LINGUIST List 22.3130

Fri Aug 05 2011

Review: Morphology; Syntax: Lavid et al. (2010)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

        1.     Beatriz Quiroz-Olivares , Systemic Functional Grammar of Spanish

Message 1: Systemic Functional Grammar of Spanish
Date: 05-Aug-2011
From: Beatriz Quiroz-Olivares <>
Subject: Systemic Functional Grammar of Spanish
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AUTHOR(S): Lavid, Julia; Arús, Jorge; Zamorano-Mansilla, Juan Rafael TITLE: Systemic Functional Grammar of Spanish SUBTITLE: A Contrastive Study with English PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd YEAR: 2010

Beatriz Quiroz-Olivares, Department of Linguistics, University of Sydney, Australia

SUMMARY This two-volume book offers a comprehensive account of Spanish grammar within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics. As stated in the introduction, its three main aims are i) to complement other descriptions of this kind recently published for a number of languages, while contributing to the more general field of systemic functional typology, ii) to provide a description of Spanish grammar as a meaning-making resource, which can be especially adapted 'for the purposes of discourse analysis and interpretation', and iii) to present a contrastive account of Spanish and English grammars from a systemic functional (hereafter SF) perspective.

The book comprises six chapters in two volumes, containing Chapters 1-3 and Chapters 4-6. Chapter 1 (pp. 1-9) is a general introduction presenting the main purposes of this account, as well as its intended readership -- including a wide range of potential users: from researchers in the general field of Spanish Linguistics, to professionals concerned with applications in the area of Spanish as a second language and computational linguistics. Here a brief overview of the theoretical framework is provided, focusing on four of the five main dimensions established in SF theory and typological work (Caffarel et al. 2004): instantiation; axis ('system and structure'); rank, and metafunction (including the ideational, interpersonal and textual domains of meaning). The internal organisation of each chapter is also previewed: they begin with a brief presentation of the main topic under focus, followed by in-depth description of the relevant Spanish resources, with examples from natural texts (mostly taken from comprehensive online Spanish databases, see below); a brief contrastive section focusing on English-Spanish comparison; and a short summary recapitulating the main points discussed throughout the book section in question.

Chapter 2 (pp. 10-84) undertakes the description of the clause, the basic lexicogrammatical unit, in terms of its logical organisation within the ideational metafunction. This exploration is modeled on Halliday and Matthiessen (2004)'s account for the systems of TAXIS (including parataxis and hypotaxis) and LOGICO-SEMANTIC TYPE (including expansion and projection) in English. Hence, the descriptive section on Spanish resources is a step-by-step analysis of different kinds of 'clause complexes', examined in the interplay of the two main systems under consideration: types of expansion (including extension, elaboration and enhancement, along with their subtypes) and types of projection, which are simultaneously described in combination with possibilities in terms of TAXIS (either paratactic or hypotactic relations). While the section on expansion takes up most of the chapter, the treatment of projection is rather brief. This is justified on the grounds that projection is to be treated in detail in Chapter 3, in the discussion on mental and verbal processes. Interesting and relevant aspects are introduced regarding the so-called 'subjunctive' and 'indicative' morphological contrasts in the Spanish 'verbal mood' of dependent clauses, along with key important meanings they convey.

Chapter 3 (pp. 85-228) is a lengthy exploration of the experiential metafunction in the Spanish clause. The main novelty is the introduction of Davidse 1992's approach to NUCLEAR TRANSITIVITY: while the 'transitive' and the 'ergative' perspectives are conceived as complementary in mainstream SF accounts (Halliday 1994; Halliday and Matthiessen 2004), in this book they are presented as mutually exclusive, and grouped under the system of CAUSATION, which 'cuts across' the relatively independent resources for PROCESS TYPES and AGENCY. The rest of the chapter is consequently organised in light of this basic assumption, each structural possibility being the result of the interaction between the three main systems proposed: each CAUSATION type ('transitive' and 'ergative') is addressed separately, and each is internally examined in terms of the main process types identified (after Matthiessen, 1995), along with their participants roles; in turn, within each process type, each choice in AGENCY is described and illustrated (going from middle, pseudo-effective and effective clauses, after Davidse's proposal for English). It is worth mentioning that each 'ergative' process type involves a new set of specific participants in this account (e.g. 'ergative' Instigator and Affected for material processes, as distinct from 'transitive' Actor and Goal, and so on). Some attention is also given to CIRCUMSTANTIAL TRANSITIVITY, explored in terms of logico-semantic patterns (after Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004).

