Review of An Introduction to Functional Grammar, Third Edition
Date: Mon, 1 Nov 2004 09:22:05 +0800
From: Li Zhanzi
Subject: An Introduction to Functional Grammar
AUTHOR: Halliday, M. A. K.
EDITOR: Mathiessen, Christian M. I. M.
TITLE: An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 3rd edition
Li Zhanzi, English Department, Heilongjiang University, P.R.C.
This new edition of An Introduction to Functional Grammar (IFG) is
essential and invaluable as a textbook for students and researchers of
linguistics, especially of functional linguistics, discourse analysis and
literary studies, and also for those with broader educational concerns. It
is a must-read for researchers and scholars interested in the relation
between grammar, meaning and discourse. It gives a comprehensive
description of Halliday's systemic-functional grammar and has been
extensively revised by exploring large amount of corpus data,
foregrounding the theoretical underpinnings of functional grammar and
incorporating systemic networks into the body of the book. In fact it is a
great joy and comfort to see a theory keep renewing itself while sticking
to its basic views about the relationship between language, text and
In this review I evaluate the features of this edition of IFG from various
(1) Key theoretical concepts reiterated and elaborated
Some theoretical underpinnings of functional grammar presupposed or
treated briefly in its previous editions are foregrounded in this new one.
Among them structure (syntagmatic order), system (paradigmatic order),
stratification (phonetics and phonology as expression, lexicogrammar and
semantics as content, and context), instantiation (the connection between
system and text, a text being an instantiation of the system), and above
all, Metafunction (ideational- construing experience, interpersonal-
exacting interpersonal relations; textual -organizing the discursive flow
and creating continuity)
Among these key concepts which form the basis of the functional grammar
tenets, the relatively difficult concept "instantiation" is explained
neatly as: "Like the relationship between climate and weather, the
relationship between system and text is a cline -- the cline of
instantiation". (p.27). This is just an example of the overall language
style which strives to be more transparent and spoken without sacrificing
the theoretical loadings.
Another two core concepts are lexico-grammar and grammaticalization.
Lexico-grammar, a coined word in Functional Grammar, embodies the unity of
lexis and grammar. Lexis and grammar form the two poles of a single cline.
Lexis is viewed as the most delicate grammar, though the book devotes more
of itself to the "medium delicacy grammar" areas. (p.46)
Functional grammar adheres to the principle that for in studying the
systems of language, the delicacy level can always be pushed further. In
the new edition, we find many progresses down the delicacy scales. For
instance, the type of doing is explicated under "creative"
and "transformative". And there are detailed tables giving examples of
verbs serving as Process in different material clause types. In fact, the
whole chapter is considerably expanded, making the complexities of
transitivity more "accessible", as Halliday puts it in the preface. (p. x)
Grammaticalization, being an area of robust development in linguistic
research, also receives increased attention and proportion in IFG.
Functional grammar considers closure, generality and proportionality the
three features that characterize a grammatical system . (p.47) Systemic
grammar is one which is organized around this concept of
grammaticalization, whereby meaning is constructed in networks of
interrelated contrasts. (p.47)
In relation to grammaticalization, the theoretical underpinning of
grammatical metaphor are foregrounded in the sections(10.1 , 10.2)
discussing lexicogrammar and semantics; while in the 2nd edition, the
discussions started a bit abruptly from rhetorical transference(1994:
340). Among the theoretical tenets, strata is not such a simple idea. The
normal conception of a text consisting of clauses is replaced by a text
realized by clauses, text and clause being located respectively on the
strata of semantics (the stratum of meaning) and lexicogrammar (the
stratum of wording). While the book focuses on the lexicogrammatical
stratum, a central concern is the relationship between this stratum and
the one above it (semantics) and below it (phonology). In fact as we can
see in the neo-Hallidayan approach to functional grammar, discourse
semantics is being developed into a field of its specific concerns with
genres and registers. (Martin & Davis 2003).
(2) Text-orientation more outstanding
The beginning of the book makes it clear that this is a grammar for those
interested in using it to analyze and interpret texts. And texts in
various contexts, such as educational, social, literary, political, legal,
clinical etc. can be analyzed as specimen or artifact. The book
incorporates these two facets of texts.
The text orientation of the book also shows itself in the new corpus it
uses throughout the book. Corpus data is used for its authenticity,
inclusion of spoken language and the possibility to study grammar in
quantitative terms. P.50 lists the corpuses and text archive
(opportunistic samples) used for description and exemplification in IFG,
including COBUILD, LOB, Kohlapur, London-Lund and UTS/Macquarie corpus of
spoken Australian English.
In addition to corpus as data, text orientation is manifest in the more
sharpened register-awareness in the functional grammar framework. A case
in point is the identifying clause(p.234). Common-sensically, we would
think doings and happenings are the predominant processes in transitivity
system. However, it is noted that the token-value structure -- a subtype
of the identifying process is the most important in that it tends to
dominate in certain highly valued registers(such as scientific,
commercial, political and bureaucratic discourse) where the meanings that
are being construed are inherently symbolic ones. This kind of analysis of
the transitivity sub-types relates grammatical patterns to register and is
illuminating for text analysis.
