LINGUIST List 17.1284|
Wed Apr 26 2006
Review: General Ling/Ling Theories: Halliday (2005)
Editor for this issue: Lindsay Butler
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Message 1: On Grammar
From: Qichang Ye <yqc58yahoo.com.cn>
Subject: On Grammar
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3090.html
AUTHOR: Halliday, Michael A. K.
EDITOR: Webster, Jonathan J.
TITLE: On Grammar
SERIES: Volume 1 in the Collected Works of M. A. K. Halliday
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
Qichang, Ye, Department of English, School of Humanities and Social
Sciences, Beijing Jiaotong University
This first volume in Collected Works of M. A. K. Halliday series
contains fifteen papers, with the addition of a new piece entitled ''A
personal perspective'' as the introduction. The papers are pieced
together chronologically according to topic, and divided into 3
sections. The whole volume is oriented towards his comprehensive
depiction of language, that is, the systemic functional grammar (SFG).
The title of each section in this review is inherited from the editor's
Section One -- Early papers on basic concepts
The first section possesses five papers from 1957 to 1966. The basic
schema and fundamental concepts of SFG are elaborated in these
papers, such as unit, structure, class and system.
Published in 1957, the first paper, ''Some aspects of systematic
description and comparison in grammatical analysis'', discusses
theoretical considerations which developed out of the body of ideas
that went into his doctoral dissertation. The particular attention is paid
to the two types of categories: units and classes (p. 25ff). And these
concepts will receive a detailed discussion in Chapter 2.
As the center in this section, chapter 2 [''Categories of the theory of
grammar'' (1961)] reflects Firth's influence on Halliday's main idea of
how language works at the level of grammar (p. 37). In this paper, the
author sets out the following fundamental categories for the theory of
grammar: unit, structure, class and system, which relate to one
another and to the data along three distinct scales of abstraction,
including rank, exponence and delicacy, with reference to the
relations between grammar and lexis and between grammar and
Along this line of thinking, the nature of grammar study is descriptive,
the object for description is text (either spoken or written), description
should relate the text to the categories, and the descriptive process
naturally involves a number of abstraction. The theory also requires
that linguistic events should be accounted for at a number of different
levels: form (two related levels: grammar and lexis), substance (either
phonic or graphic) and context (i.e. an interlevel relation form to
extratextual features). ''Language has formal meaning and contextual
meaning'' (p. 40), the formal meaning of an item is its operation in the
network of formal relations. Consequently, contextual meaning is
dependent on formal meaning. Hence, language at the level of
grammar is patterns of meaningful organization: certain regularities
are exhibited over certain stretches of language activity. In the study
of language as a whole, Halliday stresses the importance of form (p.
56), it is through grammar and lexis that language activity is
As regards the relations among the four categories (unit, structure,
class and system), Halliday says, ''each of the four is specifically
related to, and logically derivable from, each of the others. There is no
relation of precedence or logical priority among them. They are all
mutually defining'' (p. 41).
The third paper (chapter 3) in this section called ''Class in relation to
the axes of chain and choice in language'' (1963), discusses the
relation of class to structure, the chain axis in relation to system, the
''Class'' refers to ''to a set of items which are alike in their own
structure: that is, in the way that they themselves are made up of
items of lower rank'' (p. 96). The two aspects are to be considered
here: (1) the relation of class to structure (the ''chain'' axis) and to
system (the ''choice'' axis), and (2) the relation of class to the two
kinds of structure found in language, the place-ordered and the depth-
ordered. The former is composed of a limited number of different
elements occurring nonrecursively (p. 101), while the latter is, as a
combination of elements, repeated ''in depth'', it is recursive. A further
division is made among the recursive structures. Those which cut
across the scale of rank are called ''rankshift'' (p. 102) in contrast to
ones which do not.
The fourth paper [''Some notes on 'deep' grammar'' (1966)] treats the
relationship between structural and systemic descriptions in terms of
syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations.
The last paper in this section [''The concept of rank: a reply'' (1966)]
replies to arguments against rank grammar put forward by P. H.
