17.1284, Review: General Ling/Ling Theories: Halliday (2005)

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Subject: 17.1284, Review: General Ling/Ling Theories: Halliday (2005)

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Date: 18-Apr-2006
From: Qichang Ye < yqc58 at yahoo.com.cn >
Subject: On Grammar 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2006 20:36:36
From: Qichang Ye < yqc58 at yahoo.com.cn >
Subject: On Grammar 

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3090.html 

AUTHOR: Halliday, Michael A. K.
EDITOR: Webster, Jonathan J.
TITLE: On Grammar
SERIES: Volume 1 in the Collected Works of M. A. K. Halliday
YEAR: 2005
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd

Qichang, Ye, Department of English, School of Humanities and Social 
Sciences, Beijing Jiaotong University


This first volume in Collected Works of M. A. K. Halliday series 
contains fifteen papers, with the addition of a new piece entitled ''A 
personal perspective'' as the introduction. The papers are pieced 
together chronologically according to topic, and divided into 3 
sections. The whole volume is oriented towards his comprehensive 
depiction of language, that is, the systemic functional grammar (SFG). 
The title of each section in this review is inherited from the editor's 

Section One -- Early papers on basic concepts
The first section possesses five papers from 1957 to 1966. The basic 
schema and fundamental concepts of SFG are elaborated in these 
papers, such as unit, structure, class and system. 

Published in 1957, the first paper, ''Some aspects of systematic 
description and comparison in grammatical analysis'', discusses 
theoretical considerations which developed out of the body of ideas 
that went into his doctoral dissertation. The particular attention is paid 
to the two types of categories: units and classes (p. 25ff). And these 
concepts will receive a detailed discussion in Chapter 2.

As the center in this section, chapter 2 [''Categories of the theory of 
grammar'' (1961)] reflects Firth's influence on Halliday's main idea of 
how language works at the level of grammar (p. 37). In this paper, the 
author sets out the following fundamental categories for the theory of 
grammar: unit, structure, class and system, which relate to one 
another and to the data along three distinct scales of abstraction, 
including rank, exponence and delicacy, with reference to the 
relations between grammar and lexis and between grammar and 

Along this line of thinking, the nature of grammar study is descriptive, 
the object for description is text (either spoken or written), description 
should relate the text to the categories, and the descriptive process 
naturally involves a number of abstraction. The theory also requires 
that linguistic events should be accounted for at a number of different 
levels: form (two related levels: grammar and lexis), substance (either 
phonic or graphic) and context (i.e. an interlevel relation form to 
extratextual features). ''Language has formal meaning and contextual 
meaning'' (p. 40), the formal meaning of an item is its operation in the 
network of formal relations. Consequently, contextual meaning is 
dependent on formal meaning. Hence, language at the level of 
grammar is patterns of meaningful organization: certain regularities 
are exhibited over certain stretches of language activity. In the study 
of language as a whole, Halliday stresses the importance of form (p. 
56), it is through grammar and lexis that language activity is 

As regards the relations among the four categories (unit, structure, 
class and system), Halliday says, ''each of the four is specifically 
related to, and logically derivable from, each of the others. There is no 
relation of precedence or logical priority among them. They are all 
mutually defining'' (p. 41).

The third paper (chapter 3) in this section called ''Class in relation to 
the axes of chain and choice in language'' (1963), discusses the 
relation of class to structure, the chain axis in relation to system, the 
choice axis. 

''Class'' refers to ''to a set of items which are alike in their own 
structure: that is, in the way that they themselves are made up of 
items of lower rank'' (p. 96). The two aspects are to be considered 
here: (1) the relation of class to structure (the ''chain'' axis) and to 
system (the ''choice'' axis), and (2) the relation of class to the two 
kinds of structure found in language, the place-ordered and the depth-
ordered. The former is composed of a limited number of different 
elements occurring nonrecursively (p. 101), while the latter is, as a 
combination of elements, repeated ''in depth'', it is recursive. A further 
division is made among the recursive structures. Those which cut 
across the scale of rank are called ''rankshift'' (p. 102) in contrast to 
ones which do not.  

The fourth paper [''Some notes on 'deep' grammar'' (1966)] treats the 
relationship between structural and systemic descriptions in terms of 
syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations. 