When talking about ideational metaphors, it points out that "it is
associated with the discourses of education and science, bureaucracy and
law. Children are likely to meet the ideational type of metaphor when they
reach the upper levels of primary school; but its full force will only
appear when they begin to grapple with the specialized discourses of
subject-based secondary education."(p.636) Actually this educational
concern has always been a feature of functional grammar and makes it a
useful instrument and source of insight in cognitive studies of children's
In comparison, in the 2nd edition, no specific discourse types are
mentioned. Instead, we have some vague comments like "in most types of
discourse, both spoken and written, we tend to operate somewhere in
between these two extremes. Something which is totally congruent is likely
to sound a bit flat; whereas the totally incongruent often seems
artificial and contrived". (1994:344)
(3) More visually friendly
The systemic aspect of the grammar, which was omitted in the second
edition, gets an equal share here with the functional aspect. This is also
the main reason why the book grows considerably in volume. However, the
systemic graphs are not there just to add a scientific touch of the book
or to make the grammar more intricate than it is. The graphs represent the
network more clearly and appeal to vision. For example, the system network
of speech functions(p.108) offers a very good summary of what the two
tables are trying to represent in the 2nd ed. And there's a lot more to
it. Another example is Fig. 5-9 Material clause systems(p.183), which
elaborates the material process which was dealt briefly in the 2nd ed. And
there is Fig.15.Mental Clause Systems (p.209) and Fig5-16 Relational
clause systems (p.217), to mention just two more.
(4) New organization of sections
In chapter 3 which explores clause as message, after multiple themes, we
have Section 3.5. about the information unit, then predicated themes and
thematic interpretation of a text. This is more logical and is also
In chapter 9 on cohesion, the discussion of the subsystems has been
reorganized, with conjunction to come first. According to Halliday (p. x),
this serves to "foreground the link to clause complex in the grammar and
rhetorical-relational organization in the discourse semantics."
(5) Traces of appraisal theory, but not systematically incorporated
The appraisal system is incorporated into the analysis of projection - a
type of semantic domains. So for instance, when commenting on subject's
wisdom, we have a relational clause: X is wise to---; some modal adjunts:
e.g. wisely, cleverly; epithet: e.g. wise, clever. And they all belong to
the appraisal type "judgement: social esteem (capacity)". Table 10 (6)
(p.608) is five whole pages long and all the subsystems of appraisal are
used to classify the types of modal assessment. But the appraisal system
itself is taken for granted and not give a summarized account in the book,
especially in Chapter four "clause as exchange" where it should belong.
The discussion of epithet is another instance where the appraisal theory
could shed more light. According to this edition, the Epithet indicates
some quality of the subject. Two types of epithet are distinguished, i.e.
experiential: an objective property of the thing itself, e.g. long, blue,
fast; and interpersonal: an expression of the speaker's subjective
attitude towards it, e.g. silly, fantastic, splendid. (p.318). If we
compare this to the definition of appreciation in the appraisal system
(Martin & Davis,2003), we would agree that the division
between "objective" and "subjective" is not very effective. Appreciation
refer to meanings construing the evaluation of things, and has three
types, i.e. reaction, composition and value.
Elsewhere I find the terms of Appraisal used a bit randomly, for instance,
when talking about interpersonal metafunctions, "the clause of the grammar
is not only a figure---, it is also a proposition, or a proposal, whereby--
-we express our APPRAISAL and ATTITUDE towards whoever we are addressing
and what we are talking about. "(p.29) (reviewer's capitalization)
On the whole, the idea of appraisal is scattered here and there throughout
the book, e.g. p. 223 Table 5(14) emotion/attitude; and p. 225. Table 5
(15). It would be better to present the system as at least an alternative
to epithet + emotion + attitude studies, just as in the ideational block
there is an alternative approach to transitivity - the ergative analysis.
(6) More about visual impression
About tables and graphs, there is a plus and a minus. First, a plus, The
tables in e.g. p.101 thematic interpretation of a text makes things more
transparent than the underlining-in-different-lines approach in 2nd
edition. The same is true with p. 158. Tables are a great asset of the
clause-by-clause analysis throughout the book.
But some networks are printed so small that the readability is reduced.
For instance, to get a clear view of the transitivity network on p.302,
most people might need a magnifying glass.
In spite of the limitation of the page size, I can predict that the 4th or
future editions will take a new turn in multimedia -- using images and
photos to illustrate the points. In fact, in the present edition, we
already have a taste of it in p. 377 and p. 454 about projection, the
thought and speech bubbles. But the use of images is a bit too tentative.
In future, as the use of IFG is more extensively applied in multimedia
discourse analysis, we can hope to see more images to clarify the lengthy
explanations, esp. in cases like token-value structure, doings and
happenings etc., where pictures will facilitate the presentation of
theories. As the preface of the book mentions, an accompanying website
which is under development can be a welcome complement to the book itself.
Christie, Frances. (2002). Classroom Discourse Analysis: A Functional
Perspective. Bodmin: Corwall.
Fries, Peter H. et al. eds. (2002). Relations and Functions within and
around Language. London & New York: Continuum.
Martin, J. R. & Rose, David. (2003). Working with Discourse: meaning
beyond the clause. London & New York: Continuum.
Halliday, M. A. K. (2003). On Grammar. ed. by Webster, J. London & New
Halliday, M. A. K.(1994). An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 2nd ed.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1985). An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 1st. ed.
Li Zhanzi. (2002). Studies on The Interpersonal Meaning of Discourse.
Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
My research interest is in functional grammar, discourse analysis, and
teaching English as a foreign language. I have just finished co-
translating a collection of Halliday's papers into Chinese and am now
working on a national social science project about applying appraisal
theory to analyzing cross-cultural language memoirs.