|AUTHOR: Yang, Xueyan
TITLE: Modelling Text As Process
SUBTITLE: A Dynamic Approach to EFL Classroom Discourse
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group
Thomas Amundrud, Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University, Sydney
In this ambitious monograph, Yang tackles the issue of how discourse analysis
(DA) using systemic-functional linguistics (SFL, e.g. Halliday & Matthiesson,
2004) can treat “the dynamic meaning flows of an unfolding text” (p.9) without
reducing text to the mere synoptic object of SFL’s robust grammar. To this end,
Yang develops a new subsystem of the multi-functional, multi-stratal framework
of Hallidayan Functional Linguistics that she calls “TEXT AS PROCESS”, and
demonstrates its application through the analysis of Chinese tertiary EFL
classroom data. As this is definitely a book for those already who know the
terms, systems, and arguments within systemic functional linguistics, readers
unfamiliar with those areas would be advised to first consult introductory texts
like Butt et. al (2000), as well as the canonical Halliday & Matthiesson (2004),
along with Halliday (1978), Martin (1992), and Martin & Rose (2007).
The book contains nine chapters, a table of contents, lists of tables, figures,
appendices, references, and an index.
The first chapter addresses the reasons for using SFL in discourse analysis, why
the author is interested in developing a model of text as process, and why this
book treats EFL classroom discourse. Contrary to the disconnection from
linguistics she sees in some discourse analysis techniques, particularly
critical DA, Yang sees DA as a fundamentally integrative project, showing, as
she attempts, how theories of discourse build into theories of language, such as
in SFL. Yang defines “discourse” as “language use itself” approached from any
disciplinary perspective, and “text”, or language use viewed as “an
instantiation of the linguistic system” (p.5). Unlike other forms of discourse
analysis, the SFL-based approach Yang uses takes language explicitly into
account; however, since SFL, as a grammar foremost, “takes the clause or group,
rather than the text, as the unit of analysis” (p.6) it is more at home with
syntactic analyses treating text as product than as process, leading to Yang’s
In Chapter 2, Yang provides a basic introduction to the philosophy underlying
SFL. She summarizes its dimensions: the three metafunctions (ideational,
interpersonal, and textual), the principle of stratification, through which the
layers of culture, semantics, grammar, and phonology realize the interface of
the material and the semiotic, and by which realizations traverse between lower
and upper strata; and, the principle of instantiation by which the meaning
potential of the language system is actualized, in a particular culture, through
the field, tenor, and mode relations collectively known as register. Yang (p.19)
puts particular emphasis on Halliday (1985), who states that “the particular
situational configurations of field, mode, and tenor … must also, of course,
include the expressions, the lexicogrammatical and phonological features, that
typically accompany or REALIZE these meanings.” This stress on the fundamental
inclusion of “specific lexicogrammatical and phonological features” in register
characterizes Yang’s innovation, introduced in detail in Chapter 4, as a
departure from previous definitions of “register” used in SFL.
In Chapter 3, Yang contrasts her process-based approach with previous attempts
at the analysis of dynamic texts in SFL and related theories of language,
particularly in the classroom. Yang’s examples include Sinclair & Coulthard’s
(1975) rank-scale model, Hasan’s Generic Structure Potential schema (in
Halliday & Hasan, 1985), Martin (1992) on negotiation, Christie’s (2002)
classroom discourse analysis of curricular genres and macro-genres, and Martin &
Rose (2008) on genre. Although Yang’s specific criticisms of each of these
previous attempts are quite different, her core criticism of all is: how are
specific lexicogrammatical realizations connected to the structural
organizations of texts?
Chapter 4 is where Yang begins presenting her answer to this question, and
outlines her two core innovations. The first is the notion of UNIVARIATE, “a
particular grammatical choice that recurs in successive clauses to form a
logogenetic pattern”, linking these clauses into a semantic phase (p.49). This
expands on Halliday’s (1978) notion of univariate structures within the logical
stratum, whereby individual variables recur at the clause complex level. Yang
considers these choices, found in different texts of the same text type, to be a
feature, or subpotential, of a particular register. One instance of this
recurrence is described in the Ideational analysis of classroom discourse
(Chapter 7), which demonstrates that, when the class is talking about a story
they’ve read, which Yang calls the “In-text”, the “relocated participants”
(Yang, 2010, p.119-120) of the story are either people, things, or animals whose
projected text is instantiated in material, mental, or relational process (see
Chapter 5 of Halliday & Matthiesson, 2004 on process types, and Chapter 7 on
projection), e.g. “…several CARS OR TRUCKS PASSED by and nobody, no DRIVER
PICKED him up” (Yang, 2010, p.130, emphasis in boldface in the original). On the
other hand, in the “Beyond-text”, where teachers and students question the
possible meanings the writer is attempting to convey, the “on-spot” participant,
which is a physically present linguistic participant in the classroom (Yang,
2010, p.118-119), is the textbook, for which the teacher conveys the intended
meanings through verbal, mental, and attributive processes, e.g. “So the WRITER
WANTS TO CONVINCE the reader…” (pp.134-135).
The second is Yang’s “reinterpretation” of register, which starts from
Halliday’s (2004) definition, where register is the probabilistic instantiation
patterns associated with a particular context or situation type. She then notes
both Halliday, in Thompson & Collins (2001), and Martin (1985), discussing the
simultaneous synoptic, or system-level, and dynamic, or process-level,
properties of the concept of register. In order to reformulate these two
properties as “two distinct by symbiotically interacting subsystems,” (p.54),
Yang splits “register” into two subsystems, which she calls REGISTER and TEXT
TYPE, to respectively handle the synoptic and dynamic aspects of register. Yang
(p.56) distinguishes her work from Martin’s more recent approaches to analyzing
“discourse potential” (e.g. Martin & Rose, 2007), as she is more concerned with
analyzing “subpotential”, or the “dynamic subsystem specific to a given text
type” that can be used for examining all texts of a given situation types, and
places her work in the SFL architecture of language as outlined in Halliday &
Matthiesson (2004). Following this theoretical placement of her work, the book
then outlines the general and operating statements of the TEXT TYPE model, and
the realizational statements for discerning REGISTER and TEXT TYPE from analysis.