The last paper in this section [''The concept of rank: a reply'' (1966)] 
replies to arguments against rank grammar put forward by P. H. 
Matthews. Here Halliday repeats that ''By a rank grammar I mean one 
which specifies and labels a fixed number of layers in the hierarchy of 
constituents, such that any constituent, and any constitute, can be 
assigned to one or other of the specified layers, or ranks'' (p. 118). In 
this way, on the structure axis, rank is a form of generalization about 
bracketing, and makes it easier to avoid the imposition of unnecessary 
structure (p. 120). However, on one point both Halliday and Matthews 
agree, namely, that rank grammar is only a hypothesis about the 
nature of language. 

Section two -- Word-clause-text
Works in the second section span two decades from the mid-1960s to 
the mid-1980s. 

The application of SFG is carried out in the analysis and description of 
patterns at various linguistic levels ranging from lexical item to clause 
to text. The lexical item is defined by reference to collocation, clause is 
treated as lexicogrammatical construct, and text should be considered 
in context of situation. Though they are different in kind, yet they are 
analogous in nature and systemic in orientation. 

The aim of Chapter 6 [''Lexis as a linguistic level'' (1966)] is to consider 
briefly the nature of lexical patterns and to suggest that lexis may be 
thought of as within linguistic form and not as a level within grammar, 
but has the same status as grammar to semantics. The lexical and 
grammar patterns are different not merely in delicacy but in kind. 
Halliday holds that this view is implicit in Firth's recognition 
of ''collocational level'' (p. 158). This view holds (1) that in 
lexicogrammatical statements collocational restrictions intersect with 
structural ones; (2) that there is a definable sense in which ''more 
abstraction'' is involved in grammar than is possible in lexis, and (3) 
that ''the lexical item is not necessarily coextensive on either axis with 
the item, or rather with any of the items, identified and accounted for 
in the grammar'' (p. 163). However, this division is for certain 
purposes, it does not imply there is a clear-cut between the 
grammatical and the lexical. Language items are ''grammatical items 
when described grammatically, as entering (via classes) into closed 
systems and ordered structures, and lexical items when described 
lexically, as entering into open sets and linear collocations'' (p. 165). In 
a lexical analysis, what is under focus is the extent to which an item is 
specified by its collocational environment'' (p. 166). It is also the 
collocational restriction that enables us to consider grouping lexical 
items into lexical sets. ''The criterion for the definition of the lexical set 
is thus the syntactic (downward) criterion of potentiality of occurrence. 
Just as the grammatical system (of classes, including one-item classes) 
is defined by reference to structure, so the lexical set (of items) can 
be defined by reference to collocation.'' (p. 166). 

Chapter 7 draws clearly the outline of the Hallidayan configuration of 
SFL under the guidance of the three metafunctions. The 
predecessors such as Malinowski and Buhler, in his view, were just 
trying to get some models of language to use them outside the 
linguistic domains, say, sociological or psychological inquiries, and not 
intended to clarify the nature of linguistic structure. At the same time, 
the demands made by the language user on language are also 
ignored in language studies, in other words, the aspect of language in 
use did not deserve recognition for its importance in language 
investigation. Halliday insists that ''the nature of language is closely 
related to the demands that we make on it, the functions it has to 
serve'' (p. 173), since ''the particular form taken by the grammatical 
system of language is closely related to the social and personal needs 
that language is required to serve'' (p. 174). 

An act of speech, says Halliday, is a simultaneous selection from 
among a large number of interrelated options, that is, the meaning 
potential of language. The system of available options is 
the ''grammar'' of the language. These networks of options correspond 
to certain basic functions of language: the expressions of ''content'' 
(ideational), the establishment and maintenance of social relations 
(interpersonal), and the textual function (pp. 174-5). Halliday stresses 
that ''any one clause is built up of a combination of structures deriving 
from these three functions'' (p. 176). 

Halliday proceeds to show how each of the functions is reflected in the 
structure of the English clause, beginning with the realization of 
ideational meaning in terms of transitivity structure, involving the 
linguistic expression of process, participant and circumstance. Halliday 
also examines how interpersonal meaning is captured in the mood 
structure of the clause, and how the textual function is expressed in 
both thematic and information structures. 

