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Review of Invitation to Systemic Functional Linguistics through the Cardiff Grammar
AUTHOR: Fawcett, Robin P. TITLE: Invitation to Systemic Functional Linguistics through the Cardiff Grammar SUBTITLE: An extension and simplification of Halliday's Systemic Functional Grammar (Third edition) SERIES TITLE: Equinox Textbooks and Surveys in Linguistics PUBLISHER: Equinox YEAR: 2008
Edward McDonald, School of Languages and Linguistics, University of New South Wales
Robin Fawcett's ''Invitation to Systemic Functional Linguistics through the Cardiff Grammar,'' although specified as the 'Third Edition,' is in fact the first version to be formally published in book form. The work started out as the 'Annual Open Lectures at Tezukayama College in Nara, Japan, in…1996', which were 'published in Japan in the journal 'Helicon'' in the following year (p. 3). A 'tidied-up version' of this 'was published within Cardiff University in 2005' (p. 1) for internal use. Soon after this, the author received separate requests for a Chinese edition and a Spanish edition, at which point he considered 'it should also be published in English' (p. 1); hence, this 'Third Edition.' The book divides itself into two parts: the main text that builds up an analysis of the English clause; and the 'book within a book,' in the form of a series of lengthy footnotes, that 'gives the reasons why the version of S[ystemic]F[unctional]G[rammar] given here differs from…Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar' (p. 2).
The analysis of the clause proper begins in Chapter 3, entitled 'Introducing the syntax of transitivity and mood.' Fawcett distinguishes between the semantic notion of 'situation,' whose 'pivotal element' of 'process' largely determines the number and kind of 'participants,' and, to a lesser extent, 'circumstances,' from the syntactic unit of clause, whose basic elements of M[ain Verb], S[ubject] and C[omplement], and A[djunct], are the realisations of these semantic elements. In this chapter, Fawcett also introduces the common SFL notion of the clause being 'multifunctional'; in his preferred metaphor (p. 45), 'every clause expresses several ''strands of meaning,'' each serving a different function.' The system of transitivity, as described above, realises the experiential strand of meaning, the first introduced here (pp. 46-52), closely followed by the system of mood, realising the interpersonal strand of meaning (pp. 52-54), with its main syntactic functions of S[ubject] and O[perator] -- the S[ubject] element thus plays a role in two distinct 'strands of meaning,' and this 'multifunctionality' is a characteristic of a number of the syntactic elements of the clause.
In Chapter 4, 'Developing reliable analysis skills,' Fawcett introduces a preliminary 'set' of 'Guidelines', with the aim being to set up 'a toolkit of clear criteria for identifying the elements of clauses, each with its associated test' (p. 60). Fawcett provides guidelines for recognising elements of the clause and drawing tree diagrams, as well as criteria for identifying particular elements which are a mix of the formal and the semantic. Chapter 5 provides a theoretical underpinning for what Fawcett terms 'A minimal theory of syntax' (adapted from Halliday 1961), which contains four basic 'categories' and four basic 'relationships.' The four categories, which define the structural relationships of the clause, are: 'unit,' or class of element, e.g. clause, nominal group; 'element,' or the functional category that fills a particular unit, e.g. Subject, deictic determiner; 'item,' the word or lexeme that 'expounds' (see below) a particular element; and finally, 'place,' or the part of a structure, with each unit having a series of 'numbered places…at which its elements are located' (p. 75). Moving onto 'relationships,' three of these characterise the relationships between the categories already introduced, so a unit like the clause 'is composed of,' among others, the element of Subject, which in its turn 'is filled by' a unit such as a nominal group, which in its turn 'is expounded by' a proper noun like ‘Ivy.’ The fourth kind of relationship relates to the multifunctional nature of the analysis where, for example, one element of structure 'is conflated with' another, as is the case in situations where the two clause elements of the Main Verb and Operator are conflated in English clauses where the main verb is simple present or simple past, such as 'were' or 'done.'
