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Review of  Hybridity in Systemic Functional Linguistics

Reviewer: Rong Wei
Book Title: Hybridity in Systemic Functional Linguistics
Book Author: Donna R. Miller Paul Bayley
Publisher: Equinox Publishing Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 28.1389

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Hybridity in Systemic Functional Linguistics: Grammar, Text and Discursive Context is edited by Donna R. Miller and Paul Bayley. It focuses on diverse domains of observation, analysis, description, and theory at the different phases of instantiation and levels of the hierarchy of stratification. And the volume is likely to reveal the richly multifaceted complexity of the notion of hybridity as well as its potential as a theoretical construct in Systemic Functional Linguistics (hereafter SFL)(p.5).

Structurally, this volume is composed of five parts with a total of 15 chapters. The first part is Chapter 1, which contains preliminaries from the editors Donna R. Miller and Paul Bayley. The main body of the book includes four parts: the first part is about grammatical hybridity, hybridity within the stratum of lexicogrammar itself (Chapters 2 through 4); the second part concerns hybridity- implications for pedagogy and professional practice (Chapters 5 through 8); the third part focuses on registerial and/or generic hybridity (Chapters 9 through 14); and the fourth part is the closing statement (Chapter 15).


Preliminaries: Hybridity & Systemic Functional Linguistics
The first chapter, “Preliminaries: hybridity and systemic functional linguistics”, is the introductory chapter. Donna R. Miller and Paul Bayley briefly review previous studies on hybridity, introduce the relation between hybridity and SFL, and summarize each of the following chapters. They also highlight Miller’s argument that the major attraction of M.A.K. Halliday’s model for us is its very intricacy, its very courage to be complex (Miller, 1985:44).

Grammatical Hybridity

Chapter 2, entitled “On the (non) necessity of the hybrid category behavioural process”, is authored by David Banks. He firstly offers a brief introduction to the historical development of the notion of behavioural process in the system of transitivity. The transitivity system construes the world of experience into a manageable set of process types: three major process types- material, mental and relational, and three minor types- verbal, behavioural and existential (Halliday, 1994:106-107). But behavioural processes have no clearly defined characteristics of their own (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004:248-251). David argues that there are three main factors indicating that the behavioural process is the ‘least distinct’ category: (i) in the case of involuntary or semi–voluntary acts, behavioural processes are said to be between material and mental process; (ii) in the case of voluntary and involuntary perception, involuntary processes are said to be mental processes and the voluntary processes are treated as behavioural; (iii) in the case of processes of communication which do not project, they are said to between behavioural and verbal process. By analyzing the potential behavioural verbs presented by eight books based on various editions of Halliday’s Introduction, the author finds out there is little agreement between various authors as to what constitutes a potential behavioural verb (pp.27-34). Hence, he suggests a system with five process types, excluding behavioural process that is not clearly defined.

In Chapter 3, “Hybridity in transitivity: phraseological and metaphorically derived processes in the system network for transitivity”, Gordon Tucker aims to explore the analysis of metaphorically (and metonymically) derived Processes that exhibit hybridity. He argues that there are two modes of analyzing transitivity: Halliday and Matthiessen’s descriptive model (henceforth IFG), and Fawcett’s ‘re-expression test’ (hereafter CaG) (p. 43). The problem in identifying Process Types is that Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) descriptions are based on prototypical cases, on examples that would appear to fit the identification criteria extremely well. This is true of IFG and CaG. And the two main reasons for the potential analytical difficulty are: linguistic categories are hybrid in nature, and linguistic expressions are phraseological in nature. To explain the two reasons, the author explores several expressions with the lexical verb ‘give’, considering aspects of the lexicogrammatical analysis that indicate departure from a prototypical analysis of the Process. He also examines a ‘straightforward’ example that involves metaphor and metonymy–breaking (some) one’s heart–trying to provide solutions for its analysis and its location in the system network. In these explorations, the CaG analysis is adopted. Tucker concludes that descriptions and procedures set up for prototypical cases may strain under the weight of hybridity, which requires the introduction of new or modified descriptive resources, such as the Main Verb Extension element or some procedure whereby metaphor and metonymy, such as ‘my heart’’s standing in for the person, can be explicated (p.60).