Chapter 8 [''Modes of meaning and modes of expression: types of 
grammatical structure, and their determination by different semantic 
functions'' (1979)] is a further explication of the three metafunctions 
and the relations among them by using Pike's particle, wave and field 
in distinguishing between experiential structures which are 
constituency-based (particle-like), interpersonal structures which are 
prosodic (field-like) and textual structures which are periodic (wave-
like). From this perspective, language, as a semiotic, is considered as 
a stratified or stratal system. Three different aspects to investigate any 
one part of the system are therefore established: at its own level, from 
above and from below (p. 197). Technically speaking, semantics is 
realized as lexicogrammar, and then lexicogrammar is realized as 
phonology. Semantics at its own level is generalized as functional 
modes of meaning (i.e. the three metafunctions). Halliday points out it 
is here that the two characters of the semantic system are standing 
out: ''within each component, the networks show a high degree of 
internal constraint: that is, of interdependence among the various 
options involved. The selections made by the speaker at one point 
tend to determine, and be determined by, the selections he makes at 
another'' (p. 200). While between one component and another, there 
is very little constraint of this kind: little restriction on the options 
available, and little effect on their interpretation. What are above the 
semantic system, writes Halliday, are contexts of situation. The 
features of a context of situation are expressed in terms 
of ''field'', ''tenor'' and ''mode'' in SFG (p. 201). Ideational meanings 
reflect the field of social action, interpersonal meanings, the tenor of 
social relationships, and textual meanings, the mode of operation of 
the language within the situation. What Halliday emphasizes here is 
that ''it is at the lower level (i.e. in their grammatical realization) that 
these functional components are made manifest in the linguistic 
structure'' (p. 217). 

Chapter 9 [''Text semantics and clause grammar: How is a text like a 
clause?'' (1981)] is a long article composed of two works: one is ''Text 
semantics and  clause grammar: some patterns of realization'' and the 
other, ''How is a text like a clause''. In this chapter, Halliday considers 
a text to be a semantic rather than a formal lexicogrammatical entity. 

Having insisted that a text is not like a clause, Halliday continues to 
point out how they are alike. ''In 'scale-and-category' terminology, the 
relationship of clause to text is one of exponence as well as one of 
rank'' (p. 221). Consequently, a text is not ''like'' a clause in the way 
that a clause is like a word or a syllable like phoneme. ''But by the 
same token, just because the text differ on two dimensions, both rank 
(size level) and exponence (stratal level), there can exist between 
them a relation of another kind: an analogic or metaphorical similarity. 
A clause stands as a kind of metaphor for a text'' (p. 222). The text 
possesses the following properties: it has structure (i.e. a 
configuration of functions) (such as narrative, market and shop 
transaction); coherence (i.e. it is a whole that is more than the sum of 
its parts); function (i.e. a tripartite framework for interpreting the 
register: field, tenor and mode); development (i.e. a text is a dynamic 
process), and character (i.e. it has the generic features characteristic 
of the register associated with a particular alignment of the features of 
the context of situation). That is to say, ''a text is a polyphonic 
composition of ideational, interpersonal and textual 'voices''' (p. 230). 
In terms of functions, the above-mentioned properties of a text are 
also properties of a clause, and the notion of text structure is clearly 
modeled on that of clause structure. In this sense, ''a clause is a 
configuration of functions; so is a text'' (p. 231). 

Since the three metafunctions can be understood as components of 
the semantic system and a text can be regarded as a semantic unit, it 
follows that these components will be present in the text just as they 
are in the lexicogrammatical entities, the wordings, by which the text is 
realized. The different facets of the clause-to-text lie in two aspects: 
their relationship in size and their relationship in abstraction. For the 
reason that both text and clause possess an ideational structure; an 
interpersonal structure and a textual structure (pp. 241-243), 
metaphorically speaking, ''a clause is a text in microcosm, a 'universe 
of discourse' of its own in which the semiotic properties of a text 
reappear on a miniature scale'' (p. 246). 