In the second volume, Chapter 4 (pp. 229-293) addresses the interpersonal metafunction, starting from a view of the clause as the main resource for the negotiation of roles and commodities in dialogue. First, the main MOOD TYPES are introduced as the basic 'lexico-grammatical choices' for the enactment of general SPEECH FUNCTIONS, including 'commands', 'offers', 'statements' and 'questions'. The description of the Spanish structures associated with MOOD TYPES concerns the general distinction between imperative and indicative clauses, moving on to more detailed or 'delicate' choices including interrogative, declarative and exclamative clauses, as developed in the SF framework. Discussion of 'congruent' and 'non-congruent' manifestations, in relation to interpersonal meanings, is advanced for the first time at this point. The major role of intonation in Spanish mood selections is pointed out, as well as the irrelevant role of sequence of elements in the interpersonal structure of the clause, as opposed to English. The chapter also offers a clear and accessible exploration of the most general resources in the systems of POLARITY and MODALITY (Halliday, 1994).

Chapter 5 (pp. 294-370) provides an overview of the textual metafunction, which involves both the thematic and the information structure of the clause. Important innovations are introduced in this grammar when compared to the descriptive generalizations described in SF literature for textual meanings across languages (Matthiessen, 2004). Regarding the thematic structure, the authors propose new labels intended to capture more effectively the nature of resources in the Spanish clause, now seen in terms of what they call 'Thematic' and 'Rhematic field' (rather than Theme and Rheme). The Thematic field is further divided into Inner and Outer field, and while the former covers components that are mapped onto the experiential structure of the clause (including the Head and the Pre-Head), the latter accounts for elements that are interpersonal or textual in nature. As for the information structure, the clause is kept as the basic unit (rather than the 'tone group', cf. Halliday, 1994; Halliday and Matthiessen 2004), and two further separate 'layers' are introduced: one specifying the 'information status' of the clause, with Given and News as its main functions, and another capturing its 'information focus', where the Focus function plays a major role). This chapter, when compared to the rest, stands out in its use of long stretches of parallel texts in English and Spanish to illustrate the structures and functions proposed, which notably contributes to an accessible and clear exposition.

Finally, Chapter 6 (pp. 371-430) focuses on the structure of groups and phrases. Both the nominal and the verbal group, which occupy most of the authors' attention, are explored in terms of their 'experiential' and their 'logical' structures, although not exactly in terms of the multivariate and univariate structures proposed in other SF accounts (Halliday, 1994; Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004). A detailed exploration of the nominal group and its constituent parts is offered (including subclassification into 'subjective' versus 'objective' Epithets), and the characterisation of the verbal group deals with the resources deployed within its domain in relation to voice, modality, tense, and aspect. In addition, this final chapter examines 'adjectival groups' (cf. Halliday's proposal, which considers adjectives as a kind of 'nominal') alongside adverbial groups, and their potential for intensification and comparison. Finally, this chapter focuses on prepositional phrases and some relevant experiential functions they relate to at clause rank.

EVALUATION This work is welcome as a long-awaited comprehensive account of the Spanish clausal resources inspired by the work conducted by M.A.K. Halliday and his colleagues on English. This thorough interpretation of the Spanish clause complements ongoing work addressing different metafunctions and resources, as well as different regional and functional varieties of Spanish, in varied contexts of enquiry and application.

