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Review of  Systemic Functional Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis

Reviewer: Salvio Martín Menéndez
Book Title: Systemic Functional Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis
Book Author: Lynne Young Claire Harrison
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Book Announcement: 16.2058

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Date: Fri, 1 Jul 2005 11:38:31 -0300
From: Salvio Martín Menéndez <>
Subject: Systemic Functional Linguistics and Critical Discourse
Analysis: Studies in Social Change

EDITORS: Young, Lynne; Harrison, Claire
TITLE: Systemic Functional Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis
SUBTITLE: Studies in Social Change
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group, Ltd.
YEAR: 2004

Salvio Martín Menéndez, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Universidad
Nacional de Mar del Plata, CONICET

This collection of papers focuses on social change in different settings
and through a wide range of voices. It offers a view of both systemic
functional linguistics (SFL) and critical discourse analysis (CDA), and
looks at the relationship between these approaches to language.

The book is divided into two parts; the theoretical section explores
ways to study social, political, and economic transformations, whilst
the applied section examines the effects of social change on national
and institutional identities.


The opening paper of the Theoretical Section is "Analysing Discursive
Variation" by Ruqaiya Hasan. First, she proposes to identify the
relevance which underlies the presence of consistency and variation
found in language. She shows that there are many ways of using the
term discourse. She proposes how it is used in SFL: "discourse is the
process of language in some recognizable social context" (16). Then,
she gives a characterization of variation in relation to consistency or
normality. She argues "that variation is in fact a form of consistency"
(17). Then she relates variant and norm to establish that both act
inherently as shifters in Jakobson´s sense of that term. Variation must
be seen, therefore, in a quite different way of Labov. She
characterizes, following Halliday, the two main kind of variation by
reference to the users of language (dialectal variation) or the uses of
language (diatypic variation). She describes the diatypic varieties in
relation to realization as a dialectical relationship that relates:
a) context of culture and context of situation and,
b) language and text.

Then, she analyses variation and consistency in Diatypic Varieties
affirming that the general nature of contextual configuration is realized
as structure, and the more specific aspects in relation to an individual
occasion for talk as texture. She shows how the forms of discursive
variation arise from its structural potential and from the genre specific
semantic potential analyzing representative texts. After that, she
characterizes dialectal variation in which speaker identity is relative
stable. She clearly points up: "Dominant sociolinguistics has inherited
its methodology and its concept variation from classical dialectology,
and its linguistics from an a-social structuralism; and its approach to
the social remains superficial" (37). So, she states: "Meaning is what
makes language perform the many social acts speakers engage in: it
was, therefore, logical to believe that variation in speakers´ social
condition would bear some relationship to their meaning-making
practices" (37). She criticizes dominant sociolinguistics (i.e. Labovian),
because it does not account that 1) discursive variation includes
dialectal variation and context are realizationally related to texts and,
2) semantic styles are active in the perception of context so dialectal
variation would be relevant. She then discusses semantic style and
semantic orientation by analyzing clear examples. Finally, she affirms
that what produces discursive variation is the principle of co-genetic
evolution in society, because language and society each act as a
resource for the other. She concludes: " It has seemed to me for
some time now that it is not system or structure that are static: what is
static is our ways of looking at them, our mythologies about their
nature (45).

In "Predication, Propagation and Mediation: SFL, CDA, and the
Inculcation of Evaluative-Meaning System", Philip Graham argues that
an understanding of mediation, i.e., the movement of meaning across
space and time, is essential for an analysis of meaning. Mediation
has to be seen from a technological perspective where media, genres
and modes are fundamental and interrelated aspects of meaning-
making process. Two different texts are analyzed from this
perspective. One is an annual address to the United States Radio and
Television Correspondents Association annual dinner by former US
President Bill Clinton, and the other is a lecture to the University
President´s Forum by Mark Katz, the person who wrote Clinton´s text.
The analysis is clearly postulated and Mr. Graham clearly states that
the main relationship between SFL and CDA are the "contextual" part
of the former, and the "critical" part of the latter. Therefore, his
conclusions are orientated in this direction where he thinks that SFL
and CDA can help to understand new communication technologies
and new institutional relations.