Chapter 10 [''Dimensions of discourse analysis: grammar'' (1985)] 
illustrates the application of systemic-functional grammar to the 
analysis of a sample of spoken language, i.e. a discussion between an 
adult and three nine-year-old schoolgirls. Halliday points out 
that ''systemic grammar is an analysis-synthesis grammar based on 
the paradigmatic notion of choice. It is built on the work of Saussure, 
Malinowski and Firth, Hjelmslev, and Prague School, and the 
American anthropological linguistics Boas, Sapir, and Whorf; the main 
inspiration being J. R. Firth'' (p. 262). With the goal to show how the 
text derives from the linguistic system and how it comes to mean what 
it does, the analysis is divided into ten steps, ranging from 
transcription of intonation and rhythm, through lexicogrammatical 
analysis, to description of context of situation in terms of field, tenor 
and mode (p. 262-3):

1. transcription and analysis of intonation and rhythm
2. analysis into clauses and clause complexes, showing 
interdependencies and logical-semantic relations
3. analysis of clauses, and clause complexes, for thematic (Theme-
4. comparison of clauses and information units, and analysis of the 
latter for information (Given-New) structure
5. analysis of finite clauses for mood, showing Subject and Finite
6. analysis of all clause for transitivity, showing process type and 
participant and circumstantial functions
7. analysis of groups and phrases (verbal group, nominal group, 
adverbial group, prepositional phrase)
8. analysis of grammatical and lexical cohesion
9. identification, rewording and reanalysis of grammatical metaphors
10. description of context of situation, and correlation with features of 
the text. 

The three points are reached from this analysis (p. 285): firstly, there 
are many different purposes for analyzing a text, and the scope and 
direction of the analysis will vary accordingly, but the guiding principle 
is to select and develop whatever is needed for the particular purpose 
in hand; secondly, this kind of analysis does not naturally expel other 
kinds of interpretation; and thirdly, the lexicogrammatical analysis is 
only a part of the task, hence, the analysis of the grammar does not 
constitute the interpretation of a text. 

Section 3 -- Construing and enacting
In chapter 11 [''On the Ineffability of Grammatical Categories (1984)], 
Halliday argues that because language is an evolved system rather 
than a designed one, it rests on principles that are ineffable. The 
ineffability of grammatical categories lies in the nature of language as 
object. Halliday asserts that ''to define a linguistic term by encoding is 
relatively simple'' (p. 292), while to define it by decoding is a very 
different, and a very difficult, task if not possible. Certainly, this 
problem is not confined to linguistics but to all sciences. 

However, in the case of metalinguistic matters, linguistics presents a 
special case. ''It is not just another science. It is 'language turned back 
on itself', to use Firth's (very British) expression; or, in Weinreich's 
(very American) formulation, 'language as its own metalanguage'. As a 
consequence, where other sciences need two terms, we need three: 
one for the phenomenon, and two for the metaphenomenon, one 
grammatical and the other semantic'' (p. 296). Therefore, a 
metalanguage has to be created, and created out of natural language, 
in order to assign a Value to a Token, that is, ''the metalanguage 
being a form of the same semiotic system that it is also being used to 
describe'' (p. 298). The problem of self-reference is still an important 
one, but the real problem lies in the nature of language as object, and 
particularly the nature of lexicogrammar. The categories of grammar, 
for instance Subject, (including all other terms in grammar) are 
ineffable just because they are hidden from view. Here Halliday 
borrows Whorf's concept of ''cryptotype'' to refer to the 
phenomenon. ''It is not because they are hidden from the linguist that 
grammatical categories are hard to define; once the linguist has found 
them, the fact that they had escaped his notice ceases to matter. The 
significance of this concept of a cryptotype is that it is something that 
escapes the notice of the speakers of the language'' (p. 302). Why is 
this case? According to Halliday, ''our ability to use language depends 
critically on our not being conscious of doing so -- which is the truth 
that every language learner has to discover, and the contradiction 
from which every language teacher has to escape'' (p. 302). As a 
necessity, a division between conscious language and unconscious 
language is made. ''While the complexity of conscious language is 
dense and crystalline, formed by a closely-packed construction of 
words and word clusters, the complexity of unconscious language is 
fluid and choreographic'' (p. 303). Therefore, the meaning of a typical 
grammatical category has no counterpart in our conscious 
representation of things. ''There can be no exact paraphrase of 
Subject or Actor or Theme -- because there is no language-
independent clustering of phenomena in our experience to which they 
correspond'' (p. 303). Since language is an evolved rather than a 
designed system, it is ''that which makes the category of Subject 
learnable is also that which ensures that it will be learnable'' (p. 306). 
The ineffable relate directly to the semantic system that is ''above'' the 
grammar, that which interprets the ideologies of the culture and codes 
them in a wordable form. ''In other words, the context for 
understanding the Subject is not the clause, which is its grammatical 
environment, but the text, which is its semantic environment'' (p. 308). 
In this sense, we can only talk metonymically and metaphorically about 
the ineffable. 

