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Systemic functional grammar

Systemic functional grammar

Overview
Systemic functional grammar (SFG), a component of systemic functional linguistics (SFL), is a form of grammatical description originally developed by Michael Halliday
Michael Halliday
Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday is a British linguist who developed an internationally influential model of language, the systemic functional linguistic model. His grammatical descriptions go by the name of systemic functional grammar .-Biography:Halliday was born and raised in England...

 in a career spanning more than 50 years. It is part of a social semiotic
Semiotics
Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

 approach to language called systemic-functional linguistics. The term systemic refers to the view of language as "a network of systems, or interrelated sets of options for making meaning".
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Encyclopedia
Systemic functional grammar (SFG), a component of systemic functional linguistics (SFL), is a form of grammatical description originally developed by Michael Halliday
Michael Halliday
Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday is a British linguist who developed an internationally influential model of language, the systemic functional linguistic model. His grammatical descriptions go by the name of systemic functional grammar .-Biography:Halliday was born and raised in England...

 in a career spanning more than 50 years. It is part of a social semiotic
Semiotics
Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

 approach to language called systemic-functional linguistics. The term systemic refers to the view of language as "a network of systems, or interrelated sets of options for making meaning". The term functional refers to Halliday's view that language is as it is because of what it has evolved to do. Thus, what he refers to as the multidimensional architecture of language "reflects the multidimensional nature of human experience and interpersonal relations."

Influences


Halliday describes his grammar as built on the work of Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

, Louis Hjelmslev
Louis Hjelmslev
Louis Hjelmslev was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Copenhagen School of linguistics. Born into an academic family , Hjelmslev studied comparative linguistics in Copenhagen, Prague and Paris...

, Malinowski, J.R. Firth, and the Prague school linguists. In addition, he drew on the work of the American anthropological linguists Boas
Franz Boas
Franz Boas was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the "Father of American Anthropology" and "the Father of Modern Anthropology." Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in physics, and did...

, Sapir
Edward Sapir
Edward Sapir was an American anthropologist-linguist, widely considered to be one of the most important figures in the early development of the discipline of linguistics....

 and Whorf. Of these linguists, his "main inspiration" was Firth, to which he owes, among other things, the notion of language as system

Basic tenets


Some interrelated key terms underpin Halliday's approach to grammar, which forms part of his account of how language works. These concepts are: system, (meta)function, and rank.

For Halliday, grammar is described as systems not as rules, on the basis that every grammatical structure involves a choice from a describable set of options. Language is thus a meaning potential. Grammarians in SF tradition use system networks to map the available options in a language. In relation to English, for instance, Halliday has described systems such as mood, agency, theme, etc. Halliday describes grammatical systems as closed, i.e. as having a finite set of options. By contrast, lexical sets are open systems, since new words come into a language all the time .

These grammatical systems play a role in the construal of meanings of different kinds. This is the basis of Halliday's claim that language is metafunctionally organised. He argues that the raison d'être of language is meaning in social life, and for this reason all languages have three kinds of semantic components. All languages have resources for construing experience (the ideational component), resources for enacting humans' diverse and complex social relations (the interpersonal component), and resources for enabling these two kinds of meanings to come together in coherent text (the textual function) . Each of the grammatical systems proposed by Halliday are related to these metafunctions. For instance, the grammatical system of 'mood' is considered to be centrally related to the expression of interpersonal meanings, 'process type' to the expression of experiential meanings, and 'theme' to the expression of textual meanings.


Traditionally the "choices" are viewed in terms of either the content or the structure of the language used. In SFG, language is analysed in three ways (strata): semantics, phonology, and lexicogrammar. SFG presents a view of language in terms of both structure (grammar) and words (lexis). The term "lexicogrammar" describes this combined approach.

Metafunctions


From early on in his account of language, Halliday has argued that it is inherently functional. His early papers on the grammar of English make reference to the "functional components" of language, as "generalized uses of language, which, since they seem to determine the nature of the language system, require to be incorporated into our account of that system." Halliday argues that this functional organization of language "determines the form taken by grammatical structure"

Halliday refers to his functions of language as metafunctions. He proposes three general functions: the ideational, the interpersonal and the textual.

Ideational metafunction


The ideational metafunction is the function for construing human experience. It is the means by which we make sense of "reality". Halliday divides the ideational function into two functions: the logical and the experiential metafunctions. The logical metafunction refers to the grammatical resources for building up grammatical units into complexes, for instance, for combining two or more clauses into a clause complex. The experiential function refers to the grammatical resources involved in construing the flux of experience through the unit of the clause.

The ideational metafunction reflects the contextual value of "field", that is, the nature of the social process in which the language is implicated. An analysis of a text from the perspective of the ideational function involves inquiring into the choices in the grammatical system of "transitivity": that is, process types, participant types, circumstance types, combined with an analysis of the resources through which clauses are combined together. Halliday's An Introduction to Functional Grammar (in the third edition, with revisions by Christian Matthiessen) sets out the description of these grammatical systems.