Chapter 4, “Hybridity and process types”, by Jorge Arus Hita deals with grammatics at clause level as a way to account for hybrid processes, in which typically non-metaphorical lexical verbs are used metaphorically. He splits the chapter into 6 sections in his introduction. In section one, Arus Hita introduces hybrid processes, suggesting that hybrid processes are the intended product of literal plus metaphorical senses. Section 2 centers around the distinction between Lexical Metaphor (hereafter LM) and Grammatical Metaphor (hereafter GM): whereas in LM a signifier(e.g. spoonfeed) can be congruent(S-d1) or metaphorical(S-d2), in GM a signifier is only congruent(e.g. the brakes failed) or only metaphorical(e.g. brake failure) (p.68). This distinction attests to the complexity of metaphorical meaning, or Lexicogrammatical Metaphor (hereafter LGM), which is the crux of Section 3. In this section, the author argues that the literal or congruent meanings (which we will call A) and the intended meanings (B) are hybridized to create the metaphorical meanings (C). He then in Section 4 investigates three different levels of hybridity in LGM. Section 5 concerns LGM in use. In this section Arus Hita offers multiple analyses of examples from two journalistic texts for each of these degrees of hybridity. Finally, he concludes that future quantitative analysis may help solve the problems in the current study of hybrid metaphorical processes.

Hybridity: Implications for pedagogy and professional practices

Caroline Coffin’s Chapter 5, “Re-orienting semantic dispositions: the role of hybrid forms of language use in university learning”, shows how one’s ‘semantic disposition’ may be re-oriented (or not) through the process of institutionalized learning. The chapter begins by introducing the research context from which the author draws her data and evidence. Then it sets out the related concepts of semantic disposition and knowledge orientation that have come to inform the research into teaching and learning. Caroline proposes that making the transition into new ways of meaning and establishing new knowledge orientations can be facilitated by hybrid forms of language that combine speech and writing. By providing examples of hybrid forms of language use taken from online discussion forums, she finds that online discussion forums (particularly in applied fields of study) can drive the orientations to knowledge needed in tertiary learning environments (p.105). Therefore, hybrid forms of language use should be exploited by teachers and students for learning purposes.

In Chapter 6, “Teaching through English: maximal input in meaning making,” John Polias and Gail Forey focus on language education and pedagogy, proposing a pedagogic model ‘teaching and learning cycle’ (TLC) in which the teacher uses various hybrid modes and resources. TLC involves four main parts: Setting the Context, Modeling and Deconstruction, Guided Construction and Independent Construction. More specifically, following TLC, the teacher and the learner are involved in setting the context; the teacher is responsible for modeling and deconstructing the meanings for the students and handing them over to the student through Guided Construction; the student, when ready, is then given the opportunity for Independent Construction (p.112). John and Gail demonstrate the application of TLC by using Hong Kong data. The data, collected from different key learning areas (KLA’s) of physical education, information technology and music, show that different KLA’s demand different approaches to the construction of knowledge. They conclude the chapter with the argument that the TLC is a model that allows for the flexible and repeated patterning of meaning and matter in KLA across the curriculum (p.128).

Chapter 7 is Anne Isaac’s “The multilayeredness of hybridity in the written stylistic analysis argument”. The author offers a study of multiple dimensions of hybridity in the stylistic analysis genre, which is frequently used in developing second language (L2) undergraduate’ writing skills. With a view to raising the awareness of teachers of stylistic-based English for Academic Purposes (EAP) to the presence of hybrid factors in the stylistic analysis, she tries to relate these features to permeable dimensions in the social context and to distinguish between hybridity that enhances a text and that which detracts from its effectiveness (p.134). Data analysis probes multi-layered hybridity in the discursive organization of the genre, revealing four dimensions of hybridity in the stylistic analysis genre that possibly enable students to write more effectively. Here are the four dimensions: Evaluation, Thesis, Argument/s and Evidence, Reaffirmation of Thesis and Evaluation. Importantly, Anne summarizes in her study three pedagogical implications: the study reminds teachers of how best to teach genres, of devising teaching activities that foreground functional and organizational differences between these genres, and of providing students with opportunities to explore and discuss differences in the ways they approach literary texts (pp.149-150).

Srikant Sarangi is the author of Chapter 8, “Activity types, discourse types and role types: interactional hybridity in professional-client encounters”. He centers on hybridity at the interactional level that is manifest through discourse types and role types. In terms of hybridity, Sarangi not only proposes the notion of ‘Kitkat hybridity’, encompassing internal and external dimensions, but also regards hybridity as an interdisciplinary project, involving ontological and epistemological considerations. He also asserts that activity types are formed in discourse types and it is the latter that account for ‘interactional hybridity’, because the same discourse types can feature in different activity types and may serve different functions. Furthermore, the interactional hybridity within a given activity type is strengthened by the corresponding role types available to participants. The author in his conclusion stresses that activity types are composed of discourse types and role types and that it is the interplay between discourse types and role types that renders activity types interactionally hybrid (p.173).