Chapter 12 [''Spoken and written modes of meaning'' (1987)] succeeds 
in further explaining the differences between unconscious and 
spontaneous spoken discourse, and its more conscious and self-
monitored counterpart, written language. 

Halliday claims that the spoken language has not received its 
deserved emphasis in the past studies. ''The investigators of the fifties 
and early sixties were not concerned with the particular place of 
spoken language in the learning process'' (p. 324).

Based on his own teaching practice, Halliday maintains that each of 
them (either spoken or written) is highly organized and complex in its 
own way. Halliday describes written language as ''crystalline'', and 
spoken language as ''choreographic'', just as he does in Chapter 11. 
In his view, spoken language possesses the most unexpected feature, 
that is, the complexity of some of the sentence structures. This reflects 
in two apects: patterns of parataxis and hypotaxis. With an in-depth 
comparison between spoken and written examples, the result 
displays: the relationship between spoken and written is not a simple 
dichotomy but a continuum. Along this continuum, much of the 
difference of texture can be accounted for as the effect of two related 
lexicosyntactic variables. ''The written version has a much higher 
lexical density; at the same time, it has a much simpler sentential 
structure'' (p. 328). In grammatical intricacy, the spoken text has a 
lower degree of lexical density, but a higher degree of grammatical 
intricacy. Halliday further demonstrates that this intricacy is more a 
characteristic of the most unconscious spontaneous uses of 
language. ''The more natural, un-self-monitored the discourse, the 
more intricate the grammatical patterns that can be woven'' (p. 335-6). 
Hence, ''the complexity of written language is crystalline, whereas the 
complexity of spoken language is choreographic. The complexity of 
spoken language is in its flow, the dynamic mobility whereby each 
figure provides a context for the next one, not only defining its point of 
departure but also setting the conventions by reference to which it is 
to be interpreted'' (p. 336). 

A closer look at the difference reveals that spoken English is marked 
by intricacy in the clause complex, written English is marked by 
complexity in the nominal group. 

As a conclusion to this chapter, Halliday writes: ''speech and writing 
will appear, then, as different ways of meaning: speech as spun out, 
flowing, choreographic, oriented towards events (doing, happening, 
sensing, saying, being), processlike, intricate, with meanings related 
serially; writing as dense, structured, crystalline, oriented towards 
things (entities, objectified processes), productlike, tight, with 
meanings related as components'' (p. 350).

''How do you mean?'' (1992) (Chapter 13) takes meaning as a mode 
of action occurring at the intersection of the conscious and material 
modes of experience. The distinction between realization and 
instantiation is first made. Instantiation is ''the move between the 
system and the instance; it is an intrastratal relationship, that is, it 
does not involve a move between strata'' (p. 352), while realization is 
prototypically an interstratal relationship; meanings are realized as 
wordings, wordings realized as sound (or soundings). Halliday argues 
that ''in humans, meaning develops, in the individual, before the stage 
of language proper; it begins with what I have called 'protolanguage''' 
(p. 353). This protolanguage evolves out of the contradiction between 
the material and the conscious. Our experience is at once both 
material and conscious; and it is the contradiction between the 
material and the conscious that gives these phenomena their 
semogenic potential. ''What is construed in this way, by this total 
semogenic process, is an elastic space defined by the two dimensions 
given above: the 'inner' dimension of reflective / active, 'I think' as 
against 'I want', and the 'outer' dimension of intersubjective / 
objective, 'you and me' as against 'he, she, it''' (p. 355). How to free 
the symbolic dimension from this semogenic potential? Halliday 
writes: ''by 'grammaticalizing' the process of meaning -- reconstruing it 
so that the symbolic organization is freed from direct dependence on 
the phenomenal, and can develop a structure of its own -- the 
collective human consciousness created a semiotic space which is 
truly elastic; in that it can expand into any number of dimensions'' (p. 
355-6). In Halliday's view, it is the ''explosion burst into grammar'' that 
has made this possible: ''an explosion that bursts apart the two facets 
of the protolinguistic sign. The result is a semiotic of a new kind: a 
stratified, tristratal system in which meaning is 'twice cooked', thus 
incorporating a stratum of 'pure' content form'' (p. 356). These are in 
fact the three modes or dimensions of semohistory: the phylogenetic, 
the ontogenetic and logogenetic. Thus, the possibility of semiosis 
(Halliday calls ''the possibility of meaning'' or ''the possibility of acting 
semiotically'') arises at the intersection of the material (or phenomenal) 
with the conscious, as the members of a species learn to construct 
themselves (''society'') in action and to construe their experience in 
reflection (p. 362). It is the processes of realization and instantiation 
that make possible this dynamic open system we call language. 