The rest of the book introduces further 'strands of meaning,' or different functional principles and their relevant structural realisations: experiential (Chapters 6, 10, 12, 13), affective (Chapter 6), thematic (Chapter 8), informational (Chapter 8), polarity (Chapter 9), and interpersonal (Chapter 11). Additionally, the book provides theoretical reflection on the concepts and analytical techniques introduced, as well as explanations of the formalisms or notational tools of the 'system network' and the 'selection expression' (Chapter 7). Finally, it provides a full set of guidelines for clause analysis (Chapter 15), and a discussion of 'two further dimensions' which fall outside the clause analysis proper: 'representing units within the clause' and 'representing the semantics' (Chapter 17). The book is then rounded off with two Appendices: 'A summary of English syntax for the text analyst,' according to the framework introduced but including further details, particularly of the structure of units smaller than a clause not dealt with in the main text; and 'An overall comparison of the Cardiff and Sydney grammars.'
Fawcett's 'Invitation' indeed contains much that is inviting. Its brevity makes it well-suited for providing an overall view of the theory, whether for the reader well-versed in systemic functional theory, or for one coming at it from the viewpoint of other linguistic or syntactic frameworks. Pedagogically, the book is designed to be worked through from start to finish, with the reader strongly encouraged to do the regular analysis exercises before their solutions are given (both in the main text). The book, in Fawcett's opinion, contains '70 to 80 percent' of 'most of the syntax of English,' as summarised in Appendix 1, equating to 'much of what can be taught satisfactorily in a ten-week course' (p. 33). While the book is relatively short in length, its very clear progression in introducing new concepts, and its regular summaries of concepts introduced at each stage, make it well suited for such a use. It would, I think, have benefited from additional higher level 'signposting'; for example, with regard to the different 'strands of meaning,' or metafunctions, which do not appear in the Table of Contents at all. The book also suffers from a rather over-enthusiastic use of emphasis, with wide use of both bolding and capitalisation, sometimes in the same sentence. This leaves the reader uncertain as to which item of information is key, and also gives the text a somewhat frenetic tone.
The regular use of long footnotes that make up the 'book within a book,' comparing the 'Cardiff approach' with the 'Sydney approach,' provides a useful contextualization of the particularities of the approach being put forward here. For linguists working in the Sydney approach, for which we may take Halliday as the representative figure, both systems (paradigmatic options) and structures (syntagmatic combinations) can be recognised at every stratum of language. For linguists working in the Cardiff approach, for which Fawcett himself may be taken as the representative figure, the radical proposal is that systems of paradigmatic options are tied to the semantic stratum, while the structures of syntagmatic combinations which realize these systemic options are tied to the lexicogrammatical stratum. Alongside this very different conceptualisation of stratification, Fawcett's approach to that other pillar of SFL, metafunction (generalised abstract function of language), is also very different. For Halliday, the three metafunctions of ideational (subdivided into experiential and logical), interpersonal, and textual are recognised at each stratum of the linguistic system -- semantics, lexicogrammar and phonology. In Fawcett's approach, not only are the metafunctions restricted to the stratum of semantics, their number is increased to eight (pp. 171-172): experiential, logical relations, interpersonal, negativity, validity, affective, thematic, and informational. Fawcett prefers to use the metaphorical phrasing 'strand of meaning' as equivalent to, or even preferable to, 'metafunction.' However, from his analyses, it is clear that these 'strands of meaning' are very much syntactically oriented, being indeed directly linked to different 'layers' of clause analysis.
Fawcett sets his description of English syntax in direct contrast to Halliday's, and is critical of inconsistencies in the latter, stemming from the fact that (p. 26) 'in the crucial period between the revolutionary innovations of the early 1970s and the publication of IFG in 1985 Halliday published very little that was a contribution to the description of the lexicogrammar of English.' One reason for this, as put forward by Halliday (1993: 4507, quoted p. 27), is that '[s]ystemic work…has tended to expand by moving into new spheres of activity, rather than by re-working earlier positions.' Fawcett points out some of the problems that such an approach may cause (p. 27):
The difference between expanding a theory and changing it is an important one. The term 'expand' typically implies additions rather than alterations, so that the 'expansion' of a theory does not necessarily require one to 're-work' the concepts of an earlier version. In contrast, any change to the existing set of concepts in a theory needs to be followed by a thorough check to discover whether or not these changes involve further changes in other parts of the overall language system. In a theory of language, as in language itself, tout se tient [everything is mutually reinforcing] (Meillet 1937).