Matthews. Here Halliday repeats that ''By a rank grammar I mean one
which specifies and labels a fixed number of layers in the hierarchy of
constituents, such that any constituent, and any constitute, can be
assigned to one or other of the specified layers, or ranks'' (p. 118). In
this way, on the structure axis, rank is a form of generalization about
bracketing, and makes it easier to avoid the imposition of unnecessary
structure (p. 120). However, on one point both Halliday and Matthews
agree, namely, that rank grammar is only a hypothesis about the
nature of language.
Section two -- Word-clause-text
Works in the second section span two decades from the mid-1960s to
The application of SFG is carried out in the analysis and description of
patterns at various linguistic levels ranging from lexical item to clause
to text. The lexical item is defined by reference to collocation, clause is
treated as lexicogrammatical construct, and text should be considered
in context of situation. Though they are different in kind, yet they are
analogous in nature and systemic in orientation.
The aim of Chapter 6 [''Lexis as a linguistic level'' (1966)] is to consider
briefly the nature of lexical patterns and to suggest that lexis may be
thought of as within linguistic form and not as a level within grammar,
but has the same status as grammar to semantics. The lexical and
grammar patterns are different not merely in delicacy but in kind.
Halliday holds that this view is implicit in Firth's recognition
of ''collocational level'' (p. 158). This view holds (1) that in
lexicogrammatical statements collocational restrictions intersect with
structural ones; (2) that there is a definable sense in which ''more
abstraction'' is involved in grammar than is possible in lexis, and (3)
that ''the lexical item is not necessarily coextensive on either axis with
the item, or rather with any of the items, identified and accounted for
in the grammar'' (p. 163). However, this division is for certain
purposes, it does not imply there is a clear-cut between the
grammatical and the lexical. Language items are ''grammatical items
when described grammatically, as entering (via classes) into closed
systems and ordered structures, and lexical items when described
lexically, as entering into open sets and linear collocations'' (p. 165). In
a lexical analysis, what is under focus is the extent to which an item is
specified by its collocational environment'' (p. 166). It is also the
collocational restriction that enables us to consider grouping lexical
items into lexical sets. ''The criterion for the definition of the lexical set
is thus the syntactic (downward) criterion of potentiality of occurrence.
Just as the grammatical system (of classes, including one-item classes)
is defined by reference to structure, so the lexical set (of items) can
be defined by reference to collocation.'' (p. 166).
Chapter 7 draws clearly the outline of the Hallidayan configuration of
SFL under the guidance of the three metafunctions. The
predecessors such as Malinowski and Buhler, in his view, were just
trying to get some models of language to use them outside the
linguistic domains, say, sociological or psychological inquiries, and not
intended to clarify the nature of linguistic structure. At the same time,
the demands made by the language user on language are also
ignored in language studies, in other words, the aspect of language in
use did not deserve recognition for its importance in language
investigation. Halliday insists that ''the nature of language is closely
related to the demands that we make on it, the functions it has to
serve'' (p. 173), since ''the particular form taken by the grammatical
system of language is closely related to the social and personal needs
that language is required to serve'' (p. 174).
An act of speech, says Halliday, is a simultaneous selection from
among a large number of interrelated options, that is, the meaning
potential of language. The system of available options is
the ''grammar'' of the language. These networks of options correspond
to certain basic functions of language: the expressions of ''content''
(ideational), the establishment and maintenance of social relations
(interpersonal), and the textual function (pp. 174-5). Halliday stresses
that ''any one clause is built up of a combination of structures deriving
from these three functions'' (p. 176).
Halliday proceeds to show how each of the functions is reflected in the
structure of the English clause, beginning with the realization of
ideational meaning in terms of transitivity structure, involving the
linguistic expression of process, participant and circumstance. Halliday
also examines how interpersonal meaning is captured in the mood
structure of the clause, and how the textual function is expressed in
both thematic and information structures.