Chapter 14 is ''Grammar and daily life: concurrence and 
complementary'' (1998). Just as the title suggests, a grammar is 
resource for meaning, the critical functioning semiotic by means of 
which everyday life is pursued. It therefore embodies a theory of 
everyday life. ''Grammar is what brings about the distinctively human 
construction of reality; and by the same token, grammar makes it 
possible for us to reflect on this reflection'' (p. 370). In this 
sense, ''ways of saying'' is consistent with ''ways of meaning''. 
However, such frames of consistency are always accompanied with 
frames of inconsistency. The latter is regions where the grammar 
construes a pattern out of tensions and contradictions -- where the 
different ''voices'' of experience conflict. Put it in another way, ''the 
grammar's theory of experience embodies complementarity as well as 
concurrence? It is the combination of these two perspectives -- 
concurrence and complementarity -- that is the salient characteristic of 
the grammar of daily life'' (p. 374). 

Halliday notices that there are three related developments in grammar 
(p. 376):

First, the grammar developed a battery of resources such that any 
representation of a process can be construed in all possible patterns 
of information flow: either in a linear movement from Theme to Rheme 
or in a to-and-fro between Given and New.

The second feature is the motif of the ''phrasal verb''.

''Thirdly, there is an analogous pattern whereby one of the other 
elements in the clause (i.e. one which could but would not necessarily 
come at the end) is marked out for news value by having a preposition 
added to it''. 

These three characteristics are also the features of the grammar of 
daily life, and all of them reflect ''unconscious, spontaneous, everyday 
linguistic encounters'', they are ''a form of discourse in which the flow 
of information will typically be rendered explicit rather than being taken 
for granted'' (p. 377).

Theoretically speaking, Chapter 15 [''On grammar and grammatics'' 
(1996)] is the summary of the whole volume at the macro-level, the 
aim is to state the relations between grammar, linguistics and 
language. Halliday says ''grammar is part of language; so, within that 
general domain, the study of grammar may be called grammatics'' (p. 
386). The study of grammar can be taken from different directions 
(e.g. the emergence of grammar through time, grammar in semiotic 
function, grammar as theory). In a stratified semiotic system, the 
grammar can also be used to look at things from the following points 
of view: '' (i) 'from above' -- similarity of function in context; (ii) 'from 
below' -- similarity of formal make-up; and (iii) 'from the same level' -- 
fit with the other categories that are being construed in the overall 
organization of the system'' (p. 398). The ''trinocular'' principle in the 
grammatics is, in fact, the compromise of the ideational, interpersonal 
and textual metafunctions. This compromise relies on realization and 
instantiation. It is here that Halliday reasserts the importance of the 
two among the key concepts in SFG: ''Realization is the name given to 
the relationship between the strata; the verb realize faces 'upwards', 
such that the 'lower' stratum realizes the 'higher' one...Instantiation is 
the relationship between the system and the instance; the instance is 
said to instantiate the system'' (pp. 410-1). 

What is of more theoretical importance is Halliday also calls our 
attention to the fact: ''there is only one set of phenomena here, not 
two; langue (the linguistic system) differs from parole (the linguistic 
instance) only in the position taken up by the observer. Langue is 
parole seen from a distance, and hence on the way to being theorized 
about'' (p. 412). Nevertheless, a grammatics is not something 
dispensable, to use natural language requires a grammatics: ''a way of 
modeling natural language that makes sense in this particular context'' 
(p. 417). 