Registerial and generic hybridity

Chapter 9 is Geoff Thompson’s “Hybridisation: How language users graft new discourses on old root stock”, which offers a ‘snapshot’ of one stage in the development of particular internet registers: football and newspaper blogs. Thompson uses corpus-based methods to explore the lexico-grammatical characteristics of texts which result when non-expert writers go about mastering unfamiliar discourse types (p.181). The analysis of football blogs and newspaper blogs displays the study result: although there is a clear variation across the sets of blogs, there are fundamental similarities in their features and hybridity is one of their principal features. Similarly, the analysis shows that casual conversation remains the root stock onto which other types of discourse are grafted.

Registerial hybridity is the topic of Chapter 10, “Registerial hybridity: indeterminacy among fields of activity”. The authors, Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen and Kazuhiro Teruya, illustrate the mixture of functional varieties of language operating in different institutional domains. They start by introducing the context-based register typology and then focus on field, more specifically, on the field of activity. There are eight fields of activity that can be divided into three groups: semiotic processes (expounding, reporting, recreating, sharing, exploring), semiotic processes (recommending, enabling), social processes (doing). Viewing these fields of activity as ‘prototypes’, the authors then present an interpretation of ‘hybridity’ based on the concept of indeterminacy. Halliday and Matthiessen (1999:547-562) propose a typology of indeterminacy, which can characterize as follows in terms of texts: ambiguities, blends, overlaps, neutralizations, complementaries. Matthiessen and Kazuhiro in this chapter distinguish, discuss and exemplify the first four types of indeterminacy.

Chapter 11 is Carol Taylor Torsello’s Woolf’s lecture/novel/essay: “A Room of One’s Own”. Taylor Torsello’s analysis firstly displays textual indications of following three genres in A Room: lecture, novel and essay. She then focuses on generic structure, comparing the structure of “A Room” with structures proposed for an academic lecture, a novel and an essay. To clarify the genre type of A Room, the author adapts Ruqaiya Hasan’s (1978:230-244) contextual configuration (CC) for Woolf’s text and for each of the three genres, and makes comparisons. She finally suggests that the metaphor of hybridity fits the generic complexity of “A Room” in which Woolf mixes the three genres.

In Chapter 12, “Genre and register hybridization in an historical text”, Michael Cummings deals with a historical literary text, “Sermo Lupi ad Anglos quando Dani maxime persecute sunt eos”. He has his two purposes in discussing the text: first, approaches and categories from Systemic and Functional Linguistics (SFL) can be very applicable to remote historical dialects and remote historical texts; second, in particular Hasan’s discussion of the ‘permeability’ of register and genre categories is very illuminating for the genre analysis of such a historical text (p.268). While analyzing the genre and subgenre in the Sermon Lupi, Cummings utilizes a particular approach to genre and register, combining Hasan’s description of generic permeability and Martin’s description of genre agnation to analyze the opening, body and concluding section of the text. He ends the chapter with the remark that the prevalent multifunctionality of its hybridized subgenres demonstrates both the usefulness and the necessity of the concept of generic permeability.

Chapter 13, “Hybrid contexts and lexicogrammatical choices: interpersonal uses of language in peer review reports in linguistics and mathematics”, is written by Akila Sellami-Baklouti, whose concern is with the functional significance of hybridity for text analysis. By employing Hasan’s(2009:170) ‘activation-construal dialectic’ between context, meaning and wording, Baklouti attempts to show that the text displays lexicogrammatical choices ‘activated’ by semantic choices, which are in turn activated by hybrid discursive contexts. She uses a comparative approach to investigate semantic and lexicogrammatical choices realizing the interpersonal uses of language in a corpus of 30 Peer Review Reports (PPR) related to two disciplines: Mathematics and Linguistics. The investigation shows that the two sub-corpora display both common features and substantial differences. And the findings lead to two conclusions: theoretically, each sub-corpus is to some degree a hybrid outcome of the interaction of different genres; methodologically, the dialectical relationship between text and context is essential to show this hybridity at work (p.303).

