The Thought Occurs

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Why Jim Martin's 'Friday Seminar' Abstract Is Misleading

Sue Hood wrote to sys-func and sysfling at 17:48 on 25/4/16:
The seminar this Friday (April 29th) will be presented by Jim Martin – see the abstract below.
Meaning matters: A short history of systemic functional linguistics
This talk presents a brief history of systemic functional linguistics (hereafter SFL), taking Halliday’s 1961 WORD paper, ‘Categories of the theory of grammar’, as point of departure. It outlines the key strands of thought which have informed the development of SFL, focusing on (i) why it referred to as systemic, as functional and as systemic functional, (ii) how it developed this orientation with reference to phonology, lexicogrammar and discourse semantics and (iii) how it has extended this perspective to models of context (register and genre) and multimodality (taking into consideration modalities of communication beyond language). The talk ends with a brief note on recent developments and a comment on the dialectic of theory and practice through which SFL positions itself as an appliable linguistics.

Blogger Comments

[1] Here Martin uses an historical account of SFL as a pretext for presenting his own models of discourse semantics, register and genre as having replaced Halliday's model in the development of SFL.  As demonstrated here, Martin's models are inconsistent at many scales with Halliday's theory and derive from multiple misunderstandings of the SFL model.

[2] Martin's argument for a 'discourse semantics' stratum is invalid, as demonstrated here.

[3] Martin's argument for register and genre as contextual strata is invalid, as demonstrated here, here, and here, and the model itself is inconsistent with the notions of stratification, context, register and genre, as demonstrated here.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. 

Group members try to minimise conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. 

Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. 

The dysfunctional group dynamics of the "ingroup" produces an "illusion of invulnerability" (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). 

Thus the "ingroup" significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the "outgroup").

Friday, 15 April 2016

Halliday & Hasan On How To Talk About Registers

Halliday & Hasan (1976: 22-3):
The more specifically we can characterise the context of situation, the more specifically we can predict the properties of a text in that situation.  If we merely name the subject–matter, or the medium, it will tell us very little; we could talk of a 'register of marine biology' or a 'newspaper register', but this hardly enables us to say anything of interest about the types of texts in question.  But if we give some information about all three categories of field, mode, and tenor, we begin to be able to make some useful observations.  If we specify a field such as 'personal interaction, at the end of the day, with the aim of inducing contentment through recounting of familiar events', with mode 'spoken monologue, imaginative narrative, extempore' and tenor 'intimate, mother and three-year-old child', we can construct a great deal of the language of this kind of bedtime story…
The register is the set of meanings, the configuration of semantic patterns, that are typically drawn upon under the specified conditions, along with the words and structures that are used in the realisation of those meanings.

Blogger Comments:

That is, registers can be identified by the contextual features that describe the type of situation that the register realises.

But, note, however, that registers are meaning (semantics) realised in wording (lexicogrammar) — not the features of field, mode and tenor that characterise the context in which the register functions.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Halliday & Hasan On Field, Mode And Tenor As Distinct From Register

Halliday & Hasan (1976: 22):
The FIELD is the total event, in which the text is functioning, together with the purposive activity of the speaker or writer; it thus includes the subject-matter as one element in it.
The MODE is the function of the text in the event, including therefore both the channel taken by the language — spoken or written, extempore or prepared — and its genre, or rhetorical mode, as narrative, didactic, persuasive, 'phatic communion' and so on.
The TENOR refers to the type of rôle interaction, the set of relevant social relations, permanent and temporary, among the participants.
Field, mode and tenor collectively define the context of situation of a text.
The linguistic features which are typically associated with a configuration of situational features — with particular values of the field, mode and tenor — constitute a REGISTER.

Blogger Notes:

Note that field does not mean the 'activity sequences' — or any other meanings — construed in the text.  Field characterises the situation in which such construals are made.

Note that genre, in the sense of the function of the text in the situation — narrative, didactic, persuasive etc. — is a dimension of the mode of the situation.

Note that field, mode and tenor are dimensions of the context, not dimensions of register.

Note that a register is constituted by linguistic features, not contextual features; i.e. a register is not constituted by the values of field, mode and tenor.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Halliday & Hasan On Context Of Situation: Hymes Vs SFL

Halliday & Hasan (1976: 22):
[Malinowski's concept of CONTEXT OF SITUATION] has been worked over and extended by a number of linguists, the best-known treatment being perhaps that of Hymes in 'Models of interaction of language and social setting'.  Hymes categorises the speech situation in terms of eight components which we may summarise as: form and content of text, setting, participants, ends (intent and effect), key, medium, genre and interactional norms.  It will be noted that, in this view of the matter, the text itself forms part of the speech situation.
A more abstract interpretation, intended as a basis for DERIVING the features of the text from the features of the situation, had been offered by Halliday, McIntosh and Strevens in The Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching.  They had proposed the three headings FIELD, MODE and TENOR (to adopt the terminology preferred by Spencer and Gregory in Linguistics and Style).  These are very general concepts for describing how the context of situation determines the kinds of meaning that are expressed.

Blogger Comment:

Note that Martin's identification of genre with context aligns more with Hymes' concept of context than the SFL model.  Indeed, in a stratified model, it is inconsistent with the notion of strata as levels of symbolic abstraction, simply because a genre, a type of language, is not more symbolically abstract than language.  The inconsistency arose from Martin (1992: 488) misunderstanding strata as 'interacting modules'.  See critique here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Halliday & Hasan On Context Of Situation

Halliday & Hasan (1976: 21, 22):
The term SITUATION, meaning the 'context of situation' in which a text is embedded, refers to all those extra-linguistic factors which have some bearing on the text itself.  A word of caution is needed about this concept.  At the moment, as the text of this Introduction is being composed, it is a typical English October day in Palo Alto, California; a green hillside is visible outside the window, the sky is grey, and it is pouring with rain.  This might seem part of the 'situation' of this text; but it is not, because it has no relevance to the meanings expressed, or to the words or grammatical patterns that are used to express them.  The question is, what are the external factors affecting the linguistic choices that the speaker or writer makes.  These are likely to be the nature of the audience, the medium, the purpose of the communication and so on.  There are types of discourse in which the state of the weather would form part of the context of situation, for example, language–in–action in mountaineering or sailing; but writing a book about language is not one of them. …
The concept of CONTEXT OF SITUATION was formulated by Malinowski in 1923, in his supplement to Ogden and Richard's The Meaning of Meaning and subsequently elaborated by Firth, particularly in a paper written in 1950 called 'Personality and language in society'.