The noted comprehensive orientation was most probably achieved thanks to the contribution of several authors, which in turn may explain certain heterogeneity in the way in which different aspects of Spanish grammar are dealt with throughout the book. To begin, some chapters heavily rely on previous and expert knowledge of or immediate access to key references in SF literature (Halliday and Matthiessen 2004, in chapter 2; Davidse 1992, and Matthiessen 1995, in chapter 3); on the other hand, others gently orient the reader to the main assumptions and categories under focus, which turn out to be more explicitly elaborated and explained precisely because they keep a reasonable degree of generality (see chapters 4 and 5). Chapters vary also in terms of their degree of detail and their relative taxonomical orientation: while some of them provide a fine-grained description of types and subtypes within the relevant set of resources, as it is the case in chapters 2 and 3, others appear more inclined to general characterisations, allowing the reader to effectively grasp the big picture of a given region of meaning, even if they lack previous knowledge of SF grammatical descriptive work (again, here chapters 4 and 5 can be considered paradigmatic). The way tables and diagrams are exploited for the sake of exposition is also uneven: in this regard, chapters 3 and 5 stand out as those where the extensive use of graphic resources will be much appreciated by readers unfamiliar with SF accounts, or those who are not necessarily familiar with the details of rich lexicogrammatical descriptions available within the SF framework (Halliday, 1994; Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004; Matthiessen 1995).

At a more abstract level, however, this description can be considered in terms of its location within the 'multidimensional semiotic space' defined in SF theory (Caffarel et al., 2004), i.e. a space configured by the dimensions of metafunction, stratification, axis, rank and instantiation, from which fundamental descriptive principles are derived and used to guide work on languages different from English. In this respect, this book contributes to open up the space for future research aiming at an ever integrating functional view of the Spanish language, as the one already developed in English, which will surely result in a powerful and elaborated description that effectively explain the contribution of grammar to the shaping and unfolding of texts in Spanish, as produced in natural contexts.

Thus in terms of metafunction, the proposal of new perspectives for the description of the Spanish clause, particularly with regard to experiential and textual meanings, is certainly refreshing and will no doubt trigger an interesting and fruitful discussion among the community of researchers engaged in relevant descriptive and applied work. For instance, given the powerful insights that a flexible interaction between the ergative and transitive models can provide for a better understanding of the way in which Spanish speakers construe their internal and external experience, further elaboration is likely to be expected on the reasons why the transitivity/ergativity complementarity is dismissed by the authors based on Davidse (1992)'s approach to English (cf. Matthiessen 2004 for a suggestive typological discussion on this matter). The same applies to the re-elaboration of the information structure, which here disregards the tone group as a basic unit on the grounds that there is 'a higher tendency in Spanish to use non-prosodic mechanism for the expression of the information structuring' (p. 362). The evidence for such a claim is a key issue that calls for further exploration.

Stratification, a dimension not explicitly introduced in chapter 1, proves relevant when evidence 'from above' or 'semantic' considerations are invoked to explain and label resources. For readers outside the SFL community, who might not be aware of the particular relation assumed between global levels or 'strata' (namely, [discourse] semantics, lexicogrammar and phonology/graphology), it is worth clarifying the different understanding behind a substantially 'semantic' interpretation of grammatical resources, since this is what clearly distinguishes SF accounts from those appealing to 'notional' or 'truth functional semantics', especially in traditional approaches to Spanish (cf. RAE 2009). Nonetheless, it is also the case that in SF theory there seems to be no general agreement on whether the above involves a functional approach to grammar from 'clause semantics' (such as the one proposed by Halliday and Matthiessen, 1999) or from 'text (discourse) semantics' (like that adopted in Martin 1992). The latter approach seems to be more in line to what is developed in chapter 5 regarding the thematic organisation of the Spanish clause; conversely, the former can be discerned from the interaction between domains of experience and process types (Chapter 3), as well as the interplay between speech functions and mood types (chapter 4). In any case, since the lexicogrammatical stratum is also assumed to make distinctions in meaning, a challenge for future work in Spanish is to explicitly articulate how this is achieved through lexicogrammatical patterns, overt or covert (Halliday, 1994, p. xix; Martin, 1996). In other words, a systematic exploration of the 'reactances' that allow a grammatically-based distinctions, e.g. between different process types and associated participant roles (Halliday and Matthiessen 1999), avoiding resort to what speakers or analysts 'feel' to be there, or beyond distinctions based on the grammar of English.

