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Systemic Functional Grammar

and Text Analysis

Register Theory
Systemic Functional Grammar
3 different kinds of grammar:
• Mental grammar (the rules in your head
you use by intuition)
• Prescriptive grammar (tells you what to do,
good for foreign language learners)
• Descriptive grammar (describes
phenomena found in discourse). SFG is a
descriptive grammar for analysing texts.
Variation in language
Three kinds of variation in language:

• User-related; dialect

• User-related; sociolect

• Use-related; register
Register Theory

• a theory of language variation according to situational

contexts (Halliday et al., 1964, Halliday & Hasan, 1989)
• focus: the systematic relation between a context of
situation and the language variety used in that context -
• the notion of register: used by other people and in other
contexts, e.g., discourse studies (Ghadessy, 1988),
translation studies (Hatim & Mason, 1990), contrastive
linguistics (Biber 95)
Functional variation

• functional varieties are in principle available to

all speakers (whereas regional and social
varieties are not)
• obviously: the more functional varieties you are
able to use, the better
• but you must be able to use the right register in
the appropriate context
Exercise 1

• Try to find features that distinguish one

register from another.

• Can we classify these features somehow?

Examples A

Line a gas burner with foil to protect it from aubergine juice.

Turn flame to medium-low. Place aubergine directly over the
flame and let it get charred on one side. Keep turning the
aubergine until the entire skin looks burnt and the vegetable turns
limp and soft. Peel away the charred skin under cold, running water.
Chop the aubergine pulp.

Operate the device only on 3 V DC with two R6 batteries (size AA)

batteries. For AC operation, use the AC-E311/E314 AC power
Adaptor. Do not use any other type.
For car battery operation, use the car battery cord recommended; do
not use any other type.
Examples B

Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.

At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was
dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Muskateer
Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would
not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw
slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel. A little green
light flashed in his eye, signalling a right turn he had resolved never to
make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He hap flipped a
coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was decided-upon
suicide. In fact it was a New Year‘s resolution.

Olbrich, Joseph Maria, b. Troppau 1867, d. Düsseldorf 1908.

After attending the State Schools of Arts and Crafts in Vienna,
he studies under Carl von Hasenauer in Vienna. ... In 1899 he
was summoned to Darmstadt where he was given the opportunity
of developing a synthesis of the Arts and Crafts and Garden Cities
Movement in a great civic Gesamtkunstwerk. ... In 1907 O. enlarged
the artists‘ colony on Mathildenhöhe around the Wedding Tower.
Three parameters to describe any register:

• Field of discourse

• Mode of discourse

• Tenor of discourse
Parameters of variation according to
situation (register):

field, tenor,mode (Halliday & Hasan, 1989)

• field: refers to what is happening, to the nature of the social action

that is taking place: what is it the participants are engaged in, what
is the text about?
• tenor: refers to who is taking part, to the nature of the participants,
their statuses and roles: what kinds of role relationship obtain
among the participants, including permanent and temporary
relationships of one kind or another…
• mode: refers to what part the language is playing, what it is that the
participants are expecting the language to do for them in that
situation: the symbolic organization of the text, the status that is has,
…, including the channel...
Field, Tenor, Mode

If we wanted to determine the context of situation of a text

applying these terms, it would be a bit difficult…
…we need more fine grained distinctions.

• field: experiential domain, goal-orientation (short-term

vs. long-term), social activity
• tenor: agentive role, social role (hierarchic vs. non-
hierarchic), social distance (minimal vs. maximal)
• mode: language role (ancillary vs. constitutive),
channel (graphic vs. phonic), medium (spoken vs.
Register Theory: system network of field, tenor and mode

- experiential domain
short term
field - goal orientation
long term
- social activity
- agentive role
- social role
tenor non-hierarchic
- social distance
- language role
ancillary phonic
mode - channel
written graphic
- medium visual contact
no visual contact
Field of discourse
With the discourse parameter of field we describe the activity of the
interactants in a situation. What is the discourse about?