The content presented in this volume is a brief sketch of Halliday's half 
a century's practice and study of language. 

The contemporary linguistic arena is usually divided into two 
approaches to the study of language: the socially oriented and the 
psychologically oriented. Kress (1976: vii) is right when he puts SFG 
under the first.  Halliday (1978: 18) himself writes: ''a functional theory 
is not a theory about the mental processes involved in the learning of 
the mother tongue; it is a theory about the social processes involved''.  

In the origins of Halliday's theory three names figure prominently: 
Malinowski, Firth, and Whorf. And their influences on SFG can be 
seen everywhere in this volume.

>From Malinowski, Halliday takes over the definition of meaning as 
function in context, and accepts the former's characterization of 
language as multi-functional, hence, the three metafunctions of SFG. 

>From Whorf, Halliday concentrates on the relation of language and 

>From Firth, Halliday derives most of all. Kress (1976:xiv) points 
out: ''the importance of Firth for Halliday lies in the attempt which Firth 
made to provide the linguistic component to go with the sociolinguistic 
insights of Malinowski''. The two important categories are: context of 
situation (i.e. the concept of register in Halliday's work) and system 
(the major formal category in Halliday's theory). Undoubtedly, these 
are not the only influences. Halliday himself writes (Chapter 2, pp. 37-
8): ''the theory sketched out here derives most of all from the work of 
J. R. Firth''. It is perhaps because of this that SFG is labeled the Neo-
Firthian. Such a label often obscures the main thrust of Halliday's 
thinking about language. In fact, from his earliest statements (Chapter 
1 in this volume shows this clearly) on, Halliday attempts to provide a 
coherent theoretical framework for his descriptive linguistic work, while 
Firth failed to do this. In this sense, SFG, just like any theory of 
language, is not created out of nothing. 

Halliday's method has been applied extensively to many research 
domains, among them, educational research (Lemke, 1995; Cope & 
kalantzis, 2000); critical discourse analysis (Kress & Hodge, 1979; 
Toolan, 2002; Fairclough, 2003); visual communication (O'Toole, 
1994; Kress & Leeuwen, 1996; Leeuwen & Jewitt, 2001); and 
ecosocial semiotics (Thibault, 2004a, 2004b). This multiple application 
of SFG has undoubtedly been the source of different worries both 
inside and outside SFG domain. Here the reviewer's attention is on 
McGregor's anxiety. 

McGregor (1997) worries about the price that SFG shall pay or has 
paid in the drive to cast the widest possible net the fundamentals (he 
calls ''the grammatical core'') will be lost or have been lost sight of. 
This anxiety is unnecessary. On the one hand, almost ten years' 
practice has demonstrated that the studies at the levels of 
multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity, have 
strengthened rather than weakened SFG, the ''grammatical core'' did 
not disappear into these bushes. On the other hand, the development 
of any branch of language studies can be only carried out in the 
network of various disciplines. A discipline is not an island. SFG's 
significance just lies in the interface between language and society. 

McGregor's worry is both different and disciplinarily restricted when 
compared with Chomsky's anxiety. Chomsky (1985/2001: F37) states 
that he has been puzzled by two problems concerning human 
knowledge for a long time: ''Plato's problem'' and ''Orwell's problem''. 
To the latter, Chomsky (ibid, p. F39) suggests that the solution is to 
discover the institutional and other factors that block insight and 

understanding in crucial areas of our lives and ask why they are 
effective. He also realizes the importance of the issue: ''But unless we 
can come to understand Orwell's problem and to recognize its 
significance in our own social and cultural life, and to overcome it, the 
chances are slim that the human species will survive long enough to 
discover the answer to Plato's problem or others that challenge the 
intellect and the imagination'' (ibid, p. F41).

This kind of despair has been changed into the past challenges, the 
present tasks, and the already-got achievements in the domain of 
SFG. In terms of both challenge and task, Halliday (p.383, this 
volume) does not hesitate to say: ''to be a linguist is inevitably to be 
concerned with the human condition; it takes a linguist of the stature 
of Sydney Lamb to explain how so much of what constitutes the 
human condition is construed, transmitted, maintained -- and 
potentially transformed -- by means of language''. He describes 
(especially in this volume) how grammar enables us, unconsciously, to 
construe our reality, and interpret our experience, while grammatics 
makes it possible for us to reflect consciously on how this theory of 
our human experience works.

