This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004 15:16:34 -0300 From: Salvio Martín Menéndez Subject: On Language and Linguistics, Volume 3.
AUTHOR: Halliday, M. A. K. EDITOR: Webster, Jonathan J. TITLE: On Language and Linguistics, Volume 3 SERIES: The Collected Works of M. A. K. Halliday PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd YEAR: 2003
Salvio Martín Menéndez, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata.
INTRODUCTION On Language and Linguistics, the third volume of the Collected Papers of M. A. K. Halliday, is a selection of eighteen central papers of his work, including a new paper that serves as introduction called "On the 'Architecture' of Human Language". The eighteen papers are divided in three parts. The first part is "Linguistics as Discipline" (Chapters 1 to 6); the second one, "Linguistics and Language" (Chapters 7 to 13); the third one, "Language as Social Semiotics" (Chapters 14 to 18)
The introductory paper is not only an excellent updated version of Halliday's Systemic-Functional Theory, but a point of departure to read (or read again) the selection that follows as well. This paper is crucial to understanding Halliday's way of describing, explaining and interpreting language in use, i.e. language as a social instrumental tool within a social semiotic frame.
Halliday's work has always been clear. This paper is, maybe, one of the clearest piece of work he has written. This is, probably, because he does not want to dazzle. He has just wanted to be clear. And his clarity is dazzling.
Then he describes a number of central points that will appear throughout the volume. These points can be summarized as : language as a system of meaning, i.e. a semiotic system; types of complexity in language; paradigmatic composition of language; stratification of language; metafunctions : the grammar at work; syntagmatic composition; congruent and metaphorical modes of meaning; probability and instantiation, variation and fuzz.
SYNOPSIS Chapter One is the oldest paper of the selection. It is called "Syntax and the consumer" (1964). Halliday clearly points out that linguistics and linguists must recognize that language may be described for a wide range of purposes. Then, he makes a very keen evaluation of Chomsky's contribution to define the goals of linguistic theory. He strongly states that one point of view is not "the" point of view. He points out clearly that his orientation is "primarily textual and, in the widest sense, sociological" (1993: 40). It includes what he calls the "scale of delicacy" that involves a characterization of the special features of the varieties of languages used for different purposes.
The second paper, "Grammar, society and the noun" (1966) lets Halliday include himself within the sociolinguistic tradition in a wide sense (Firth, Sapir, Whorf, Hymes). He uses the history of the uses of noun and the process of nominalization as examples to show how they have been used to shape reality and how reality, therefore, has been interpreted out of them.
In the third paper, "The context of linguistics", Halliday points out in an epigrammatic style the main point he wants to make: "Linguistics became the study of linguistics rather than the study of language" (1993: 75). He clearly argues that formal linguistics has focused on intra-action and that language is social. He needs, then, to give a broad picture including not only what an ideal speaker knows, but how a real speaker acts when he/she uses language in everyday interaction. He affirms: "society, language and mind are indissoluble: society creates mind, mind creates society, and language stands as mediator and metaphor for both these processes" (1993: 90).
In Chapter Four, "Ideas about language" (1977) he begins by saying "Linguistics may be still a new name; but it is by no means a new phenomenon"(1993:92). So, he makes an historical account about language from Panini and Greeks until today. He makes sharp remarks about Scholastic Tradition, French Rationalist Grammar, Philosophical and Ethnographic Traditions, Structuralism and Generativism (he regrets that a dialogue between them should have happened, but it did not),and Variationism (Labov). Halliday postulates two ways of seeing language: language as resource and language as rule. He prefers the first one, because it leads him to semiotics. "Semiotics is not a discipline, defined by subject-matter. It is a way of interpreting things" (1993: 113).
In Chapter Five, "Language and the order of nature", Halliday says: "Language is as much a product of evolution as we are ourselves: we did not manufacture it. It is an evolved system, not a designed system: not something separate from humanity, but an essential part of the condition of being human" (1993: 117). He clearly sees two complementary orders constructed out of it: the social order and the natural order. Examples of the discourse of physics and oral and written speech are used to sustain his point.
In Chapter Six, "New Ways of Meaning: The Challenge to Applied Linguistics" (1990), he talks about a special discipline, applied linguistics, defined according to its content. He clearly establishes its scope: language teaching, language policy and planning. As language - he affirms - construes reality, grammar must be based in language in its every day form; finally, grammar is, in this way, a theory of experience. The goal of planning a language is a fundamental task. His metaphorical conclusions cannot be more adequate: "We cannot transform language; it is people's acts of meaning that do that (.) I do not suggest for one moment that we hold the key. But we ought to be able to write the instructions for its use" (1993: 171-172).