• experiential domain e.g. football match, shopping, education

– Lexis, indexical lexical items
– tense, aspect
– particular grammatical patterns (e.g., transitivity)
• goal-orientation, e.g., argumentation, narration, instruction
– mood
– ellipsis
– conjunctive relations
– patterns of thematic development
• social activity, e.g., consumption (e.g., manual), exchange (e.g., service
How is field of discourse reflected in the language? Some examples

Instructional registers
• Lexically: nuts, bolts, lever, adjust
• Grammatically:
– imperatives: Pour the milk into a bowl vs. You should pour the milk into
a bowl.
– omission of object: Bake at 220°.

Scientific and technical registers

• Grammatically:
– passives plus nominalization: Rectification of this fault is achieved by…
vs. You can rectify this fault if you insert …

Newspaper registers, e.g. headlines

– Omission of articles and finite verbs, e.g., Development Plan for
Suburbs Fought
Tenor of discourse
With the discourse parameter of tenor we describe the relationship
between the interactants in a situation. Who is taking part?

• Agentive role (e.g. vendor-customer; girlfriend-boyfriend)

-specialist language

• Social role (e.g. class, gender, age, level of expertise)

-grammatical and lexical means of expressing politeness

• Social distance (formal vs. informal)

-use of accents or dialects
Mode of discourse
With the discourse parameter of mode we describe how the interactants comunicate.
What role is language playing in this situation?

• Language role (constitutive or ancillary)

– ellipsis
– mood
– Tense

• Channel (graphic vs. phonic)

• Medium (written or spoken)

– pronouns vs. full words
– exophoric vs. endophoric reference
– different types of cohesion in general
– face-to-face interaction allows body language
– non-face-to-face interaction (e.g., on the telephone) does not
Mode of discourse: Medium
• written:
– situational: written medium presumes the absence of
addressees in the situation
– language: more explicitness, e.g., explicit reference,
complete sentences
– cannot use intonation, stress, rhythm
• spoken:
– cannot use orthography and punctuation
– incomplete sentences
– long sentences
– less explicit reference
Examples C
S1 yes please
S2 can I have these two like that
S1 yes
S1 one´s forty-five
S1 one´s twenty-five
S2 And have you got the…of…
S1 yes
S1 how many would you like
S2 four please
S1 two of each?
S2 what have you got
S1 uh…there´s two different designs on the …(shows cover)
S2 I´ll take two of each
S1 uhum
S1 right… that´s a dollar seventy thank you
S1 here we are
S2 thank you
S1 thank you
S1 dollar seventy that´s two four and one´s five
thank you very much
S2 thank you
S1 they´ll be right I´ll fix those up in a moment
S2 okay
Example C
• Field: stamps, buying and selling
• Tenor: customer and post-office clerk
• Mode: face-to-face, across counter

Of course we can be much more explicit!

Register Theory
Thus, stuying how people use language
forces us to recognize, first, that linguistic
behaviour is goal oriented (we can only
make sense of talk if we assume it to be
purposeful); an, second, that linguistic
behaviour takes place within both a
situation and a culture, in relation to which
it can be evaluated as appropriate or
inappropriate. Eggins 2004:29
• Register is reflected in lexical and grammatical
• Register analysis means lexico-grammatical
• More precisely: the relative frequency of
particular lexico-grammatical features
• Framework for doing this: Systemic Functional
Please read chapter 3 Register Variation
• Halliday, MAK; Hasan, Ruqaiya (1989):
Language, Context and Text: aspects of
language in a social-semiotic perspective,
Oxford: OUP.
(Liegt als Kopiervorlage im Handapparat der
• Eggins, Suzanne (2004): An Introduction
to Systemic Functional Linguistics, New
York: Continuum.
• Halliday, MAK; Hasan, Ruqaiya (1989):
Language, Context and Text: aspects of
language in a social-semiotic perspective,
Oxford: OUP.