In "Mapping Distinction: Towards a Systemic Representation of Power
in Language", Tom Bartlett attempts to refine the methodology of
CDA. He states that CDA has been criticized from different points of
view (conversation analysis, applied linguistics). He also points that
CDA is aware of the tension between micro- and macro-analysis. His
paper "presents a methodology that attempts to quantify contextually
sensitive samples of language as instantiations of social stance" (69).
He proposes a qualitative-quantitative method to analyse the lexemic
meaning potentials of the modals within speech acts. Following Whorf
(1956: 158) and Hasan (1996: 148-149) "fashions of speaking ", he
proposes to analyze the relationship between language and power
through ways of speaking, i.e. "a means of depicting social difference,
of mapping distinction" (72). His data is taken from his own fieldwork
in Guyana, South America, where he studied communication
strategies between the Iwokrama International Rainforest
Conservation Programme, a multinational non-governmental
organization (NGO), and local Amerindian communities. He
interviewed leader members of each group and then presents an
analysis of modality as a linguistic means of constructing social
relations, and transitivity as a means of construing social reality. The
results of his qualitative-quantitative analysis are given in order to
prove that working with networks of ways of speaking proved to be a
good method that clearly shows the options speakers make.

In "Role Prescriptions, Social Practices, and Social Structures: A
Sociological Basis for the Contextualization of Analysis in SFL and
CDA", José Luis Meurer discusses Giddens "structuration theory" as a
broad sociological foundation to account for context in analysis of text
and their impact, and to complement framework provided by SFL and
CDA. He proposes the term intercontextuality, in an analogy to
intertextuality and interdiscursivity, "to refer to the various contexts
that intermesh to influence or determine, and be influenced or
determined by text, discourse and other social practices" (86). Then
he describes the main dimensions of structuration theory: role
prescription, social practices and social structures. He analyses
selected aspects of the text "On Bombing" by Noam Chomsky, that
widely circulated on Internet on September 11th 2001, to explain how
SFL, CDA and Structuration Theory have to interconnect in order to
show in text analysis how context of culture effectively works in
relation to language. He clearly concludes stating: "We cannot just say
that language use is also related to the context of culture, which
realizes genre and leave it at that. Thus I believe the framework I have
introduced above may be the initial route between the broader context
and language use (96)

"Critical Discourse Analysis in Researching Language in the New
Capitalism: Overdetermination, Transdisciplinary and Textual
Analysis" by Norman Fairclough opens the second part "Applied
Section: National Identity". He starts by describing New Capitalism as
a new way that Capitalism has to overcome crisis by transforming itself
periodically. He states that the common idea of new capitalism implies
that it is "discourse driven"; therefore language has a more important
role in contemporary socioeconomic changes that it has had in the
past. He gives as a punctual example of this transformations of the
new capitalism a single text, the "Foreword" to the UK Department of
Trade and Industry White Paper, "Our Competitve Future: Building the
Knowledge Economy" by the Prime Minister Tony Blair. He presents a
textual analysis taking SFL as the linguistic frame, but he also points
that a critical perspective has to be adopted. He clearly points the
difference between text as a linguistic unit and discourse as "a
representation of some area of social life from a particular
perspective" (111). He understands that in CDA interdiscursive
analysis of text is the way to integrating social and linguistic analysis,
because social practices are networked. So, he distinguishes
language as an element of the social at all levels where languages
can be regarded as among the abstract social structures, orders of
discourse as social practices and texts as social events. Orders of
discourse are a key concept: they are the social organization and
control of linguistic variation and their elements (discourses, genres,
styles). Language, he affirms following Althusser and Balibar (1979),
is "overdetermined" by other social elements. So, he suggests to
working transdisciplinary, i.e. doing text analysis and discourse
analysis. Trandisciplinarity, then, is one method of working in and
interdisciplinary way which he clearly characterizes: "It is not simple a
matter of adding concepts and categories from other disciplines and
theories, but working on and elaborating one´s own theoretical and
methodological resources so as to be able to address insights or
problems captured in other theories or disciplines from the perspective
of one´s particular concern.(….) Disciplinary specialization is
simultaneously necessary and insufficient, desirable and dangerous"
(116). His conclusions lead to see that SFL is a necessary condition
but not a sufficient one to work from a CDA perspective. He
understands that "the interdiscursive analysis of text is a crucial
mediating link between linguistic analysis and social analysis, a link
which is needed (…) if one is to succeed in incorporating textual
analysis more substantively within social research" (119). The
incorporation of this kind of analysis "places us in a stronger position
to make a substantive contribution to social research" (120)

