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Using LCT in research

Here we provide resources for enacting LCT in research:

RESEARCH PRACTICE – papers that discuss how to use LCT in different kinds of research

TOOLS – translation devices for enacting LCT concepts in data analysis

CONVENTIONS – names and usages of concepts - CHECK THIS WHEN WRITING!

GLOSSARIES IN LANGUAGES – English, Spanish and (soon) Chinese.

ANNOTATIONS how concepts are annotated on data

LCT FIGURES – downloadable publisher-quality files of widely-used LCT figures


The book Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory contains chapters that analyse the processes of major research studies to illustrate and explain:

  • how to enact LCT in qualitative research to bring together theory and data;
  • how to develop quantitative tools to use LCT in mixed-methods research and so take advantage of both quantitative and qualitative methods
  • how to embed LCT in practice without explicitly discussing LCT
  • how to use LCT in conjunction with other theories, such as systemic functional linguistics

Using LCT in qualitative research

Maton, K. & Chen, R. T-H. (2016) LCT in qualitative research: Creating a language of description to study constructivist pedagogy, in K. Maton, S. Hood & S. Shay (eds) Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory. London, Routledge.

This paper discusses how to enact LCT in qualitative research, including how to develop 'external languages of description' or translation devices for moving between concepts and data. Using Chen's empirical study as a concrete example, the chapter discusses choices of theories, the process of moving between reading theory, collecting data and analysing that data in ways that enable the data to 'speak back' to the theory, and the creation of 'external languages' that show how theory and data are related.

Using LCT in quantitative and mixed-methods research

Maton, K. & Howard, S. K. (2016) LCT in mixed-methods research: Evolving an instrument for quantitative data, in K. Maton, S. Hood & S. Shay (eds) Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory. London, Routledge.

LCT can be used in both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. This paper explains the development and evolution of a quantitative instrument for enacting the concepts of 'specialization codes' in surveys. Discussing empirical research into music education and a major study of educational technology, the paper shows how LCT can be used in mixed-methods research that combine the breadth of data enabled by quantitative methods with the depth offered by qualitative methods.

Using LCT with systemic functional linguistics

LCT and SFL are increasingly being used as complementary frameworks to explore a widening range of practices in education and beyond. How they can be used together in research is discussed in the following papers:

Maton, K., Martin, J. R. & Matruglio, E. (2016) LCT and systemic functional linguistics: Enacting complementary theories for explanatory power, in K. Maton, S. Hood & S. Shay (eds) Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory. London, Routledge.

Embedding LCT in praxis

Embedding LCT into practices is discussed in a reanalysis of a major study by Lucila Carvalho in which LCT was embedded into an e-learning environment for mobile learning:

Maton, K., Carvalho, L. & Dong, A. (2016) LCT in praxis: Creating an e-learning environment for informal learning of principled knowledge, in K. Maton, S. Hood & S. Shay (eds) Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory. London, Routledge.


Highly sophisticated tools have been developed by Karl Maton and colleagues at Sydney University for enacting 'semantic gravity' and 'semantic density' in analysis of discourse (such as classroom discourse, essays, interviews, etc).  Each set of tools comprises several 'translation devices' or multi-level typologies for identifying different strengths of SG or SD in wording, and for analysing how these strengths are changed through the bringing together of words into clauses and the linking of clauses into sequences (i.e. at different lengths of discourse). The tools will be available through this website very soon.



Maton, K. (2016) Starting points: Resources and architectural glossary, in K. Maton, S. Hood & S. Shay (eds) Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory. London, Routledge.

This chapter includes a valuable series of 'starting points' for resources in LCT and an even more valuable 'architectural glossary' that sets out many of the conventions and relations among concepts.

Some very early papers by Karl Maton include variants of names, but the following terms are now the conventions for names of concepts.  Here we have gathered up some of the conventions in a more prosaic manner:

– 'Legitimation Code Theory' ALWAYS has capital letters. Be insistent with publishers, as they often want to remove the capital letters. Removing them is like writing your name in lower case letters. Just be insistent with editors that this is a convention of the field.

– The names of single concepts (e.g. semantic gravity, epistemic relations, etc) do NOT have capital letters.

–  The concepts 'epistemic relations' and 'social relations' are always plural.  It is NOT 'the epistemic relation' or 'the social relation'.

– The names of two-word concepts always involve BOTH words, i.e. write and say 'semantic density' and not 'density'; use 'semantic gravity' and not 'gravity'; 'epistemic relations' and 'social relations' and not 'epistemic and social relations'. Always use both words or you are not referring to the concept.

– There is no such thing as 'knowledge mode' or 'knower mode'. The word 'mode' was replaced by 'code' in 2000.

– 'Knowledge/knower codes' is NOT the name for 'specialization codes'. There are two other specialization codes, so this usage is very reductive.

– 'Knower-grammars' were only a 'bridging concept' - they were introduced only to enable Bernstein's notion of 'grammar' to be integrated within specialization codes. 'Knower-grammars' are simply 'social relations' (and Bernstein's 'grammar' is replaced by by 'epistemic relations')

– The dimensions of Specialization and Semantics have capitals (be insistent when journals and editors change this, or it will become confused with other uses of these words). They are the names for two dimensions of LCT. They can also be referred to as LCT(Specialization) and LCT(Semantics).

  • Specialization = ER/SR (specialization codes), knowledge–knower structures, epistemic–pedagogic device, gazes, insights, etc.
  • Semantics = SG/SD (semantic codes), semantic profiles, condensation, gravitation, ESP device, etc.