Chapter 8 [''Modes of meaning and modes of expression: types of
grammatical structure, and their determination by different semantic
functions'' (1979)] is a further explication of the three metafunctions
and the relations among them by using Pike's particle, wave and field
in distinguishing between experiential structures which are
constituency-based (particle-like), interpersonal structures which are
prosodic (field-like) and textual structures which are periodic (wave-
like). From this perspective, language, as a semiotic, is considered as
a stratified or stratal system. Three different aspects to investigate any
one part of the system are therefore established: at its own level, from
above and from below (p. 197). Technically speaking, semantics is
realized as lexicogrammar, and then lexicogrammar is realized as
phonology. Semantics at its own level is generalized as functional
modes of meaning (i.e. the three metafunctions). Halliday points out it
is here that the two characters of the semantic system are standing
out: ''within each component, the networks show a high degree of
internal constraint: that is, of interdependence among the various
options involved. The selections made by the speaker at one point
tend to determine, and be determined by, the selections he makes at
another'' (p. 200). While between one component and another, there
is very little constraint of this kind: little restriction on the options
available, and little effect on their interpretation. What are above the
semantic system, writes Halliday, are contexts of situation. The
features of a context of situation are expressed in terms
of ''field'', ''tenor'' and ''mode'' in SFG (p. 201). Ideational meanings
reflect the field of social action, interpersonal meanings, the tenor of
social relationships, and textual meanings, the mode of operation of
the language within the situation. What Halliday emphasizes here is
that ''it is at the lower level (i.e. in their grammatical realization) that
these functional components are made manifest in the linguistic
structure'' (p. 217).
Chapter 9 [''Text semantics and clause grammar: How is a text like a
clause?'' (1981)] is a long article composed of two works: one is ''Text
semantics and clause grammar: some patterns of realization'' and the
other, ''How is a text like a clause''. In this chapter, Halliday considers
a text to be a semantic rather than a formal lexicogrammatical entity.
Having insisted that a text is not like a clause, Halliday continues to
point out how they are alike. ''In 'scale-and-category' terminology, the
relationship of clause to text is one of exponence as well as one of
rank'' (p. 221). Consequently, a text is not ''like'' a clause in the way
that a clause is like a word or a syllable like phoneme. ''But by the
same token, just because the text differ on two dimensions, both rank
(size level) and exponence (stratal level), there can exist between
them a relation of another kind: an analogic or metaphorical similarity.
A clause stands as a kind of metaphor for a text'' (p. 222). The text
possesses the following properties: it has structure (i.e. a
configuration of functions) (such as narrative, market and shop
transaction); coherence (i.e. it is a whole that is more than the sum of
its parts); function (i.e. a tripartite framework for interpreting the
register: field, tenor and mode); development (i.e. a text is a dynamic
process), and character (i.e. it has the generic features characteristic
of the register associated with a particular alignment of the features of
the context of situation). That is to say, ''a text is a polyphonic
composition of ideational, interpersonal and textual 'voices''' (p. 230).
In terms of functions, the above-mentioned properties of a text are
also properties of a clause, and the notion of text structure is clearly
modeled on that of clause structure. In this sense, ''a clause is a
configuration of functions; so is a text'' (p. 231).
Since the three metafunctions can be understood as components of
the semantic system and a text can be regarded as a semantic unit, it
follows that these components will be present in the text just as they
are in the lexicogrammatical entities, the wordings, by which the text is
realized. The different facets of the clause-to-text lie in two aspects:
their relationship in size and their relationship in abstraction. For the
reason that both text and clause possess an ideational structure; an
interpersonal structure and a textual structure (pp. 241-243),
metaphorically speaking, ''a clause is a text in microcosm, a 'universe
of discourse' of its own in which the semiotic properties of a text
reappear on a miniature scale'' (p. 246).
