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html A brief introduction to the work of

M.A.K. Halliday and Systemic-Functional Linguistics

M.A.K. Halliday has sought to create an approach to linguistics that treats language as foundational for the building of human experience. His insights and publications form an approach called systemic-functional linguistics. A student of JR Firth (a British linguists who himself was influenced by Malinowsky), Halliday's work stresses that language cannot be dissassociated from meaning. Systemic-functional linguistics (SFL), as it's name suggests, considers function and semantics as the basis of human language and communicative activity. Unlike structural approaches that privilege syntax, SFL-oriented linguists begin an analysis with social context and then look at how language acts upon, and is constrained and influenced by, this social context. A key concept in Halliday's approach is the "context of situation" which obtains "through a systematic relationship between the social environment on the one hand, and the functional organization of language on the other" (Halliday, 1985:11).


Tokens: the number of individual items/words Types: the different kinds of words used, e.g., lexical (content) items and grammatical (function) items Lexical Density: The ratio of lexical and grammatical items in an utterance or text; a "measure of information density within a text" (Yates, 1996:37). Take-home message: Written language is lexically dense, while oral language is syntactically more complex.


Textual: type/token ratios, vocabulary use, register Interpersonal: speech-function, exchange structure, involvement and detachment, personal reference, use of pronouns, "interactive items" showing the position of the speaker (just, whatever, basically, slightly), discourse markers (words that moderate/monitor the interaction, e.g., well, might, good, so, anyway) o A spoken corpus is primarily an "I", "You" text; the world as seen by you and me.Illustrates INVOLVEMENT

A written corpus often takes 3rd person and objective reporting styles (it, he, she, and passive voice).Illustrates DETACHMENT Ideational: propositional content; modality through (in English) modal auxiliaries, e.g., (in Yates, 1996:42) o modals of obligation (must, need, should) o modals of ability and possibility (can, could) o modals of epistemic possibility (may, might) o modals of volition and prediction (will, shall) o hypothetical modals: (would, should)

The ANALYSIS of CONTEXT is broken down into FIELD, TENOR, AND MODE, which collectively constitute the "register" of a text (from Halliday, 1985:12)

Field: what is happening, the nature of the social interaction taking place: what is it that the participants are engaged in, in which language figures as an essential component? Tenor: who is taking part; the social roles and relationships of participant, the status and roles of the participants Mode: the symbolic organization of the text, rhetorical modes (persuasive, expository, didactic, etc); the channel of communication, such as spoken/written, monologic/dialogic, +/- visual contact, computer-mediated communication/telephone/F2F, etc.

Recommended READINGS and WEBSITES What is Systemic-Functional Lingustics? , maintained by Mick O'Donnell. Some notes on Systemic-Functional linguistics, by Carol Chapelle A glossary of Systemic-Functional Terms, by Christian Matthiessen Select Bibliographies of Systemic Functional Linguistics, compiled by M.A.K. Halliday, Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen & Alice Caffarel Halliday, M.A.K., & Hasan, R. (1985). Language, context, and text: aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Halliday, M.A.K. (1985). Spoken and written language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.