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Review of An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics
Date: Mon, 16 May 2005 18:05:27 +0800 From: Guowen Huang Subject: An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, 2nd ed.
AUTHOR: Eggins, Suzanne TITLE: An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics SUBTITLE: Second Edition PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd YEAR: 2004
Guowen Huang, School of Foreign Languages, Sun Yat-sen University, P. R. China
Suzanne Eggins' An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics (2004) is the second edition of the author's 1994 book (Eggins 1994) with the same title. It is a textbook designed to introduce students (who may have little or no formal knowledge of linguistics) to the major concepts, principles and techniques of the systemic functional approach to language. It presents an overview of systemic functional theory and demonstrates how systemic functional principles and techniques can be applied in the analysis of spoken and written texts. It takes M. A. K. Halliday's An Introduction to Functional Grammar (1985, 1994) as its base and offers a functional description of the context of culture, the context of situation, and the simultaneous metafunctional organization of the clause, and it also introduces the basic techniques for analyzing cohesive patterns in text.
Seeing that much had taken place in the study of systemic functional linguistics since the first edition of the book was published in 1994, the author of this second edition had updated the book with recent references, and apart from a newly-written chapter on clause complex (Chapter 9) the original chapters in the first edition had been modified and rewritten with new text examples and clearer explanations of systemic functional concepts, principles and techniques.
There are 11 chapters in this book, respectively dealing with an overview of systemic functional linguistics (Chapter 1), texture, cohesion and coherence (Chapter 2), the context of culture: genre (Chapter 3), the context of situation: register (Chapter 4), lexico-grammar (Chapter 5), the interpersonal meaning: Mood (Chapter 6), systems (Chapter 7), the experiential meaning: Transitivity (Chapter 8), the logical meaning: Clause complex (Chapter 9), the textual meaning: Theme (Chapter 10), and applications of systemic functional linguistics to text analysis (Chapter 11).
Chapter 1: An overview of systemic functional linguistics As the title of the chapter suggests, this is an overview of systemic functional linguistics. The chapter begins with the explanation of the aim of the book, which is "to introduce you the principles and techniques of the systemic functional approach to language". Many of the important terms and concepts are introduced with clear explanations and text examples, and these notions are developed in relevant chapters that are to follow. In this chapter, the author also provides with text examples the answers to the two questions concerning the systemic functional approach to language: (1) How do people use language? (2) How is language structured for use?
Chapter 2: What is (a) text? In this chapter the author looks at the concept of "text" and gives a technical explanation within the systemic functional framework. The chapter addresses the issue by asking three searching questions: (1) What is (a) text? (2) How do we know when we have got one? (3) What does the nature of text tell us about the organization of language as a text- forming resource? By discussing ideas of texture, cohesion and coherence, the author is able to present the ways of distinguishing between "a text" and "a non-text". In this chapter, cohesive devices such as reference, lexical cohesion, and conjunctive cohesion are illustrated with the analysis of text examples. The author here reminds readers of the Hallidayan concept of "text" which refers to both spoken and written language, by saying that in systemic functional linguistics "text is a technical term for any unified piece of language that has the properties of texture".
Chapter 3: Genre: context of culture in text "Genre" is a term that is used in many disciplines (e.g., literary studies, film studies, art theory and cultural studies). In this chapter the term is used in a specifically systemic functional way, as in Martin (1984), and the author discusses the first dimension of contextual coherence, that of genre by presenting the systemic functional interpretation of genre as the "cultural purpose" of texts and by illustrating how texts express genres through structural and realizational patterns of language. The author explores how texts are coherent in terms of their cultural context, through the notion of genre. Ideas concerning register configuration, schematic structure, the uses of genre analysis and critical genre analysis are also discussed with text examples of both written (including literary texts) and spoken English.
Chapter 4: Register: context of situation in text Following Chapter 3, which looks at how texts are coherent with respect to their cultural context, this chapter explores how texts are coherent in terms of their context of situation through the notion of register. The chapter is organized to answer the following two questions: (1) What is meant by context of situation and the register variables? (2) How is register realized in language? The author deals with the idea of context of situation by addressing the question of why context matters and how context gets into text. The focus of this chapter is on register theory and the three register variables of field, tenor and mode. The chapter ends with a clear illustration of the relationship between the three metafunctions (ideational, interpersonal, textual) and register.