Chapter 10 [''Dimensions of discourse analysis: grammar'' (1985)]
illustrates the application of systemic-functional grammar to the
analysis of a sample of spoken language, i.e. a discussion between an
adult and three nine-year-old schoolgirls. Halliday points out
that ''systemic grammar is an analysis-synthesis grammar based on
the paradigmatic notion of choice. It is built on the work of Saussure,
Malinowski and Firth, Hjelmslev, and Prague School, and the
American anthropological linguistics Boas, Sapir, and Whorf; the main
inspiration being J. R. Firth'' (p. 262). With the goal to show how the
text derives from the linguistic system and how it comes to mean what
it does, the analysis is divided into ten steps, ranging from
transcription of intonation and rhythm, through lexicogrammatical
analysis, to description of context of situation in terms of field, tenor
and mode (p. 262-3):
1. transcription and analysis of intonation and rhythm
2. analysis into clauses and clause complexes, showing
interdependencies and logical-semantic relations
3. analysis of clauses, and clause complexes, for thematic (Theme-
4. comparison of clauses and information units, and analysis of the
latter for information (Given-New) structure
5. analysis of finite clauses for mood, showing Subject and Finite
6. analysis of all clause for transitivity, showing process type and
participant and circumstantial functions
7. analysis of groups and phrases (verbal group, nominal group,
adverbial group, prepositional phrase)
8. analysis of grammatical and lexical cohesion
9. identification, rewording and reanalysis of grammatical metaphors
10. description of context of situation, and correlation with features of
The three points are reached from this analysis (p. 285): firstly, there
are many different purposes for analyzing a text, and the scope and
direction of the analysis will vary accordingly, but the guiding principle
is to select and develop whatever is needed for the particular purpose
in hand; secondly, this kind of analysis does not naturally expel other
kinds of interpretation; and thirdly, the lexicogrammatical analysis is
only a part of the task, hence, the analysis of the grammar does not
constitute the interpretation of a text.
Section 3 -- Construing and enacting
In chapter 11 [''On the Ineffability of Grammatical Categories (1984)],
Halliday argues that because language is an evolved system rather
than a designed one, it rests on principles that are ineffable. The
ineffability of grammatical categories lies in the nature of language as
object. Halliday asserts that ''to define a linguistic term by encoding is
relatively simple'' (p. 292), while to define it by decoding is a very
different, and a very difficult, task if not possible. Certainly, this
problem is not confined to linguistics but to all sciences.
However, in the case of metalinguistic matters, linguistics presents a
special case. ''It is not just another science. It is 'language turned back
on itself', to use Firth's (very British) expression; or, in Weinreich's
(very American) formulation, 'language as its own metalanguage'. As a
consequence, where other sciences need two terms, we need three:
one for the phenomenon, and two for the metaphenomenon, one
grammatical and the other semantic'' (p. 296). Therefore, a
metalanguage has to be created, and created out of natural language,
in order to assign a Value to a Token, that is, ''the metalanguage
being a form of the same semiotic system that it is also being used to
describe'' (p. 298). The problem of self-reference is still an important
one, but the real problem lies in the nature of language as object, and
particularly the nature of lexicogrammar. The categories of grammar,
for instance Subject, (including all other terms in grammar) are
ineffable just because they are hidden from view. Here Halliday
borrows Whorf's concept of ''cryptotype'' to refer to the
phenomenon. ''It is not because they are hidden from the linguist that
grammatical categories are hard to define; once the linguist has found
them, the fact that they had escaped his notice ceases to matter. The
significance of this concept of a cryptotype is that it is something that
escapes the notice of the speakers of the language'' (p. 302). Why is
this case? According to Halliday, ''our ability to use language depends
critically on our not being conscious of doing so -- which is the truth
that every language learner has to discover, and the contradiction
from which every language teacher has to escape'' (p. 302). As a
necessity, a division between conscious language and unconscious
language is made. ''While the complexity of conscious language is
dense and crystalline, formed by a closely-packed construction of
words and word clusters, the complexity of unconscious language is
fluid and choreographic'' (p. 303). Therefore, the meaning of a typical
grammatical category has no counterpart in our conscious
representation of things. ''There can be no exact paraphrase of
Subject or Actor or Theme -- because there is no language-
independent clustering of phenomena in our experience to which they
correspond'' (p. 303). Since language is an evolved rather than a
designed system, it is ''that which makes the category of Subject
learnable is also that which ensures that it will be learnable'' (p. 306).