Chapter 14 by Sabrina Fusari, “The permeable context of institutional and newspaper discourse: a corpus-based functional case study of the European sovereign debt crisis” investigates the interface between SFL and Corpus Linguistics (CL) for the analysis of newspaper and institutional discourse (p.306). This study first briefly introduces the theoretical background of the interaction between SFL and CL, whose importance is testified by the claim made by Halliday and Matthiessen that the corpus is fundamental to the enterprise of theorizing language (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004:34). It then presents and compares the layout of the corpora for case study, demonstrating the main keywords and recurrent keyword clusters identified in the corpora. Some of the keywords are exclusive to each corpus, and these keywords, like ‘Eurozone’, ‘debt’, ‘banks’, ‘growth’, are discussed in terms of their degree of register specificity. Finally, the synergy between SFL and CL proves a valuable instrument for analyzing register hybridity, potentially increasing its efficiency as more complicated SFL-aware corpus annotation tools become available.

A closing statement: hybridity or permeability?
Chapter 15, In the nature of language: reflections on permeability and hybridity””, is the last chapter of the volume. The author, Ruqaiya Hasan, tries to show that permeability is a feature of certain categories recognized in language on the basis of principled descriptions (p.338). She offers a discussion of permeability in two grammatical categories: at the lexicogrammatical stratum and semantic stratum, suggesting that permeability is operative not only at the lexicogrammatical stratum but also on the strata of semantics and context. While permeability works across categories, Hasan argues, it has a systemic basis. Moreover, the instance of ‘give’ in a tightly held system can display that permeability is predicated by the probabilistic nature of language. Indeed, it is likely that the patterns of permeability are inherent in language (p.338). The author concludes her chapter by stating that the relation between permeability and hybridity depends on how the term ‘hybridity’ is used in linguistics.


Hybridity in Systemic Functional Linguistics: Grammar, Text and Discursive Context” is of great value for the following four reasons. Firstly, it covers various categories of hybridity-grammar, text and context, and provides a comparatively systematic study of hybridity from the perspective of Systemic Functional Linguistics, thus refuting Norman Fairclough’s statement that SFL cannot have anything valid to say about hybridity since it lacks a system corresponding to the ‘order of discourse’. Secondly, the volume is characterized by interdisciplinary study, which is not only testified by the interface between SFL and cognitive linguistics, and the synergy between SFL and CL, but is also proved by the selection of corpora from different areas, like linguistics, mathematics, and literature. Moreover, since many contributors have exemplified the status of SFL as an appliable linguistics (e.g. Caroline on the applicability of SFL in dealing with university learning, Cummings on a historical text, and Sabrina on institutional and newspaper discourse), it is believed that the appliability of SFL should be one of its future directions. Last but not least, each chapter is well organized with clear logic and structure, which makes the book easy to follow and accessible to readers.

However, there are a few minor shortcomings. Firstly, although the volume is entitled “Hybridity in Systemic Functional Linguistics”, most of the chapters focus on Sydney Grammar and ignore other dialects of SFG. Chapter 3 is the sole paper in the volume representing the alternative Cardiff Grammar (CaG) of Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) developed by Robin Fawcett and Gordon Tucker himself. In addition, the data for all chapters in the book is English, with no other languages, which is not compatible with the study of hybridity.

Despite these minor shortcomings, Donna R. Miller and Paul Bayley must be congratulated on their impressive editorial work. The book is much to be recommended to any student, lecturer, or researcher interested in hybridity.


Halliday, M. A. K., 2nd edn. 1994. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. & Matthiessen, Christian M. I. M. 1999. Construing Experience Through Meaning: A Language-Based Approach to Cognition. London: Cassell.

Halliday, M. A. K. & Matthiessen, Christian M. I. M., 3rd edn. 2004. An Introduction to Functional Grammar . London: Arnold.

Hasan, R. 1978. Text in the systemic-functional model. In W.U. Dressler (ed.), Current Trends in Textlinguistics, 228-246. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Hasan, R. 2009. The place of context in a systemic functional model. In M.A.K. Halliday & J.J. Webster (eds.), Continuum Companion to Systemic Functional Linguistics, 166-189. London and New York: Continuum.

Miller, D. R. 1985.Language, image, myth: preliminary considerations. In G. Ragazzini, D.R. Miller, & P. Bayley, Campaign Language: Language, Image, Myth in the US Presidential Election 1984, 35-73. Bologna: CLUEB.
Ruby Rong Wei is a PhD student in Linguistics at University of Science and Technology Beijing. My research interests include Systemic and Functional Linguistics, Text Linguistics, Discourse Analysis, Translation Study, Typology, Syntax.

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