Chapter Seven, "A brief sketch of systemic grammar" (1969), is the first paper of the second part. In this short article, Halliday points out that grammar is based on the notion of choice and outlines its six main features: 1. the system network is the grammar; 2. the description of a sentence, clause, text may be just the list of choices that the speaker has made; 3. the options selected by the speaker are realized as structures; 4. any item may have not just one structure but many; 5. there are two classes of labelling: according to structural function (actor, for example) or according to class (noun phrase, for example) 6. the systemic-grammar has to indicate how the particular choices made by the speaker are realized in structural terms.
In Chapter Eight, "Systemic Background" (1985) Halliday explains the historical roots of systemic-functional linguistics. He clearly indicates: "The theory has evolved in use; it has no existence apart from the practice of those who use it. Systemic Theory is a way of doing things" (1993: 185). He points out the "broad foundations on which systemic theory is built" (1993:186) and he traces his own intellectual biography in close relation with the theory he has founded. There are several names; the most important are Firth (Halliday's teacher), Hjelmslev, Malinowski and Whorf. But he thanks also Troubetskoy, Benveniste, Whitehead, Wittgenstein, Sapir, Bloomfield, Fries, Hockett, Harris, Gleason, Pike, Allen, Robins, Henderson, Whitley and Lamb. He then establishes the main characteristics of systemic theory (it is an excellent complement of Chapter Seven). The last characteristic is a good resume: "Systemic theory is a way of thinking about language and of working on language" (1993: 197).
In Chapter Nine "Systemic Grammar and the Concept of a Science of Language", Halliday clearly establishes the two problems he is going to face in this paper: the first one is fairly obvious, language; the second one is not fairly obvious, science. He clearly differentiates how scientists construct theories from the theories that explain how science works. He affirms: "A science of meaning is potentially rather different from a science of nature, or of society" (1993:199). Then, he enumerates certain principles and practices that he thinks are followed by systemic-functional linguistics.
In Chapter Ten, "Language in a changing world", Halliday faces postmodernism and its relation with semiotic systems as constructors of reality. He clearly points out that modern societies (opposed to postmodern ones) are still technology driven. But technology has changed, because it is now the technology of semiosis. He strongly affirms: "The linguist who claims to be theory-free is like the conservative who claims to be non-political: they are both saying , to be impartial is to leave things as they are - only those who want to change them are taking sides" (1993: 223).
Chapter Eleven, "A recent view of "Missteps in Linguistic Theory" (1993), is a review of John E. Ellis's "Language, Thought and Logic". Three are the missteps. They are presented as followed: 1 " The assumption that the purpose of language is communication; 2. "The assumption that descriptive word like 'square' or 'cat' are simpler than evaluative words like 'good' and 3. "the assumption that the categories of language serve to group like things together" (1993: 232). Halliday agrees with the picture presented by Ellis, but he keenly shows that he (and the tradition which he belongs to) has been doing what Ellis points out that linguistics has to do. Ellis's problem is to consider that generativism is linguistics. And Mr. Ellis - Halliday clearly argues - is not the only one to have this problem.
In Chapter Twelve, "Linguistics as metaphor", Halliday postulates that language is a meaning-making system, a property that he calls semiogenesis. A theory, he argues, is also a semiogenic system and this applies to all theories (scientific and linguistic theories) because they create meaning. He describes five features "from which a language derives its semogenic power and is enabled to evolve and function as a self-organizing system" (1993:250).
In Chapter Thirteen, "Is the grammar neutral? Is the Grammarian Neutral?" (2001), Halliday departs from a provocative phrase said by Basil Bernstein in the 22nd International Systemic Functional Congress in Gent in 1994: "Grammar is never neutral". Halliday refers to his biography to establish up to what point he agrees with Bernstein's phrase. He clearly points out how systemic-functional linguistics evolved from European linguistics with social and functional orientation. From this point of view, linguistics "as (like language itself) a mode of action, a way of intervening in social and political processes; and this has remained as a significant motif of work in systemic functional linguistics" (1993:273). He says that "in the immediate sense the grammar of any language is neutral, in what you can use it to produce discourse supporting every possible subject positioning and ideological stance, at another level it is highly partial: it construes the world from the standpoint of a given moment in history" (1993:285). His conclusion is clear: grammars are neutral, grammarians are not because they cannot.