– 'Legitimation codes' is the name for ALL LCT codes; i.e. specialization codes, semantic codes, etc are all legitimation codes.  They are referred to as 'specialization (or semantic) codes of legitimation’ or just ‘specialization codes’ and ‘semantic codes' (but not ‘legitimation codes of specialization’). Do not use 'legitimation codes' when you are talking about 'specialization codes'.

  • - ER+/–, SR+/– = specialization codes
  • - SG+/–, SD+/– = semantic codes
  • - PA+/–, RA+/– = autonomy codes

– Ordering of concepts: ALWAYS ER before SR; SG before SD, PA before RA, TP before TO.

– The symbols +/– and ↑↓ come AFTER each concept and NOT before it in LCT, e.g. ER+, SR–. (in Bernstein's code theory, it is +C, –F: they come before). This derives from the fact that e.g. 'ER+' condenses 'ER(+C, +F)'.

– The symbols '+/–' are inherited conventions from Bernstein's code theory, which he described as 'strong/weak'. In LCT these denote stronger / weaker or relatively strong / relatively weak (never the binaries of strong/weak).

– The symbols ↑↓ are up and down arrows that indicate strengthening (↑) and weakening (↓). They always mean the same, so ER↓ is weakening of epistemic relations and SG↑ is strengthening of semantic gravity (however counterintuitive that might seem).

– Strengthening or weakening something (e.g. ER or SG) does not automatically change its relative strength; e.g. strengthening something that was ER– does not mean it is now ER+. Changes can occur WITHIN a quadrant of the plane. To show this, you can combine +/– with ↑/↓. For example, 'ER–↑–' means ‘weaker ER that is strengthened but remains relatively weaker'.

– The picture used for each dimension of LCT is a Cartesian plane and named after the dimension, e.g. the specialization plane for ER/SR; the semantic plane for SG/SD, etc.



Maton, K. (2016) Starting points: Resources and architectural glossary, in K. Maton, S. Hood & S. Shay (eds) Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory. London, Routledge.


Quiroz, B. (2017) Glosario inglés-español: términos en TCL y LSF, Onomázein, March: 227–242.


A Chinese version of Maton's glossary from Knowledge-building: Educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory will be available shortly.


ER = epistemic relations (OR = ontic relations; DR = discursive relations)

SR = social relations (SubR = subjective relations; IR = interactional relations)

SG = semantic gravity

SD = semantic density

EC = epistemological condensation (OC = ontic condensation; DC = discursive condensation)

AC = axiological condensation (SubC = subjective condensation; IC = interactional condensation)

EG = epistemological gravitation (OG = ontic gravitation; DG = discursive gravitation)

PA = positional autonomy

RA = relational autonomy

TP = temporal position

TO = temporal orientation


+ stronger

–↑ = relatively weak being strengthened; +↑ = relatively strong being strengthened
–↓ = relatively weak being weakened; +↓ = relatively strong being weakened
+↓+ = relatively strong being weakened but still relatively strong
+↓–  = relatively strong being weakened to become relatively weak (i.e. has shifted from one quadrant of the plane to another quadrant: a change of code). 
So, ER+↓+ = relation / position in plane 1 / direction of change / position in plane 2

→    forward in time
←    backwards in time

(x)    focus of action
e.g. “SR↑(classroom)” = “strengthening social relation re classroom”

(x,y)    focus of action, kind of SR / ER
e.g. “SR↑(classroom, dispositions)” = “strengthening social relation re dispositions of actors in classroom”

SRf      superscript f = focus; e.g. social relation as focus (can be ER, SR, SG, SD, etc)
SRb    superscript b = basis; e.g. social relation as basis

SD+(ER) is stronger semantic density (based on epistemic relations), i.e. epistemological condensation or EC
SD+(SR) is stronger semantic density (based on social relations), i.e. axiological condensation or AC

SG↓ means ‘weakening of semantic gravity’.  This may be counter-intuitive (as stronger semantic gravity might suggest pointing towards the earth, the concrete) but the qualifier ‘↓’ always remains the same ('weakening').


semantic scale - this is the y-axis on the semantics profile figure, e.g. ‘The text begins at a relatively high point on the semantic scale’.

semantic range - the degree of movement up and down of something or someone

semantic profile - what the movement looks like over time
semantic wave - goes up and down (or down and up) over time in waves
semantic flatline - doesn’t go up and down much – has a faint pulse

semantic flow - degree of connectedness between different points – high means it flows smoothly, low means it jerks up and down, and no flow means it quantum leaps between points on the semantic scale

semantic entry - where it starts on the semantic scale (e.g. where an essay begins: high or low)

semantic exit - where it ends on the semantic scale (same as above)

semantic threshold - the extent to which accuracy matters (e.g. getting one’s facts right). NB: this threshold may be of different kinds, e.g. it might be epistemological (getting facts right) or axiological (getting one's moral or political position right).

The 7-G rule of thumb for analysis (of essays or classrooms or whatever it is you’re analysing) is to look at: going in (semantic entry), going up and going down (semantic shifts), gamut (semantic range), going along (semantic flow), going out (semantic exit), and getting it right (semantic threshold). The rule of thumb is to ask: do each of these matter? how do they matter?


Here you can download publication-ready LCT figures, prepared in Adobe Illustrator. One folder is in pdf and one folder is the same figures but in AI.

To use a figure you must first gain permission from Karl Maton ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

A list of Figures and correct citations is included here: List and citations of LCT figures.

A compressed folder of the LCT figures in PDF is here.

A compressed folder of the LCT figures in AI is here.

A picture of Karl Maton is here.



Last Updated on Saturday, 16 September 2017 16:14