In fact, Halliday's work on mother-child interaction (1972 / 2003) and child language development (1973 / 2003) clearly shows him adapting the system-structure model already worked out in some detail for the phonology (e.g. 1967) and the lexicogrammar (e.g. 1967-68) to the analysis of texts in context. Since Halliday was already 'pushing' his characterisation of lexicogrammar quite far in the direction of semantics, it therefore makes perfect sense, whether one agrees with this approach or not, that semantics itself should be 'pushed' in the direction of pragmatics. Such a readjustment is in fact necessary, as Fawcett himself points out, under the 'tout se tient' principle. In theoretical terms, what Halliday is doing here is also entirely consistent on its own terms; moving on from describing systems whose point of origin is the syllable, or the tone group, or the clause, to exploring systems whose point of origin is the text as a semantic unit.
Fawcett's insistence on continually measuring his own version of SFL up against what he calls the 'Sydney Grammar' not only does a disservice to the originality of his own approach but leads him, on occasion, to make 'comparisons' that are not only 'odious' but misleading and unnecessary. Take for example, the comment, quoted on p. 5 and also on the back cover, by Christopher Butler, a well-known and longtime critic of SFL (e.g. Butler 1985, 2003a, b), saying that 'the Cardiff model represents a substantial improvement on the Sydney account' (Butler 2003b: 471). The original context of this judgment is in fact as follows (2003b: 470-471):
[T]he Cardiff grammar of Fawcett and his colleagues differs crucially from the Sydney grammar in treating the networks of transitivity, mood, theme etc. as semantic, and recognising a separate syntactic level…. Furthermore, the Cardiff grammarians have begun to tackle certain syntactic phenomena, such as raising, which have been important areas of debate in non-functional theories. This model of the relationship between syntactic and semantic phenomena offers the potential for a much clearer programme of explanation of how semantics motivates syntax. Unfortunately, although in my view the Cardiff model represents a substantial improvement on the Sydney account, this opportunity for functional explanation still goes largely unexplored.
Butler's comparison of the two approaches is thus not the blanket statement Fawcett implies it to be, but a very narrowly focused judgment of the difference between the two approaches in relationship to their modeling of the relationship between semantics and syntax. The work from which Fawcett quotes, Butler's ''Structure and Function: A Guide to Three Major Structural-Functional Theories,'' (2003a, b) carries out a detailed and systematic comparison of three broadly comparable theories of language: Functional Grammar (e.g. Dik 1997a, b), Role and Reference Grammar (e.g. Van Valin & La Polla 1997), and Systemic Functional Grammar (e.g. Halliday 1985, 1994; Halliday & Matthiessen 1999). Butler's comparison of necessity largely concentrates on the common ground in the three different frameworks, which is their treatment of syntactic patterning. This is problematic in assuming that a discrete area called 'syntax' can in fact be recognised as comparable in each case. As noted above, the syntax, or what Halliday prefers to call 'lexicogrammar,' in his version of SFL, is conceived of as highly semanticised in contrast to many other approaches. The whole conception of the linguistic system in Halliday's approach, then, is one that cannot easily be fitted into the standard syntax-semantics-pragmatics model without serious distortion and misrepresentation. For Butler to praise Fawcett for recognising a separate level of syntax, clearly distinct from semantics, let alone to pat him on the back for 'tackl[ing] certain syntactic phenomena…which have been important areas of debate in non-functional theories,' is simply drawing attention to the fact that Fawcett's version of SFL, in this aspect at least, is much closer to the 'mainstream' of syntactic theorising. Why this should be judged as necessarily an improvement is unclear to me.