The four subsequent chapters describe the research design (Chapter 5), and the
Interpersonal (Chapter 6), Ideational (Chapter 7) and Textual (Chapter 8)
analyses of EFL classroom discourse from 10 different classes with 10 different
teachers from eight different Beijing universities. The terms used for
describing dynamic text, including the definition of turn and move, are taken
from Halliday & Matthiesson (2004), with the transcription conventions also
developed for SFL. Each chapter strives for considerable dynamic detail,
describing in order the contextual (field-tenor-mode) values, the manifestations
of the respective metafunctions concerned, and examples from classroom data.
The three chapters containing the Interpersonal, Ideational, and Textual
analyses discern a number of systems and logogenetic patterns, both refined from
Halliday & Matthiesson (2004) and elsewhere, as well as of the author’s origin,
which the book shows to recur in the classroom discourse samples provided, such
as the examples of “In-text” and “Beyond-text” above. As a start, readers may
want to examine the conclusion in Chapter 9 first to see what the author
considers her contributions to the SFL theory of language, and then find
individual points of interest from there. Among the contributions identified are
the categories of speech functions in textual and interpersonal choices in
Chapters 9 and 6 respectively, which Yang describes as “move types”, developed
in part from Sinclair and Coulthard (1975). In addition, in Chapter 7, the
interpersonal analysis, Yang discerns two new components of Halliday &
Matthiesson’s (2004) SUBJECT PERSON system, those of pseudo-interactant and
interactant involved, between the poles of interactant and non-interactant.
“Modelling text as process” is a formidable work, describing an innovation
within the systemic-functional tradition for researchers to explore, refine, and
dispute. As many of the patterns and moves of classroom language described
evoke Sinclair & Coulthard (1975) and other works on classroom discourse, Yang
(2010) may be similarly useful as a resource book for describing typical
patterns of EFL/ESL lessons. At the same time, since the author outlines the
analytical frameworks from describing REGISTER and TEXT TYPE in Chapter 5, the
descriptions contained herein appear expandable. Indeed, whatever other
criticisms one may have, this book provides a fertile source for finding ways to
describe the language of classrooms, even if one may not use all the
accompanying theoretical architecture. Nevertheless, for language teachers --
and those who would analyze them -- working in environments where more
communicative or task-based approaches are the norm, as opposed to the
apparently uniform teacher-centered style shown in the classroom data Yang
provides, such expansion would be necessary to make Yang’s framework fit a wider
variety of classes.
Another possible objection, especially by systemicists working in the model of
register developed following Martin (1992), is regarding how Yang’s TEXT TYPE
model ties the field-tenor-mode values of a text with its lexicogrammatical
realizations, apparently effacing the possibility of register as a connotative
semiotic, as in Martin’s model. This “Hjelmslevian reading of SFL” is defended
in Martin (1999), which explains that this model distinguishes “the realization
relationship between register and language from realization across strata within
language” since context “manifested itself by skewing probabilities in
In Yang’s interpersonal, ideational, and textual analysis chapters,
field-tenor-mode values of the Chinese tertiary EFL texts examined appear to
remain stable, and are confirmed as such in the Conclusion. Following Yang’s
core criticism in Chapter 3 that other attempts in SFL at analyzing dynamic text
were inconsistent in connecting lexicogrammatical arrangements with structural
realizations, this book depicts quite a number of lexicogrammatically consistent
examples of UNIVARIATE and TEXT TYPE patterns. However, more data is needed to
show whether the UNIVARIATE and TEXT TYPE patterns found are indeed consistent
across a wider range of EFL/ESL lessons. If there are inconsistencies, as there
likely will be, then how can it be shown how different field-tenor-mode
combinations in REGISTER relate in different TEXT TYPES? A possible compromise
between Yang’s model, based in Halliday’s conception of register, and those
based on Martin’s work in discourse semantics, may be possible if the patterns
of the subsystems of UNIVARIATE and TEXT TYPE, as well as others Yang has
already placed within the different metafunctions, are examined on the
denotative levels of discourse and lexicogrammar. Since Yang (p.199) regards her
work as dealing with the semantic stratum, such a compromise between may not
require much of a stretch, though such reconfigurations would require
compromises in terminology between Yang and others.
Finally, although this book attempts to deal with the simultaneously dynamic and
synoptic nature of text, the transcripts used do not show how the interactants
actually produced their text in process. Although the book does summarize
production when describing individual systems or patterns discerned, or when
describing stretches of classroom text used in analysis, the transcripts
themselves are not very effectively used to convey these insights. Future work
with the TEXT TYPE system could therefore benefit from more
pragmatically-inspired transcription, though the conclusion notes (p.204) that,
so as to develop a system of dynamic textual analysis indigenous to systemic
functional linguistics, tools from non-SFL traditions were consciously avoided.
Despite these points, this book is a welcome addition to the project of making a
description of oral texts that shows both their dynamic and systemic potential,
defining new terms, and pointing to new questions in this field. Researchers
within systemic-functional linguistics will undoubtedly find much to inspire
further research, even as this book draws new systems in SFL’s expansive
architecture of language as social semiotic.
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