Interpersonal metafunction


The interpersonal metafunction relates to a text's aspects of tenor or interactivity
Interactivity
In the fields of information science, communication, and industrial design, there is debate over the meaning of interactivity. In the "contingency view" of interactivity, there are three levels:...

. Like field, tenor comprises three component areas: the speaker/writer persona
Persona
A persona, in the word's everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. The word is derived from Latin, where it originally referred to a theatrical mask. The Latin word probably derived from the Etruscan word "phersu", with the same meaning, and that from the Greek πρόσωπον...

, social distance, and relative social status. Social distance and relative social status are applicable only to spoken texts. Note - this is not so, looking at the text of O´Halloran we are told that we no longer have the option to contrast the various speakers but we can examine "how the individual authors present themselves to the reader", therefore, we are able to look at social distance and relative social status in texts where there is only one author.

The speaker/writer persona concerns the stance, personalisation and standing of the speaker or writer. This involves looking at whether the writer or speaker has a neutral attitude
Attitude (psychology)
An attitude is a hypothetical construct that represents an individual's degree of like or dislike for something. Attitudes are generally positive or negative views of a person, place, thing, or event— this is often referred to as the attitude object...

, which can be seen through the use of positive or negative language. Social distance means how close the speakers are, e.g. how the use of nicknames shows the degree to which they are intimate. Relative social status asks whether they are equal in terms of power and knowledge on a subject, for example, the relationship between a mother and child would be considered unequal. Focuses here are on speech acts (e.g. whether one person tends to ask questions and the other speaker tends to answer), who chooses the topic, turn management, and how capable both speakers are of evaluating
Evaluation
Evaluation is systematic determination of merit, worth, and significance of something or someone using criteria against a set of standards.Evaluation often is used to characterize and appraise subjects of interest in a wide range of human enterprises, including the arts, criminal justice,...

 the subject.

Textual metafunction


The textual metafunction relates to mode; the internal organisation and communicative nature of a text. This comprises textual interactivity, spontaneity and communicative distance.

Textual interactivity is examined with reference to disfluencies such as hesitators, pauses and repetitions.

Spontaneity is determined through a focus on lexical density
Lexical density
In computational linguistics, lexical density constitutes the estimated measure of content per functional and lexical units in total. It is used in discourse analysis as a descriptive parameter which varies with register and genre...

, grammatical complexity, coordination
Coordination (linguistics)
In linguistics, a coordination is a complex syntactic structure that links together two or more elements, known as conjuncts or conjoins. Coordinators are typically: "and" and "or"...

 (how clauses are linked together) and the use of nominal groups
Nominal group (language)
In systemic functional grammar , a nominal group is a group of words which expresses an entity. A "nominal group" is widely regarded as synonymous to noun phrase in other grammatical models, although Halliday and some of his followers draw a theoretical distinction between the terms group and phrase...

. The study of communicative distance involves looking at a text’s cohesion
Cohesion (linguistics)
Cohesion is the grammatical and lexical relationship within a text or sentence. Cohesion can be defined as the links that hold a text together and give it meaning. It is related to the broader concept of coherence...

—that is, how it hangs together, as well as any abstract language it uses.

Cohesion is analysed in the context of both lexical and grammatical as well as intonational
Intonation (linguistics)
In linguistics, intonation is variation of pitch while speaking which is not used to distinguish words. It contrasts with tone, in which pitch variation does distinguish words. Intonation, rhythm, and stress are the three main elements of linguistic prosody...

 aspects with reference to lexical chain
Lexical chain
A lexical chain is a sequence of related words in writing, spanning short or long distances . A chain is independent of the grammatical structure of the text and in effect it is a list of words that captures a portion of the cohesive structure of the text...

s and, in the speech register, tonality, tonicity, and tone
Tone (linguistics)
Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning—that is, to distinguish or inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information, and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called...

. The lexical aspect focuses on sense relations and lexical repetitions, while the grammatical aspect looks at repetition of meaning shown through reference, substitution and ellipsis
Elliptical construction
In linguistics, ellipsis or elliptical construction refers to the omission from a clause of one or more words that would otherwise be required by the remaining elements.-Overview:...

, as well as the role of linking adverbial
Adverbial
In grammar an adverbial is a word or a group of words that modifies or tells us something about the sentence or the verb. The word adverbial is also used as an adjective, meaning 'having the same function as an adverb'...

s.

Systemic functional grammar deals with all of these areas of meaning equally within the grammatical system itself.