Fawcett, in his 'Invitation,' has provided a clear and accessible introduction to his version of SFL, set out at greater length elsewhere (e.g. Fawcett 2000), as one whose premises are for the most part very clear and consistent, and within which a large amount of useful descriptive work has been carried out. He and his colleagues can justifiably take credit for having achieved, to refer to the book's subtitle, an 'extension' of Halliday's description of English; but to attempt to claim similar credit for, again referring to the subtitle, a 'simplification' of the same is, in my opinion, a meaningless exercise. Fawcett's model is a much more parsimonious one in contrast with what Halliday has often termed his own 'extravagant grammar,' but in both cases, the parsimoniousness and the extravagance are not to be dismissed as mere whimsical differences of personality -- they relate directly to the very different purposes for which the theories have been devised. Let us have more comparison, let us compare different descriptions, but at the same time let us acknowledge diversity of both aims and means and not seek to identify some false gold standard for theoretical worth. Vive la différence!
Butler, Christopher S. 1985. Systemic Linguistics: Theory and Applications, London: Batsford
Butler, Christopher S. 2003a. Structure and Function: A Guide to Three Major Structural-Functional Approaches: Part 1: Approaches to the simplex clause, Amsterdam: Benjamins
Butler, Christopher S. 2003a. Structure and Function: A Guide to Three Major Structural-Functional Approaches: Part 2: From clause to discourse and beyond, Amsterdam: Benjamins
Dik, S.C. 1997a. The Theory of Functional Grammar, Part 1: The Structure of the Clause, 2nd ed, K, Hengeveld (ed.), Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter
Dik, S.C. 1997b. The Theory of Functional Grammar, Part 2: Complex and Derived Constructions, 2nd ed, K, Hengeveld (ed.), Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter
Fawcett. R.P. 2000. A Theory of Syntax for Systemic Functional Linguistics, Amsterdam: Benjamins
Halliday, M.A.K. 1961. Categories of the Theory of Grammar, Word, 17.3, 241-92; reprinted in Webster, Jonathan (ed.) The Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday, Volume 1, On Grammar, London: Continuum, 37-94
Halliday, M.A.K. 1967. Intonation and Grammar in British English, The Hague: Mouton
Halliday, M.A.K. 1967a, 1967b, 1968. Notes on transitivity and theme in English, Parts 1-3, Journal of Linguistics 3.1, 37-81; 3.2, 199-244; 4.2: 179-215.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1972. Towards a sociological semantics, originally published by Centro Internazionale de Semiotica e Linguistica,Universita di Urbino, reprinted in Webster, Jonathan (ed.) The Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday, Volume 3, On Language and Linguistics, London: Continuum, 323-354
Halliday, M.A.K. 1973. The Functional Basis of Language, in Bernstein, Basil (ed.) Applied Studies towards a Sociology of Language, Vol.2, Class, Codes and Control, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 343-366; reprinted in Webster, Jonathan (ed.) The Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday, Volume 3, On Language and Linguistics, London: Continuum, 298-322
Halliday, M.A.K. 1985. An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London: Edward Arnold. Second edition 1994.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1993. Systemic Theory, in Asher, R.E. & J.M.Y. Simpson (eds) The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Oxford: Pergamon, 4905-4908
Halliday, M.A.K. & C.M.I.M. Matthiessen. 1999. Construing Experience through Meaning: A Language-Based Approach to Cognition, London: Cassell
Meillet, Antoine. 1937. Introduction à l'étude comparative des langues indo-européennes, 8th edition, Paris : Hachette
Tucker, G.H. 1998. The Lexicogrammar of Adjectives: A Systemic Functional Approach to Lexis, London: Cassell Academic
Van Valin, R.D. Jr. & R.J. La Polla. 1997. Syntax: Structure, Meaning and Function, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Edward McDonald has taught linguistics and semiotics at the National
University of Singapore and at Tsinghua University in Beijing and Chinese
language and linguistics at the University of Auckland. He now holds a
position in the Translation and Interpreting Program at the University of
New South Wales. His research interests lie in the areas of the grammar and
discourse of modern Chinese, ideologies about language, and the semiotics
of language and music. He has previously reviewed a number of syntax
textbooks for Linguist List, including Cullicover & Jackendoff's (2005)
'Simpler Syntax,' and Hancock's (2005) 'Meaning-Centered Grammar.'