In "Prolegomena to a Discursive Model of Malaysian National Identity",
Faiz Sathi Abdullah, uses SFL and CDA as tools to analyze the
concepts of "Malaysian", "nation" (bangsa) and "we" (kita) and
establishes how they are represented in different discourses. He
departs from the concepts of "National Identity" as defined by Wodak
et al. 1999) in order to discern what may be defined as "nationalist"
and "national ideologies". He proposes a discursive model of
Malaysian national identity and analyses several texts as examples.
He concludes saying that "to explore the experiential and relational
values inherent in the language of Malaysian national/nationalist
identity construction, a more principled analysis of a representative
sample of discourse is imperative, taking into account other semiotic
modalities for a comprehensive, critical assessment of discursive
strategies, their linguistic realization, and underlying ideologies" (135).

In "Celebrating Singapore´s Development: An Analysis of the
Millenium Stamps", Chng Huang Hoon analyses critically the
Millennium Collection, a set of 14, minted stamps that mark 'the
milestones in Singapore´s development. In his analysis, he focuses on
aspects in the construction of the Singaporean history and identity
from the perspective of CDA. He also analyses the texts from the
perspective of SFL focusing in the nature of agency and clause
structure. He presents a detailed analysis of the texts to conclude
that "Clearly, the official construction is unambiguous about what one
should be proud of (…) the milestones are all, unsurprisingly perhaps,
People´s Action Party milestones" (153) The problem, he clearly
poses, is why the individual does not feel identified with it. He said that
this will be the subject of future papers.

In "The Representation of Social Actors in the Globe and Mail during
the break-up of the Former Yugoslavia", Dragana Polovina-Vukovic
shows how a segment of Canadian press portrays the different ethnic
groups involved in the wars during the disintegration of Yugoslavia
(1991 to 1999). She takes the articles appeared on the front page of
the Globe and Mail as her corpora to analyze how the paper identified
the different ethnic groups either as "villains" or "victims". She makes a
detailed description of the corpus and the selected data, a brief
history of Yugoslavia and how they are represented in the press. She
analyses mainly the different processes used by the newspaper in
order to conclude that "the Globe and Mail discursively reproduced
the ideological framework that echoed ethnic inequality among various
groups from the Balkans. While Serb atrocities were widely
condemned, Serb suffering was minimized, or worse, overlooked. In
this simplified story about the struggle between good and evil, NATO
played the role of rescuer of innocent victims" (167). Her final
paragraph is clear enough to see the scope of the matter discussed.
She says: "What I have presented here is an academic discussion of
media discourse had, in fact, consequences on the lives of people in
the Balkans. Some of them received no humanitarian aid, some of
them were bombed, some of them were not granted visas in different
developed countries, and some of them are still waiting to return to
their homes. Uncovering inequality in discourse has implications not
only for media coverage, but also can lead to changes in non-
discursive practices, which affects the lives of those represented"

The third part of the book is called "Applied Section: Institutional
Identity". It is opened by Frances Christie´s paper "Authority and Its
role in the Pedagogic Relationship of Schooling". She argues the need
to develop critical perspectives on a great deal of educational theory
to articulate useful models of knowledge and the curriculum and,
therefore, of the nature of the authority exercised by the teacher in
the pedagogic relationship of schooling. She uses the model of
classroom discourse analysis by Christie (2002) which uses SFL. Also,
following Bernstein (1990, 2000), she argues that the presence of a
teacher who is in authority is needed. In order to illustrate her point,
she analyses an example of early childhood literacy learning. Her
conclusions state that "using a method of classroom discourse
analysis, I have sought to demonstrate how successful teacher
authority is essential to the process of teaching and learning in
school" (197).