Children’s grammar


Michael Halliday (1973) outlined seven functions of language with regard to the grammar used by children:
  • the instrumental function serves to manipulate the environment, to cause certain events to happen;
  • the regulatory function of language is the control of events;
  • the representational function is the use of language to make statements, convey facts and knowledge, explain, or report to represent reality as the speaker/writer sees it;
  • the interactional function of language serves to ensure social maintenance;
  • the personal function is to express emotions, personality, and “gut-level” reactions;
  • the heuristic function used to acquire knowledge, to learn about the environment;
  • the imaginative function serves to create imaginary systems or ideas.

Relation to other branches of grammar


Halliday's theory sets out to explain how spoken and written texts construe meanings and how the resources of language are organised in open systems and functionally bound to meanings. It attempts to be a theory of language in use, creating systematic relations between choices and forms within the less abstract strata of grammar and phonology, on the one hand, and more abstact strata such as context of situation and context of culture on the other. It thus a radically different theory of language from others which explore less abstract strata as autonomous systems, the most notable here being Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky
Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

's. Since the principal aim of systemic-functional grammar is to represent the grammatical system as a resource for meaning making, it addresses some rather different concerns. For example, it does not try to address Chomsky's thesis that there is a "finite rule system which generates all and only the grammatical sentences in a language". Halliday's theory encourages a more open approach to the definition of language as a resource; rather than focus on grammaticality as such, a systemic-functional grammatical treatment focuses instead on the relative frequencies of choices made in uses of language and assumes that these relative frequencies reflect the probability that particluar paths through the available resources will be chosen rather than others. Thus, SFG does not describe language as a finite rule system, but rather as a system realised by instantiations which is continuously expanded by the very instantiations that realise it and which is continuously reproduced and recreated with use.

Another way to understand the difference in concerns between systemic-functional grammar and most variants of generative grammar is through Chomsky's claim that "linguistics is a sub-branch of psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

". Halliday investigates linguistics more as a sub-branch of sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

. SFG therefore pays much more attention to pragmatics
Pragmatics
Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the...

 and discourse semantics
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 than is traditionally the case in formalism
Formal grammar
A formal grammar is a set of formation rules for strings in a formal language. The rules describe how to form strings from the language's alphabet that are valid according to the language's syntax...

.

The orientation of systemic functional grammar has also served to encourage several further grammatical accounts that, on the one hand, deal with some perceived weaknesses of the theory and, on the other, similarly orient to issues not seen to be addressed in more structural accounts. Examples include, for example, the model of Richard Hudson
Richard Hudson
Richard “Dick” Hudson is a British linguist. He has lived in England for most of his life . He turned into a linguist via Loughborough Grammar School in Leicestershire , Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and the School of Oriental and African Studies...

 called word grammar
Word grammar
Word grammar has been developed by Richard Hudson since the 1980s. It started as a model of syntax, whose most distinctive characteristic is its use of dependency grammar, an approach to syntax in which the sentence's structure is almost entirely contained in the information about individual words,...

.

See also

  • Functional grammar
  • Nominal group
    Nominal group (language)
    In systemic functional grammar , a nominal group is a group of words which expresses an entity. A "nominal group" is widely regarded as synonymous to noun phrase in other grammatical models, although Halliday and some of his followers draw a theoretical distinction between the terms group and phrase...

  • Systemic linguistics
    Systemic linguistics
    Systemic functional linguistics is an approach to linguistics that considers language as a particular kind of system, a social semiotics system. It was developed by Michael Halliday, who took the notion of system from his teacher, J R Firth...

  • Thematic equative
    Thematic equative
    In systemic functional grammar, a thematic equative is a thematic resource in which two or more separate elements in a clause are grouped together to form a single constituent of the theme-plus-rheme structure...



Other significant systemic functional grammarians:
  • Ruqaiya Hasan
    Ruqaiya Hasan
    Ruqaiya Hasan is a professor of linguistics who has taught and held visiting positions at various universities in England, America and Australia. Her last appointment was at Macquarie University, Australia, from where she retired as Emeritus Professor in 1994...

  • Robin Fawcett
  • J.R. Martin
    J.R. Martin
    James Robert Martin, born 1950, is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney,. He is the leading figure in the 'Sydney School' of systemic functional linguistics. Martin is well known for his work on discourse analysis, genre, appraisal, multimodality and educational...

  • C.M.I.M. Matthiessen
    C.M.I.M. Matthiessen
    Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen is a Swedish-born linguist and a leading figure in the systemic functional linguistics school, having authored or co-authored more than 100 books, refereed journal articles, and papers in refereed conference proceedings, with contributions to three television programs...



Linguists also involved with the early development of the approach:
  • Randolph Quirk
  • Richard Hudson
    Richard Hudson
    Richard “Dick” Hudson is a British linguist. He has lived in England for most of his life . He turned into a linguist via Loughborough Grammar School in Leicestershire , Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and the School of Oriental and African Studies...


External links