Chapter 5: Introduction to the lexico-grammar Having looked at what (a) text is and how people use language in texts (Chapter 2) and how texts make meanings in cultural (Chapter 3) and situational (Chapter 4) contexts, the author turns to the explorations of the lexico-grammatical level of language by looking at the function of grammar and grammatical coding. Assuming that language allows us to mean anything we like to mean and that language enables us to make more than one meaning at a time, the author describes how language can take a finite number of expression units to realize an infinite number of meanings we need to express in our daily life. The focus of the chapter is on principles of grammatical analysis (units and constituency), dealing with concepts such as constituents, the rank scale, bracketing, embedding, labeling and multifunctionality of clause constituents. The chapter ends with a section discussing the notion of "appropriacy" in line with descriptive grammar.
Chapter 6: The grammar of interpersonal meaning: MOOD The interpersonal meaning is one of the three strands of meaning in a clause in systemic functional terms. This chapter looks at how the clause is structured to enable us to express interpersonal meanings, by dealing with Mood structures of the clause. The chapter explores the relationship between functional constituents and their configurations in clauses of different Mood types and looks at the role of modality in interaction. The focus of the chapter is on Mood structures of the clause in terms of exchanging information and exchanging goods and services, and special attention is also paid to the concepts of modalization (referring to the probability or frequency of propositions) and modulation (referring to the obligation or inclination of proposals).
Chapter 7: Systems: meaning as choice As the name suggests, systemic functional linguistics has two major dimensions: "systemic" and "functional". Having explored the functional approach to language in Chapters 2 to 6, this chapter deals with the systemic aspect of the theory, the systemic modeling of meaning as choice. The author revisits concept of the semiotic system introduced in Chapter 1 by discussing the paradigmatic relations in terms of choice of content and expression. The chapter presents a description of a simple semiotic system of traffic lights and then the paradigmatic and syntagmatic axes with respect to relations between linguistic signs. The focus of this chapter is on the concept of system and issues related to this notion: the relationship between system and structure, and priority of paradigmatic relations in systemic functional linguistics.
Chapter 8: The grammar of experiential meaning: TRANSITIVITY Having dealt with the interpersonal strand of meaning in Chapter 6, this chapter explores one component of the ideational metafunction (i.e., experiential meaning; with the other component presented in the following chapter), which is concerned with how we represent reality in language (e.g., the meanings about the world, about our experience and perception of the world). The focus of the chapter is on the description of the system of Transitivity, which is about the process types associated with participant roles and configurations. Six process types (Material, Mental, Behavioural, Verbal, Existential, Relational) are illustrated with examples and diagrams, which are concerned with three aspects of the clause: the selection of a process, the selection of (a) participant(s), and the selection of (a) circumstance(s).
Chapter 9: The grammar of logical meaning: CLAUSE COMPLEX With the experiential meaning presented in Chapter 8, the other component of the ideational metafunction (i.e. logical meaning) is dealt with in this chapter. This component of the ideational meaning is concerned with the logico-semantic systems of the clause complex (which is the term used in systemic functional linguistics to refer to the grammatical and semantic unit formed when two or more clauses are linked together), which provide options that can be used to link individual clauses of experiential meaning together into ideationally coherent clause complexes. The focus of this chapter is on the structure of the clause complex, the system of taxis (interdependency between linked clauses), and the system of logico-semantic relations (projection and expansion).
Chapter 10: The grammar of textual meaning: THEME With the two of the three metafunctions already dealt with respectively in Chapter 6 (interpersonal meaning) and Chapters 8 (ideational-experiential meaning) and 9 (ideational-logical meaning), this chapter discusses the third strand of meaning (metafunction) in the clause (i.e. textual meaning), which is concerned with the organization of the clause as a message. The chapter focuses on the system of Theme, which "is the element which serves as the point of departure of the message" and "it is that which locates and orients the clause within its context" (Halliday and Matthiessen 2004: 64). The system of Theme/Rheme, types of Theme (topical, interpersonal, textual, and multiple; marked and unmarked), and thematic structures in different clause types are presented with examples.
Chapter 11: Explaining text: applying SFL (Systemic Functional Linguistics) This last chapter is designed first to summarize the linguistic model presented in the previous chapters and then to demonstrate how a systemic functional approach to language can be applied to text analysis in a comprehensive manner. The demonstration of text analysis offers a comprehensive lexico-grammatical and cohesive analysis of three important texts ("the Crying Baby texts") introduced in Chapter 1; the analysis involves discussions of the similarities and differences of the texts in different systems of meaning-making mechanisms. This last chapter ends with a very interesting point, which is: "At issue in all linguistic analysis is the process by which lived or imagined experience is turned into text. Text is not life --- it is life mediated through the symbolic system of language", and the author hopes that her book has shown the reader "how SFL analysis can help us understand something of the process by which we live much of our lives at one remove --- as texts".