The ineffable relate directly to the semantic system that is ''above'' the
grammar, that which interprets the ideologies of the culture and codes
them in a wordable form. ''In other words, the context for
understanding the Subject is not the clause, which is its grammatical
environment, but the text, which is its semantic environment'' (p. 308).
In this sense, we can only talk metonymically and metaphorically about
Chapter 12 [''Spoken and written modes of meaning'' (1987)] succeeds
in further explaining the differences between unconscious and
spontaneous spoken discourse, and its more conscious and self-
monitored counterpart, written language.
Halliday claims that the spoken language has not received its
deserved emphasis in the past studies. ''The investigators of the fifties
and early sixties were not concerned with the particular place of
spoken language in the learning process'' (p. 324).
Based on his own teaching practice, Halliday maintains that each of
them (either spoken or written) is highly organized and complex in its
own way. Halliday describes written language as ''crystalline'', and
spoken language as ''choreographic'', just as he does in Chapter 11.
In his view, spoken language possesses the most unexpected feature,
that is, the complexity of some of the sentence structures. This reflects
in two apects: patterns of parataxis and hypotaxis. With an in-depth
comparison between spoken and written examples, the result
displays: the relationship between spoken and written is not a simple
dichotomy but a continuum. Along this continuum, much of the
difference of texture can be accounted for as the effect of two related
lexicosyntactic variables. ''The written version has a much higher
lexical density; at the same time, it has a much simpler sentential
structure'' (p. 328). In grammatical intricacy, the spoken text has a
lower degree of lexical density, but a higher degree of grammatical
intricacy. Halliday further demonstrates that this intricacy is more a
characteristic of the most unconscious spontaneous uses of
language. ''The more natural, un-self-monitored the discourse, the
more intricate the grammatical patterns that can be woven'' (p. 335-6).
Hence, ''the complexity of written language is crystalline, whereas the
complexity of spoken language is choreographic. The complexity of
spoken language is in its flow, the dynamic mobility whereby each
figure provides a context for the next one, not only defining its point of
departure but also setting the conventions by reference to which it is
to be interpreted'' (p. 336).
A closer look at the difference reveals that spoken English is marked
by intricacy in the clause complex, written English is marked by
complexity in the nominal group.
As a conclusion to this chapter, Halliday writes: ''speech and writing
will appear, then, as different ways of meaning: speech as spun out,
flowing, choreographic, oriented towards events (doing, happening,
sensing, saying, being), processlike, intricate, with meanings related
serially; writing as dense, structured, crystalline, oriented towards
things (entities, objectified processes), productlike, tight, with
meanings related as components'' (p. 350).
''How do you mean?'' (1992) (Chapter 13) takes meaning as a mode
of action occurring at the intersection of the conscious and material
modes of experience. The distinction between realization and
instantiation is first made. Instantiation is ''the move between the
system and the instance; it is an intrastratal relationship, that is, it
does not involve a move between strata'' (p. 352), while realization is
prototypically an interstratal relationship; meanings are realized as
wordings, wordings realized as sound (or soundings). Halliday argues
that ''in humans, meaning develops, in the individual, before the stage
of language proper; it begins with what I have called 'protolanguage'''
(p. 353). This protolanguage evolves out of the contradiction between
the material and the conscious. Our experience is at once both
material and conscious; and it is the contradiction between the
material and the conscious that gives these phenomena their
semogenic potential. ''What is construed in this way, by this total
semogenic process, is an elastic space defined by the two dimensions
given above: the 'inner' dimension of reflective / active, 'I think' as
against 'I want', and the 'outer' dimension of intersubjective /
objective, 'you and me' as against 'he, she, it''' (p. 355). How to free
the symbolic dimension from this semogenic potential? Halliday
writes: ''by 'grammaticalizing' the process of meaning -- reconstruing it
so that the symbolic organization is freed from direct dependence on
the phenomenal, and can develop a structure of its own -- the
collective human consciousness created a semiotic space which is
truly elastic; in that it can expand into any number of dimensions'' (p.