In "The Principal´s Book: Discursively Reconstructing a Culture of
Teaching and Learning in an Umlazi High School, Ralph Adendorff
provides a close study of situated discursive practice in an educational
site, Thukeleni High School (a pseudonym) in South Africa. It is
concerned with the effect of discourse (The Book) on identities (those
of teachers and principal) in the context of post-apartheid South
Africa. His data is drawn from 99 entries in four copies of The Book
and interviews with the principal and members of his staff. His
analytical framework is the Appraisal Framework within SFL. This
approach is concerned with exploring the discursive semantics and
lexis grammar of the language of evaluation, attitude and
intersubjective positioning. It accounts of how language construes the
interpersonal relationship of solidarity and power. He works, then, in
the discourse of authority analyzing its formal and textual features,
and also the discourse of exhortation. His conclusion clearly states: "In
this particular "community of practice" (…)The Book defines
simultaneously one struggle over membership identities (of the
principal and his staff) and another over preferred practices, in ways
that both reflect the troubled situation of the school, and perhaps
contribute towards the maintenance of some of its troubled aspects"

In "Representations of Rape in the Discourse of Legal Decisions",
Débora de Carvalho Figueiredo analyses the vocabulary used in
British reported appeal decisions on rape cases to depict sexual
assaults. She investigates this issue from the perspective of CDA and
Gender and Feminist Legal Studies. She analyses the legal view of
rape where she defines, from the legal point of view, what it is defined
as the real or prototypical rape. Then, she analyses cases of non-
typical rapes such as marital rape and ex-partner rape. Her
conclusions point that there is a disparity between the way sexual
violence is treated in theory and in practice. "Judicial discourse makes
use of several prototypes to help categorize rape cases and their
participants, such as 'real rape`, the `true victim´, and the `typical
rapist´. The prototypical cases are seen as serious and as deserving
severe punishment. Events and participants that shade away from
these central, core examples, e.g. marital rape, date rape, and rape of
sexually experienced woman, are viewed with disbelief and suspicion
and, frequently, end up in acquittals or short sentences" (227).

In "Bureaucratic Discourse: Writing in the "Confort Zone", Claire
Harrison and Lynne Young show "how one could go
about "unpacking" bureaucratese through the Phasal Analysis of a e-
mail office memo issued within Health Canada (HC), a department of
the Government of Canada" (232). They give the context of
Canada´s public service in order to make a Phasal Analysis of the
memos. This kind of analysis proposes of discovering the way in which
speakers and writers structure and organize discourse. They propose
to analyse the memo in four phases (I´m on the level; Show and Tell;
Concealment and Arm´s-length Commands) to conclude that: "The
memo failed because of this: it did not make the employees feel heard,
valued or respected. Bureaucratic discourse, long considered to be
useful in maintaining institutional cohesion may, in fact, contribute to
the very opposite of its desired effect by creating staff resentment and
resistance to the hierarchical status quo reinforced by such discourse.
It does not contribute towards the kind of systemic changes required
to create a work environment that will make the government "an
employer of choice" and attract the type of high-quality, skilled
workers required in today´s and tomorrow´s workplace."(242).

In "Charismatic Business Leader Rhetoric: >From Transaction to
Transformation", Arlene Harvey examines the discourse interaction
between two leadership styles: Transactional (that encompasses
managerial and pragmatics processes) and Transformational
leadership (that is associated with effectiveness). A short dialogue
between a well-known transformational leader, Steve Jobs of Apple
Computer and his employees is analyzed from SFL focusing on
ideational patterning to show how he uses grammatical metaphors
and negative material processes. A complementary analysis,
interpersonally oriented, uses Appraisal Theory to show how the
leader tries to inspire his employees to perform beyond expectations.