Eggins' first edition (1994) is based on the first edition of Halliday (1985), and this second edition (2004) mainly on the second edition of Halliday (1994). As the author points out, when the third edition of Halliday's An Introduction to Functional Grammar (Halliday and Matthiessen 2004) appeared, this second edition was in production. Thus, the author had tried to update the references where possible, but the motivating text for this second edition is still Halliday (1994).
In the first edition (1994), Eggins followed Martin (1992) in regarding the stratum of language above grammar as "discourse-semantics" and as a result there was a chapter (Chapter 4) dealing with Martin's methodology for the analysis of cohesive patterns as discourse-semantic systems. In this second edition, she returns to Halliday's (e.g., 1994) model, calling the top linguistic stratum "semantics" (instead of "discourse-semantics") and following Halliday's methodology for the cohesive analyses interpreted as non-structural grammatical systems. One obvious result of this theoretical modification is that Chapter 4 (Discourse-semantics: cohesion in text) in the first edition has been rewritten and become the main part of Chapter 2 (What is (a) text?) in this second edition. As a textbook aiming at introducing the principles and techniques of the systemic functional approach to text analysis, this rewritten chapter is much better in that the focus is more on texture, cohesion and coherence and on the relationships between and among these important concepts. However, one may argue that as the focus of the textbook is on text analysis it is advisable to follow Martin's (1992) "discourse-semantics" proposal which may be more appropriate when the analysis is beyond the clause.
The newly-written chapter (Chapter 9: The grammar of logical meaning: CLAUSE COMPLEX) in this second edition is more than necessary, as it is the other important component of Halliday's ideational metafunction. With regard to text analysis, the relationship between clauses in the clause complex is highlighted when both the system of taxis and that of logico- semantics are taken into consideration, which means that an overview of the grammar of logical meaning is an essential part of the book. Thus, I would congratulate the author on her decision to add this component to this revised edition.
This second edition is much better than its first edition in a number of ways, one of which is the overall structure and organization of the book, and it also avoids shortcomings in the first edition. For example, in the first edition, the same figure appeared twice, but with slightly different labels (p. 21: "Levels or strata of language"; p.81: "The strata of language").
I am deeply impressed by the author's abilities and techniques in convincingly illustrating and demonstrating text analysis within the systemic functional framework. The principles and techniques of the systemic functional approach to text analysis are more clearly and explicitly presented in this book than in Halliday (e.g. 1994), the motivating text for this book. The successful attempt as exemplified in this textbook shows that systemic functional linguistics is one of the most powerful models of grammatical theory that has been constructed "for purposes of text analysis: one that would make it possible to say sensible and useful things about any text, spoken or written, in modern English." (Halliday 1994: xv) As can be seen in my review of Renkema (2004) , the powerfulness of the Hallidayan approach to text analysis is also recognized by Jan Renkema, a non-systemicist discourse analyst, who states that the Hallidayan approach seems to be the best candidate that "offers a good general framework for analyzing all the different aspects of discourse" (Renkema 2004: 46).
I totally agree with the author, Dr. Suzanne Eggins, when she says that "since 1994, systemic functional linguistics (SFL) has moved from 'marginal' to 'mainstream' as an approach to language, at least in Australia". I would add that the same is true in the People's Republic of China.
My overall impression on this book is clearly a very positive one. This book introduces and interprets Halliday's theory in a clear, concise and reader-friendly way. It demonstrates convincingly, with text examples of both written and spoken English, how systemic functional linguistics can be applied to text analysis. The book is certainly a welcome and valuable addition to the current literature both on introductions to systemic functional linguistics and on text analysis. I would certainly recommend this as the main textbook and/or reference book on introduction to systemic functional linguistics and/or systemic functional text analysis.
Eggins, S. (1994) An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics. London: Pinter.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1985) An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London: Arnold.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 2nd edition. London: Arnold.
Halliday, M. A. K. and Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2004) An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 3rd edition. London: Arnold.
Martin, J. R. (1984) Language, Register and Genre. In F. Christie, ed. Children Writing: A Reader. Geelong, Vic.: Deakin University Press, 21-9.
Martin, J. R. (1992) English Text: System and Structure. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Renkema, J. (2004) Introduction to Discourse Studies. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dr. Guowen Huang is a professor of linguistics at the School of Foreign Languages, Sun Yat-sen University in P.R. China. Since 2003, he has been serving as Chair of China Association of Functional Linguistics. He is now a Fulbright visiting scholar attached to Stanford University. His research interests include Systemic Functional Linguistics, discourse analysis, and translation studies.