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Review of  An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics

Reviewer: Guowen Huang
Book Title: An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics
Book Author: Suzanne Eggins
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 16.1590

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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.


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


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

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

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:

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:

Renkema, J. (2004) Introduction to Discourse Studies. Amsterdam: Benjamins.


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.

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