Physics is arguably the most fundamental of the sciences, yet many students disengage with it at a very early level. This thesis lays the groundwork to understanding why this is the case by using Systemic Functional theory to study how knowledge is conveyed to students within two undergraduate physics textbooks. Further to this, it uses Bernstein’s (1999) notion of ‘knowledge structure’ to describe the nature of knowledge within the discipline of physics itself. The thesis finds that mathematics and images work with written language to convey technical knowledge. Moreover, these semiotic resources can become technical, transcending the text to become part of the assumed knowledge of the field. Finally, it shows that mathematics in particular allows physics to integrate its various sub-fields and produce general theories that can be applied to real world.
This thesis presents the first attempt using linguistic analysis at describing the nature of physics and how it is recontextualised for pedagogical purposes. As part of this, the thesis extends multiple theoretical frameworks including multimodality, theory of knowledge and genre theory.