355-6). In Halliday's view, it is the ''explosion burst into grammar'' that
has made this possible: ''an explosion that bursts apart the two facets
of the protolinguistic sign. The result is a semiotic of a new kind: a
stratified, tristratal system in which meaning is 'twice cooked', thus
incorporating a stratum of 'pure' content form'' (p. 356). These are in
fact the three modes or dimensions of semohistory: the phylogenetic,
the ontogenetic and logogenetic. Thus, the possibility of semiosis
(Halliday calls ''the possibility of meaning'' or ''the possibility of acting
semiotically'') arises at the intersection of the material (or phenomenal)
with the conscious, as the members of a species learn to construct
themselves (''society'') in action and to construe their experience in
reflection (p. 362). It is the processes of realization and instantiation
that make possible this dynamic open system we call language.
Chapter 14 is ''Grammar and daily life: concurrence and
complementary'' (1998). Just as the title suggests, a grammar is
resource for meaning, the critical functioning semiotic by means of
which everyday life is pursued. It therefore embodies a theory of
everyday life. ''Grammar is what brings about the distinctively human
construction of reality; and by the same token, grammar makes it
possible for us to reflect on this reflection'' (p. 370). In this
sense, ''ways of saying'' is consistent with ''ways of meaning''.
However, such frames of consistency are always accompanied with
frames of inconsistency. The latter is regions where the grammar
construes a pattern out of tensions and contradictions -- where the
different ''voices'' of experience conflict. Put it in another way, ''the
grammar's theory of experience embodies complementarity as well as
concurrence? It is the combination of these two perspectives --
concurrence and complementarity -- that is the salient characteristic of
the grammar of daily life'' (p. 374).
Halliday notices that there are three related developments in grammar
First, the grammar developed a battery of resources such that any
representation of a process can be construed in all possible patterns
of information flow: either in a linear movement from Theme to Rheme
or in a to-and-fro between Given and New.
The second feature is the motif of the ''phrasal verb''.
''Thirdly, there is an analogous pattern whereby one of the other
elements in the clause (i.e. one which could but would not necessarily
come at the end) is marked out for news value by having a preposition
added to it''.
These three characteristics are also the features of the grammar of
daily life, and all of them reflect ''unconscious, spontaneous, everyday
linguistic encounters'', they are ''a form of discourse in which the flow
of information will typically be rendered explicit rather than being taken
for granted'' (p. 377).
Theoretically speaking, Chapter 15 [''On grammar and grammatics''
(1996)] is the summary of the whole volume at the macro-level, the
aim is to state the relations between grammar, linguistics and
language. Halliday says ''grammar is part of language; so, within that
general domain, the study of grammar may be called grammatics'' (p.
386). The study of grammar can be taken from different directions
(e.g. the emergence of grammar through time, grammar in semiotic
function, grammar as theory). In a stratified semiotic system, the
grammar can also be used to look at things from the following points
of view: '' (i) 'from above' -- similarity of function in context; (ii) 'from
below' -- similarity of formal make-up; and (iii) 'from the same level' --
fit with the other categories that are being construed in the overall
organization of the system'' (p. 398). The ''trinocular'' principle in the
grammatics is, in fact, the compromise of the ideational, interpersonal
and textual metafunctions. This compromise relies on realization and
instantiation. It is here that Halliday reasserts the importance of the
two among the key concepts in SFG: ''Realization is the name given to
the relationship between the strata; the verb realize faces 'upwards',
such that the 'lower' stratum realizes the 'higher' one...Instantiation is
the relationship between the system and the instance; the instance is
said to instantiate the system'' (pp. 410-1).
What is of more theoretical importance is Halliday also calls our
attention to the fact: ''there is only one set of phenomena here, not
two; langue (the linguistic system) differs from parole (the linguistic
instance) only in the position taken up by the observer. Langue is
parole seen from a distance, and hence on the way to being theorized
about'' (p. 412). Nevertheless, a grammatics is not something
dispensable, to use natural language requires a grammatics: ''a way of
modeling natural language that makes sense in this particular context''
The content presented in this volume is a brief sketch of Halliday's half
a century's practice and study of language.