In "Ideological Resources in Biotechnology Press Releases: Patterns
of Theme/Rheme and "Given/New", Ingrid Lassen centers on two
biotechnology press releases (that represent conflicting interests) with
the primary purpose of exploring one stylistic strategy that is available
for naturalizing ideologies. She combines Fairclough´s three
dimensional CDA model (social practice, discourse practice and text)
with SFL framework of Theme/Rheme and Given/New to present a
detailed analysis of the data selected. She concludes by saying
that "The differences in style and communicative purposes of the two
press releases corroborates (…) that it might not be possible to
categorize press releases as a uniform genre, but rather as a special
mode or channel used for conveying news of interest to the general
public" (273).

In "We have the power -- Or do We: Pronouns of Power in an Union
Context", Maurice Ward proposes to analyze the pronoun we in an
union meeting text as an exponent of distance and solidarity between
a group of workers in a factory in New Zealand and their
democratically elected union officials. After making a very good
analysis of the uses of we from a SFL framework, and showing how
CDA can contribute to interpret the text chosen, he arrives to the
following conclusion: "This paper avoids a simplistic conclusion that a
clique of union officials is manipulating their membership for personal
or political gain, and examines the systematic discoursal framing of a
group fighting oppression by highlighting a chain of intertextuality and
intermodality. It shows how detailed instantial analysis of the deictic we
(…) can contribute to understanding systemic disempowerment and
offer some small steps towards empowering workers within their
union, affirming that linguists in concert with other activist do have the
power to contribute to change." (294)


This volume shows clearly the necessity of making explicit connections
between a strong socially orientated linguistic theory as SFL, and
principles of the broad CDA, to give an accurate analysis of social
changes through different discursive practices.

The papers of this quite representative collection show the connection
successfully. The Theoretical Section is very important to focus the
central problems that CDA has to face when it deals with text analysis.
The Applied Section (on national and institutional identities) shows
how FSL is the adequate tool to carry on CDA.

In the Introduction to the Second Edition of his "Introduction to
Functional Grammar" (1984), M. A. K. Halliday strongly stated: "The
current preoccupation is with discourse analysis, or "text linguistics";
and it is sometimes assumed that this can be carried on with grammar -
- or even that it is somehow an alternative to grammar. But this is an
illusion. A discourse analysis that is not based on grammar is not an
analysis at all, but simply a running commentary on a text" (Halliday
1994: xvi). This important collection of papers proves that not only
there is "no illusion", but that CDA does not deserve to be merely
a "running commentary on a text" as well.


Althusser, Louis & Etienne Balibar (1970). Reading Capital. London,
New Left Books.

Bernstein, Basil (1990). Class, Codes and Control: Volume 4: The
Structuring of Pedagogical Discourse. London: Routledge.

Bernstein, Basil (2000) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity.
Theory, Research, Critique. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

Christie, Frances. (2002). Classroom Discourse Analysis. A Functional
Perspective. London: Continuum.

Hasan, Ruqaiya (1996). Ways of Saying and Ways of Meaning.
Selected Papers of Ruqaiya Hasan, ed. by C. Cloran, D. Butt and G.
Williams. London, Casell.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee (1956). Language, Though and Reality:
Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, ed. by J.B. Caroll,
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wodak, Ruth et al. (eds) (1999) The Discursive Construction of
National Identity. Edimburgh: Edimburgh University Press.


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) and researcher of the Consejo Nacional de
Investigaciones Científicas y Téncnicas (CONICET). He has worked
on Pragmatic Discourse Analysis on different corpora such as Political
Discourse, HIV Propaganda Discourse and High School Textbooks
Discourse. Now he is working in the relationship among grammar
resources, discursive strategies and genres in the Discourse of
Spanish Grammars.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0826467733
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 288
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ISBN: 0826467741
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Pages: 288
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