As to the already-got achievements, the evidence is the 
aforementioned application of SFG in different orientations.

Discourse (i.e. ''language in use'' or ''parole''), according to Heidegger 
and Halliday, is the only foundation upon which a linguistic theory 
should be built. The priority of parole over langue is shared by both of 
them. It is held by the present reviewer that this common 
understanding shared by both of them is, not only interesting, but also 
revealing, though it took place differently both in time and domain. 

Heidegger subordinates issues of language to issues of Dasein 
(German: being-there). Dasein is broadly every kind of being or 
existence and narrowly the kind of being that belongs to persons. 
Since human being must have a place there in the world, hence, 
Dasein can be understood as ''being-in-the-world''. This Dasein is 
roughly equal to Halliday's ''the social man'' (1978). Discourse is 
defined by Heidegger (1927/1962: 203-4) as ''the articulation of 
intelligibility'', or more precisely as ''the articulation of intelligibility of 
being-in-the-world...according to signification'' (ibid, p. 206). The 
distinction between langue and parole is certainly not denied or 
overlooked by Heidegger. It is evident that discourse here is really in 
the sense of Saussure's ''parole''. Nevertheless, the existential-
ontological foundation of language is discourse. Heidegger 
(1979/1985:261) emphasizes: ''language is nothing but a distinctive 
possibility of the very being of Dasein''. Ontologically speaking, ''there 
is language only because there is discourse, and not conversely'' 
(ibid, p. 265). 

Turning back to Halliday, we are told: ''there is only one set of 
phenomena here, not two; langue (the linguistic system) differs from 
parole (the linguistic instance) only in the position taken up by the 
observer. Langue is parole seen from a distance, and hence on the 
way to being theorized about'' (p. 412, this volume). 

Then, what is the place of SFG in relation to discourse? Only a 
perspective. Obviously, this is Halliday's answer.


Chomsky, Noam (1985/2001) Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, 
Origin, and Use Beijing/Westport, CT.: Foreign Language Teaching 
and Research Press/Greenwood Publishing Group.

Cope, Bill & Mary Kalantzis (eds.) (2000) Multiliteracies: Literacy 
learning and the design of social futures; London & New York: 

Halliday, M. A. K. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Social 
Interpretation of Language and Meaning London: Edward Arnold 
(Publishers) Limited.

Heidegger, Martin (1927/1962) Being and Time trans. J. Macquarrie & 
E. Robinson New York: Harper & Row.

Heidegger, Martin (1979/1985) History of the Concept of Time: 
Prolegomena tr. by Theodore Kisiel Bloomington: Indiana University 

Kress, Gunther (1976) ''Introduction'' in Halliday: System and Function 
in Language ed. by Gunther Kress Oxford: Oxford University Press: vii-

Lemke, J. L. (1995) Textual Politics: Discourse and Social Dynamics. 
Washington, D.C.: Taylor and Francis.

McGregor, William B. (1997) Semiotic Grammar Oxford: Clarendon 

Thibault, Paul J. (2004a) Brain, Mind, and the Signifying Body: An 
Ecosocial Semiotic Theory London/New York: Continuum.

Thibault, Paul J. (2004 b) Agency and Consciousness in Discourse 
London/New York: Continuum.

Toolan, Michael (ed.) (2002) Critical Discourse Analysis: Critical 
Concepts in Linguistics Vols.1-4 Precursors and Inspirations London / 
New York: Routledge.

van Leeuwen, T.(1998) ''M.A.K. Halliday'' entry, in Paul Bouissac (ed.) 
Encyclopedia of Semiotics New York: Oxford University Press: 278-

van Leeuwen, T. & Carey Jewitt (eds.)(2001) Handbook of Visual 
Analysis London: SAGE Publications. 


Qichang Ye is an associate professor, School of Humanities and 
Social Sciences, at Beijing Jiaotong University. His main areas of 
interest are semiotics, functional linguistics, discourse analysis and 
applied linguistics.

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