The contemporary linguistic arena is usually divided into two
approaches to the study of language: the socially oriented and the
psychologically oriented. Kress (1976: vii) is right when he puts SFG
under the first. Halliday (1978: 18) himself writes: ''a functional theory
is not a theory about the mental processes involved in the learning of
the mother tongue; it is a theory about the social processes involved''.
In the origins of Halliday's theory three names figure prominently:
Malinowski, Firth, and Whorf. And their influences on SFG can be
seen everywhere in this volume.
From Malinowski, Halliday takes over the definition of meaning as
function in context, and accepts the former's characterization of
language as multi-functional, hence, the three metafunctions of SFG.
From Whorf, Halliday concentrates on the relation of language and
From Firth, Halliday derives most of all. Kress (1976:xiv) points
out: ''the importance of Firth for Halliday lies in the attempt which Firth
made to provide the linguistic component to go with the sociolinguistic
insights of Malinowski''. The two important categories are: context of
situation (i.e. the concept of register in Halliday's work) and system
(the major formal category in Halliday's theory). Undoubtedly, these
are not the only influences. Halliday himself writes (Chapter 2, pp. 37-
8): ''the theory sketched out here derives most of all from the work of
J. R. Firth''. It is perhaps because of this that SFG is labeled the Neo-
Firthian. Such a label often obscures the main thrust of Halliday's
thinking about language. In fact, from his earliest statements (Chapter
1 in this volume shows this clearly) on, Halliday attempts to provide a
coherent theoretical framework for his descriptive linguistic work, while
Firth failed to do this. In this sense, SFG, just like any theory of
language, is not created out of nothing.
Halliday's method has been applied extensively to many research
domains, among them, educational research (Lemke, 1995; Cope &
kalantzis, 2000); critical discourse analysis (Kress & Hodge, 1979;
Toolan, 2002; Fairclough, 2003); visual communication (O'Toole,
1994; Kress & Leeuwen, 1996; Leeuwen & Jewitt, 2001); and
ecosocial semiotics (Thibault, 2004a, 2004b). This multiple application
of SFG has undoubtedly been the source of different worries both
inside and outside SFG domain. Here the reviewer's attention is on
McGregor (1997) worries about the price that SFG shall pay or has
paid in the drive to cast the widest possible net the fundamentals (he
calls ''the grammatical core'') will be lost or have been lost sight of.
This anxiety is unnecessary. On the one hand, almost ten years'
practice has demonstrated that the studies at the levels of
multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity, have
strengthened rather than weakened SFG, the ''grammatical core'' did
not disappear into these bushes. On the other hand, the development
of any branch of language studies can be only carried out in the
network of various disciplines. A discipline is not an island. SFG's
significance just lies in the interface between language and society.
McGregor's worry is both different and disciplinarily restricted when
compared with Chomsky's anxiety. Chomsky (1985/2001: F37) states
that he has been puzzled by two problems concerning human
knowledge for a long time: ''Plato's problem'' and ''Orwell's problem''.
To the latter, Chomsky (ibid, p. F39) suggests that the solution is to
discover the institutional and other factors that block insight and
understanding in crucial areas of our lives and ask why they are
effective. He also realizes the importance of the issue: ''But unless we
can come to understand Orwell's problem and to recognize its
significance in our own social and cultural life, and to overcome it, the
chances are slim that the human species will survive long enough to
discover the answer to Plato's problem or others that challenge the
intellect and the imagination'' (ibid, p. F41).
This kind of despair has been changed into the past challenges, the
present tasks, and the already-got achievements in the domain of
SFG. In terms of both challenge and task, Halliday (p.383, this
volume) does not hesitate to say: ''to be a linguist is inevitably to be
concerned with the human condition; it takes a linguist of the stature
of Sydney Lamb to explain how so much of what constitutes the
human condition is construed, transmitted, maintained -- and
potentially transformed -- by means of language''. He describes
(especially in this volume) how grammar enables us, unconsciously, to
construe our reality, and interpret our experience, while grammatics
makes it possible for us to reflect consciously on how this theory of
our human experience works.