Chapter Fourteen opens the third and last part of the volume with the already classical paper "The functional basis of language" (1973) appeared in the Volume 2 of "Class, Code and Control" edited by Basil Bernstein. In this paper Halliday stresses what he understands as a "functional approach" to the study of language. This approach centers in the social functions of language that clearly determine the register repertoire of a community. Register or diatypic variation of language determines the different fields, modes and tenor of discourse and the system has to be able to accommodate to it. To illustrate his point, he analyzes a detailed example from child language (Nigel's language at age nineteen month) where he describes and explains the different uses of language out of the metafunctions ideative, interpersonal and textual.
In Chapter Fifteen, "Towards a Sociological Semantics" (1972) Halliday defines what semantics means within the systemic-functional approach. By stressing the instrumentality of linguistics rather than its autonomy, he clearly points up: "Semantics (...) is 'what the speaker can mean'" (1993:323). And then he specifies: 'can mean' is one form of 'can do'. An example of the use of language by a mother for the purpose of controlling the behavior of a child is given.
In Chapter Sixteen, "The History of a Sentence", Halliday is concerned about the history of a semiotic event, that is, an act of meaning that he defines as follows: " An act of meaning is a special kind of semiotic act made of linguistic meaning specifically through wording".(1993:355). This is his starting point to speak about the history of meaning and to show the need that "any act of meaning must rest on other such acts that have preceded it and created the conditions for its occurrence" (1993:358). To accomplish that four dimensions of history are needed. He describes them as: 1. Intertextual; 2. Developmental; 3. Systemic, and 4. Intratextual. He concludes: "Only if we know what went before an act of meaning can we reasonably claim to judge its effect on what came after it" (1993:374).
In Chapter Seventeen, "The act of meaning" (1999), Halliday says that the act meaning is a social act, but also a biological, physical and, finally, semiotic. Then, he faces the problem of linking theory and instance, not as different things but as two views of the same phenomenon. His conclusion is clear: "the full creative power of an act of meaning arises from the fact that language both construes and enacts" (1993:384). Therefore, the system is the text and "it is in the act of meaning that the power of language resides; and that is what makes linguistic systems, in the last resort, subject to the democratic process" (1993:389).
The last chapter, the eighteen, is "On Language in Relation to the Evolution of Human Consciousness (1995)". In this paper, Halliday analyzes the relation between language and the human brain. He considers that this relationship has to be considered from three different time scales: evolutionary (how the language-brain evolved in the species), developmental (how the language-brain develops in each child) and instantial (how the language-brain is activated in each act of meaning). He concludes by saying that "Language is not and outward and imperfect manifestation of some idealized entity called mind. It is an evolving eco-semiotic system-&-process, constituting the most recent phase of evolution of the mammalian brain. Higher-order consciousness is symbolic consciousness - or better (since "symbolic" might still imply the re-presentation of something that lies beyond) semiotic consciousness; and semiotic consciousness is another name for meaning" (1993:429).
CONCLUSION All the papers presented in this selection are very important. Each of them gives an exact picture of the importance of systemic-functional linguistics as a whole. Halliday always faces the different issues about language from a broad perspective. He is not fighting to win any war, but trying to understand how language really works.
Not only are the papers very clear, but they are also well written. Halliday has style and it is really a pleasure to read him. Each paper stands as a brilliant lesson of the master.
It is important to noting the excellent work carried by the editor, Jonathan Webster. One cannot think of a better way of organize the material. Each part is well arranged and one can clearly how the different positions have evolved or changed. He has really done a very good work that deserves to be recognized.
Halliday has always pointed out that we are dealing with everyday common sense grammar and texts because linguists are trying to explain what the speakers already know. This collection is the best proof that he has achieved what systemic-functional linguistics wants to explain.
It is a must for any person interested in language - linguists included.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Salvio Martín Menéndez is Professor of General Linguistics and Text Grammar at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the Universidad de Buenos Aires and of Linguistics I and II at the Facultad de Humanidades of the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (Argentina). He has been working on Pragmatic Discourse Analysis on different corpora such as Political Discourse, HIV Propaganda Discourse, and High School Textbooks Discourse.