimedia texts is an important study of just such a change in our own culture. Domingo gathered data over a three year period, employing an ethnographic methodology. Her methods included “conducting semi-structured interviews and focus group interviews; recording descriptive and reflective field notes from participant observation; (and) collecting literacy artifacts”, (Domingo, 2012). She utilized a combination of traditional discourse analysis and an innovative multimodal analysis of the texts produced by participants in the study. The study encompassed a group of six Filipino youths living in London who referred to themselves as 'Pinoys'. Domingo recorded their linguistic exchanges online through social media sites and SMS texting, as well as offline elements like musical pieces created on mobile phones while riding public transport, or on computers using sequencing software. Such activities and communication mediums are an increasingly important part of our daily lives, and have “been termed the new ‘textual landscape’” (Carrington, 2005, quoted in Walsh, 2009). Domingos theoretical perspective is informed by New Literacy Studies and she therefore holds that reading, writing, and meaning can only be understood when viewed within specific social practices. She states that this type of social language development “attends to the transcultural experience of multi-lingual youth” and examines the layering of traditional and new media with the view that they can be “significant in promoting socially and culturally relevant literacy practices” (Domingo, 2012). The 'texts' are composed of images, sound, gestures and traditional textual information, and layering of these elements takes place not just across various media but also temporally, as well as involving remix of ideas from one individual to another. Meaning is constructed in the mind of the reader, and different readers “may construct meaning in different ways”, (Crotty, 1998). Traditional analysis would therefore have been problematic, since any element of the text might lose its significance when examined out of context.

The study focused on one specific member of the Pinoys, named Aziatik. This might be seen as unbalanced since Aziatik is one of the more prominent and productive members of the group, however Domingo has clearly employed purposive intensity sampling here, i.e. “choosing (the) most information rich case” (Coe, 2012). Given the small size of the group being studied, this strategy makes good sense and is a pragmatic method of gathering sufficient data to analyze.

Due to the 'noisy and moving' nature of the literary artifacts collected, traditional transcription techniques and analysis were inadequate to fully capture the social and cultural significance of the data. Domingo consequently adopted a multimodal analytical technique of both “spatial and temporal reading paths” (Domingo, 2012) in order to represent the multimodal nature of the texts she collected. This is particularly effective in the colour coded tabular data used to indicate Aziatik's multimodal text and delivery of his rap, 'Pinoy Ako’ [I am Filipino]. One feels that the representation of the data in this manner offers the reader a deeper insight into the text and its cultural significance. It adds a multidimensional perspective to the data and gives the impression that this is more than mere opinion or hypothesis, but rather a well formed theory resulting from thoughtful analysis and reasoning. This format also resonates well with the way in which the texts themselves were originally created.

Domingo makes a convincing argument and draws upon a broad range of literature to support her claims, all of which is appropriate to the topic in question. For example, where she discusses matters of social identity, traditional language development and social language development, the reference texts have been published over a large timeframe. Conversely, when discussing notions of new media literacy and her concept of linguistic layering, she limits her references to research produced during the period known as 'Web 2.0'; i.e. during which the set of technologies and practices which are fundamental to Pinoy culture have emerged.

The data analysis and collection methods are obviously qualitative in nature and it would be unfair to criticize Domingos finding based on a lack of exactitude or statistical analysis. However there are certainly elements within the study which might have benefited from a more quantitive or mixed-method approach. Domingo claims that Pinoys are not indifferent to learning but due to their socio-economic and educational backgrounds, might be seen to be 'at risk' or 'struggling' in a traditional educational context. However this is mentioned merely in passing, and there is no data to support the claim that this group do in fact have such difficulties. Information from a broader sample would have been illuminating, perhaps combined with anonymized school records to support the claim. It may be the case that this tiny, well connected sample are particularly literate and this fact allowed them to create the multimodal, layered texts so effortlessly. Also of concern, is the fact that Domingo's fluency with Tagalog might indicate a bias towards participant membership of the Pinoy group, whereas traditionally, ethnographic studies aim for an equal balance between being a “participant” and “observer” by the researcher.

Domingo argues that a study of multimodal texts can enhance the learning of literacy in the classroom. However before such integration can take place, one would still need to consider whether “students read digital texts for meaning in the same way as they read print-based texts” (Walsh, 2009)

Furthermore, ones notes that because the Pinoy group is globally dispersed and connected via the use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, it would be interesting to ask how heterogeneous, globalized memes and concepts are woven into Pinoy culture, and how much are these external ideas modified through this interweaving, if at all?

In conclusion, this is a fascinating and solid study, although some minor concerns and avenues for future research do exist.


Coe, Robert. (2012). chapter 6, Conducting your Research. Research Methods & methodologies in Education. Sage. London.

Crotty, Michael. (1998) Introduction: the research process. The foundations of social research : meaning and perspective in the research process. Sage. London.

Domingo, Myrrh (2012). Linguistic layering: social language development in the context of multimodal design and digital technologies. Routledge, London.

Walsh, Maureen. (2009). Pedagogic Potentials of Multimodal Literacy. Chapter 3. In Tan Wee Hin, L & Subramanian, R. (Eds) Handbook of Research on New Media Literacy at the K-12 Level: Issues and Challenges. IGI Global.