As to the already-got achievements, the evidence is the
aforementioned application of SFG in different orientations.
Discourse (i.e. ''language in use'' or ''parole''), according to Heidegger
and Halliday, is the only foundation upon which a linguistic theory
should be built. The priority of parole over langue is shared by both of
them. It is held by the present reviewer that this common
understanding shared by both of them is, not only interesting, but also
revealing, though it took place differently both in time and domain.
Heidegger subordinates issues of language to issues of Dasein
(German: being-there). Dasein is broadly every kind of being or
existence and narrowly the kind of being that belongs to persons.
Since human being must have a place there in the world, hence,
Dasein can be understood as ''being-in-the-world''. This Dasein is
roughly equal to Halliday's ''the social man'' (1978). Discourse is
defined by Heidegger (1927/1962: 203-4) as ''the articulation of
intelligibility'', or more precisely as ''the articulation of intelligibility of
being-in-the-world...according to signification'' (ibid, p. 206). The
distinction between langue and parole is certainly not denied or
overlooked by Heidegger. It is evident that discourse here is really in
the sense of Saussure's ''parole''. Nevertheless, the existential-
ontological foundation of language is discourse. Heidegger
(1979/1985:261) emphasizes: ''language is nothing but a distinctive
possibility of the very being of Dasein''. Ontologically speaking, ''there
is language only because there is discourse, and not conversely''
(ibid, p. 265).
Turning back to Halliday, we are told: ''there is only one set of
phenomena here, not two; langue (the linguistic system) differs from
parole (the linguistic instance) only in the position taken up by the
observer. Langue is parole seen from a distance, and hence on the
way to being theorized about'' (p. 412, this volume).
Then, what is the place of SFG in relation to discourse? Only a
perspective. Obviously, this is Halliday's answer.
Chomsky, Noam (1985/2001) Knowledge of Language: Its Nature,
Origin, and Use Beijing/Westport, CT.: Foreign Language Teaching
and Research Press/Greenwood Publishing Group.
Cope, Bill & Mary Kalantzis (eds.) (2000) Multiliteracies: Literacy
learning and the design of social futures; London & New York:
Halliday, M. A. K. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Social
Interpretation of Language and Meaning London: Edward Arnold
Heidegger, Martin (1927/1962) Being and Time trans. J. Macquarrie &
E. Robinson New York: Harper & Row.
Heidegger, Martin (1979/1985) History of the Concept of Time:
Prolegomena tr. by Theodore Kisiel Bloomington: Indiana University
Kress, Gunther (1976) ''Introduction'' in Halliday: System and Function
in Language ed. by Gunther Kress Oxford: Oxford University Press: vii-
Lemke, J. L. (1995) Textual Politics: Discourse and Social Dynamics.
Washington, D.C.: Taylor and Francis.
McGregor, William B. (1997) Semiotic Grammar Oxford: Clarendon
Thibault, Paul J. (2004a) Brain, Mind, and the Signifying Body: An
Ecosocial Semiotic Theory London/New York: Continuum.
Thibault, Paul J. (2004 b) Agency and Consciousness in Discourse
London/New York: Continuum.
Toolan, Michael (ed.) (2002) Critical Discourse Analysis: Critical
Concepts in Linguistics Vols.1-4 Precursors and Inspirations London /
New York: Routledge.
van Leeuwen, T.(1998) ''M.A.K. Halliday'' entry, in Paul Bouissac (ed.)
Encyclopedia of Semiotics New York: Oxford University Press: 278-
van Leeuwen, T. & Carey Jewitt (eds.)(2001) Handbook of Visual
Analysis London: SAGE Publications.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Qichang Ye is an associate professor, School of Humanities and
Social Sciences, at Beijing Jiaotong University. His main areas of
interest are semiotics, functional linguistics, discourse analysis and
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