genre and register

Federico Navarro federicodanielnavarro at YAHOO.COM.AR
Thu Jun 21 15:50:45 UTC 2007

Dear Teun van Dijk,
  I couldn’t agree more with you about the growing need for a multidisciplinary theory to account for genre. In addition, I want to thank you for your illuminating views on this topic.
  I would like to refer to the specific register/genre dichotomy as I understand it was developed within Systemic Functional Linguistics. I will try to sum up here what I think about it:
  - Regarding genre/register, I believe we should distinguish between an “orthodox” tradition in Systemic Functional Linguistics, associated mainly with Halliday and Hasan, who advocate the concept of register, and an “unorthodox” tradition, associated with the 1980’s Sydney’s school (Martin, Ventola, etc.), who support the concept of genre. The goals they pursue and the traditions they read are –despite being closely related– not exactly the same. Briefly, Halliday aims to improve –and make more abstract– Firth’s theory of context within his own systemic framework while Martin wants to develop a pedagogically effective model for types of texts following Bakhtin’s principles. 
  - Halliday’s original definitions of register (“a configuration of meanings that are typically associated with a particular situational configuration of field, mode and tenor” (Halliday & Hasan, 1985:38-9), “the configuration of semantic resources that the member of the culture associates with a situation type. It is the meaning potential that is accessible in a given social context” (Halliday 1978:111), “the patterns of instantiation of the overall system associated with a given type of context” and “ways of using language in different contexts” (Halliday & Matthiessen 2004:27) resemble Martin’s definitions of genre (“a staged, goal-oriented social process realised through register” (Martin, 1984), “social purposes achieved by language use” (Ventola 1995:7) or “interactional processes that unfold in recognizable stages” (Ventola 1995:8). Both positions relate to a social and functional conception of language use in context and typical configurations of language options
 associated with typical contexts, although they both lack, for instance, anthropological and cognitive parameters. In fact, both positions provide similar examples of what a register or genre is and both remind of Bakhtin’s work, although Bakhtin is more clearly adopted as a reference figure in Martin’s papers. The difference lies somewhere else.
  - Martin’s perspective is more teleologically oriented than Halliday’s concept of register is. As Ventola puts it, “it is not enough to refer to language as a realization of, cursorily put, objects and activities, channels, and participant relations (FIELD, MODE, TENOR) One also needs to consider the social purposes the interactants want to achieve in the contexts where they are engaged in social interactions” (Ventola, 1995, p. 7). Purposes are no doubt included in Halliday’s concept of register, but they do not determine the other parameters. That is, the teleological priority in Martin’s view creates a different hierarchy of elements in the model.
  - In addition, there is a need for a clear description of how a text type is staged according to the goals it pursues to reach. According to Martin, register theory may well provide a typical lexicogrammatical potential associated with a typical context, but it lacks key information about the schematic structure of text types. I think, however, that later developments in register theory, which add the concept of Genre Structure Potential, have successfully fulfilled this gap (cf. e.g. Hasan 1995).
  - Hence I think the main difference between both perspectives is that the school of Sydney –Martin in particular– claims that the Systemic-Functional model must include a set of specifications that go beyond situational context. In short, this model will be able to distinguish between a level of typical meaning potential associated to local context (i.e., register) and a level of typical meaning potential associated to a wider –global– context (i.e., genre). Both levels or strata are systematically related: genre options are realized in register options, which are also realized in lower strata. Halliday would argue that the genre level is just unnecessary, while Martin claims that this distinction has proved useful for a number of reasons (cf. Martin 1992:505-7). 
  These are just some fuzzy views (in fuzzy English) on the topic I wanted to share with the list. I look forward to hearing other people’s opinions.
  Federico Navarro
  University of Buenos Aires; University of Valladolid
  Some useful texts on genre and register in SFL (or related):
  Bajtin, M. M. (1986). The problem of speech genres. In Speech genres and other late essays (Caryl Emerson Michael Holquist ed., pp. 60-102). Austin, Texas: University of Texas.
  Eggins, S., & Martin, J. R. (1997). Genres and registers of discourse. In T. A. v. Dijk (Ed.), Discourse. A multidisciplinary introduction. I. Discourse as structure and process (Vol. 1, pp. 230-256). London: Sage Publications.
  Freedman, A., & Medway, P. (1994). Locating genre studies: Antecedents and prospects. In A. Freedman & P. Medway (Eds.), Genre and the New Rhetoric. London: Taylor & Francis.
  Halliday, M. A. K., & Martin, J. R. (1993). Writing science: Literacy and discursive power. London: Falmer Press.
  Hasan, R. (1995). The conception of context in text. In P. H. Fries & M. Gregory (Eds.), Discourse in society: Systemic-functional perspectives (pp. 183-283). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
  Hasan, R. (1996 [1984]). The nursery tale as genre. In C. Cloran, D. Butt & G. Williams (Eds.), Ways of saying: ways of meaning. Selected papers of Ruqayia Hasan (pp. 51-72). London: Cassell.
  Kress, G. (1993). Genre as social process. In B. Cope & M. Kalantzis (Eds.), The powers of literacy: A genre approach to teaching writing (pp. 22-37). London: Falmer Press.
  Martin, J. R. (1992). English text. System and structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  Martin, J. R. (1997). Analysing genre: Functional parameters. In F. Christie & J. R. Martin (Eds.), Genre and institutions (pp. 3-39). London: Continuum.
  Martin, J. R., & Rose, D. (2003). Working with discourse: Meaning beyond the clause. London & New York: Continuum.
  Martin, J. R., & Rose, D. (2007). Genre systems: Mapping culture: Equinox.
  Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (1993). Register in the round. In M. Ghadessy (Ed.), Register analysis: theory and practice (pp. 221-292). London & New York: Pinter Publishers.
  Meurer, J. L., Bonini, A., & Motta-Roth, D. (Eds.). (2005). Gêneros: teorías, métodos, debates: Parábola.
  Miller, C. R. (1994 [1984]). Genre as social action. In A. Freedman & A. Medway (Eds.), Genre and the New Rhetoric (pp. 23-42). London: Taylor & Francis.
  Paltridge, B. (1997). Genre, frames and writing in research settings. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  Swales, J. M. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Glasgow: Cambridge University Press.
  Thompson, G., & Collins, H. M. (2001). Interview with M. A. K. Halliday, Cardiff, July 1998. DELTA, 17(1), 131-153.
  Ventola, E. (1987). The structure of social interaction: A systemic approach to the semiotics of service encounters. London: Pinter Publishers.
  Ventola, E. (1995). Generic and register qualities of texts and their realization. In P. H. Fries & M. Gregory (Eds.), Discourse in society: Systemic-functional perspectives (pp. 3-28). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

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