In relation to the axial dimension -- i.e. the two-fold view of language as system and structure --, this book takes an important step towards the display of resources through 'system networks', as the preferred mode of representation of linguistic resources. Although the 'systemic' approach in this book has been translated into complex taxonomies (as in chapters 2 and 3 dealing with ideational meanings) or into the use of heading titles that seem to anticipate a 'systemic' perspective (chapter 4), a structure-oriented view of resources prevails (quite straightforward in chapters 5 and 6). In this sense, argumentation in terms of system-structure cycles is crucial to overcome such a 'structural' bias, as that in place in non-SFL accounts that also claim to be 'functional' in their approach; even more importantly, this is key to mitigate the heavy reliance on elaborated 'system networks' that have evolved from the description of English, and that need to be reconsidered in light of the actual choices made by Spanish native speakers -- along with the language-specific structural configurations that both motivate and constrain such choices. A more extensive use of system networks as a descriptive tool will be naturally reflected in future argumentation of this kind (Martin, forthcoming).

In terms of the dimension of rank, as it is openly acknowledged in the introductory chapter, the basic unit of analysis is the clause (which also happens to be the entry condition of lexicogrammatical systems). This importantly entails that units below are not given the importance that is usually assigned in Spanish traditional accounts, which are essentially 'bottom-up' in their orientation to grammatical description, i.e. take smaller units as the point of departure. The focus on the clause is consistent with its definition as the minimal unit simultaneously realising interpersonal, ideational and textual lexicogrammatical meanings within the SF framework, chapter 6 being the only one directly concerned with units one rank below, that of groups/phrases.

A pending issue in this account is an extended rank scale discussion that advances a new way of thinking and looking at labels used in traditional grammars, which do not make function and class distinctions nor addresses the different contribution of units below the clause -- such as group/phrase, word and morpheme -- to the realization of grammatical interpersonal, ideational and textual meanings. According to assumptions related to 'constituency' in SF theory, functional labels do not necessarily establish a bi-univocal relation with class labels, e.g. an adjective -- class -- can realise an Epithet and/or a Classifier (function) within a nominal group; conversely, a Classifier -- function -- can be realised by an adjective or a noun, etc. Furthermore, all ranks can be analysed in terms of function and class relations (Martin 2004). Therefore, on the one hand, the resort to traditional labels without function-class elaboration limits the explanatory power on how a given resource, that looks unaltered in the surface, may do different 'grammatical jobs'. A good example is the use of labels such as 'relative clause', which fails to explain in itself when such a unit may work grammatically as a separate component in a 'clause complex' (e.g. as structures 'projected' by mental and verbal processes or as 'enhancing' clauses) or as part of the internal structure of a clause (i.e. as a 'rankshifted' unit within the structure of the nominal group), among other possibilities. In terms of the contribution of units to various meanings along the rank scale, the discussion on how contrasts in verb morphology and clitics remain largely unexplored (see typological discussion in Matthiessen 2004).

Finally, with regard to instantiation, the extensive use of examples taken from naturally occurring texts is certainly commendable and consistent with the trend followed in a number of recently published comprehensive descriptions of Spanish, including the new version by the traditional 'Real academia de la lengua española' (RAE, 2009). The authors, indeed, mostly rely on examples taken from the CREA database (sponsored by the above mentioned institution) as well as the 'Corpus del español' database (created by Mark Davies), both freely accessible online. Nonetheless, a few points are worthwhile discussing in order to understand the scope of the data used by the authors. Firstly, these two important databases, which comprise a wide range of texts from different varieties of Spanish, both spoken and written, do not allow the access to full texts -- at least to the general public --, providing a rather limited view of the co-text of the specific resources queried. This may constitute a drawback if the reader expects an argumentation based on 'discourse semantic' grounds (involving text-wide patterns). As already suggested, only chapter 5 fully exploits the potential of text-based grammatical analysis, providing a clear description that draws upon three parallel texts from different registers (written and spoken), incidentally not taken from the above mentioned databases. Secondly, these corpora are heavily biased toward European and written Spanish, which also limits the scope and power of the descriptive claims made. If one considers that European Spanish only accounts for around 10% of the worldwide population of native-speakers (Moreno Fernández and Otero, 2006), the CREA corpus is, for example, far from representative (50% of texts were collected in Spain and only 10% of the overall corpus is spoken), let alone the fact that it is mainly concerned with the use of 'cultivated speakers'.

On the other hand, while the texts used in this book cover a number of registers, no explicit linkage is made between the resources exemplified and described, nor the register variables that may determine their use. This is an indication that urgent work is needed in order to make available more Spanish corpora that takes register and/or generic considerations into account (as it is the case with El Grial corpus) as well as access to full texts, including spoken -- where differences across Spanish functional and regional varieties are likely to be much more evident.

Beyond the multidimensional considerations explored above, this book certainly makes an important contribution to research and applications within systemic functional linguistics, and in the area of language typology in particular. In fact, the contrast advanced between English and Spanish resources is quite suggestive, and it will hopefully encourage further discussion that also deals with contrasts between different Romance languages described in systemic functional terms, including French and Portuguese, as well as between complementary or alternative interpretations of Spanish grammar.

REFERENCES Caffarel, A., Martin, J.R., & Matthiessen, C.M.I.M. (Eds.) (2004) Language typology. A functional perspective. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Davidse, K. (1992) Transitivity/ergativity: the Janus-headed grammar of action and events. In M. Davies & L. Ravelli (Eds.), Advances in systemic linguistics. Recent theory and practice (pp. 105-135). London/New York: Pinter.

Halliday, M.A.K. (1994) An introduction to functional grammar (2nd ed.). London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M.A.K. & Matthiessen, C.M.I.M. (2004) An introduction to functional grammar (3rd ed.). London: Hodder Arnold.

Martin, J.R. (forthcoming) Metalinguistic divergence: centrifugal dimensionality in SFL. Annual Review of Functional Linguistics (3).

Martin, J.R. (2004) Grammatical structure: what do we mean? In C. Coffin, A. Hewings and K. O'Halloran (Eds.), Applying English Grammar: functional and corpus approaches (pp. 57-76). London: Arnold.

Martin, J.R. (1996). Transitivity in Tagalog: a functional interpretation of case. In M. Berry, C. Butler, R. Fawcett & G. Huang (Eds.), Meaning and form: systemic functional interpretations. Meaning and choice in language: Studies for Michael Halliday (pp. 229-296). New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Martin, J.R. (1992) English text: system and structure. Philadelphia/Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Matthiessen, C.M.I.M. (1995) Lexicogrammatical cartography: English systems. Tokyo: International Language Sciences Publishers.

Matthiessen, C.M.I.M. (2004) Descriptive motifs and generalisations. In A. Caffarel, J.R. Martin & C.M.I.M. Matthiessen (Eds.) Language typology. A functional perspective (pp. 537-664). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Moreno Fernández, F. & Otero Roth, J. (2006) Demografía de la lengua española. In Documentos de Trabajo. El valor económico del español, Nº 3 [Retrieved 10 August, 2010 from]

Real Academia Española (RAE) & Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (2009) Nueva gramática de la lengua española. Madrid: Espasa Libros.

Databases cited:

CREA Corpus del español (CE) El Grial


Beatriz Quiroz-Olivares is currently working on her PhD research at the Department of Linguistics, University of Sydney, Australia. Her topic is a discourse-oriented interpretation of the grammar of Chilean Spanish within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics. Before moving to Australia, she worked as a researcher and lecturer in the Department of Language Sciences, Faculty of Letters, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (2004-2008). Her main research and teaching interests include systemic functional theory and grammar, as well as its applications in the fields of discourse analysis, critical discourse analysis, and educational linguistics.

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