The Thought Occurs

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Epistemological Orientation Of SFL Theory


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: xi):
… we stress that the categories and relations of experience are not “given” to us by nature, to be passively reflected in our language, but are actively constructed by language, with the lexicogrammar as the driving force.


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 3):
We contend that the conception of ‘knowledge’ as something that exists independently of language, and may then be coded or made manifest in language, is illusory. All knowledge is constituted in semiotic systems, with language as the most central; and all such representations of knowledge are constructed from language in the first place.


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 3):
Our contention is that there is no ordering of experience other than the ordering given to it by language. We could in fact define experience in linguistic terms: experience is the reality we construe for ourselves by means of language.


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 17):
The view we are adopting is a constructivist one, familiar from European linguistics in the work of Hjelmslev and Firth. According to this view, it is the grammar itself that construes experience, that constructs for us our world of events and objects. As Hjelmslev (1943) said, reality is unknowable; the only things that are known are our construals of it — that is, meanings. Meanings do not ‘exist’ before the wordings that realise them. They are formed out of the impact between our consciousness and its environment.

Categorising Experience

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 68):
Categorisation is often thought of as a process of classifying together phenomena that are inherently alike, the classes being as it were given to us by the nature of the experience itself. But this is not what really happens. Categorising is a creative act: it transforms our experience into meaning, and this means imposing a categorical order rather than putting labels on an order that is already there.
Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 68):
There would be indefinitely many ways of construing analogies among different elements in the total flux of experience; what our semantic resources enable us to do is to construe those analogies which yield categories resonating with what as a species, and as members of a particular culture, we have found to carry material and symbolic value.
Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 97):
To construe experience of concrete phenomena as meaning is thus to construe some signification which lies outside the ideation base as a value which is internal to the ideation base system.

Typological Variation

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 318-9):
In general, wherever there is indeterminacy within a language, we may expect to find this reflected in typological variation. … The phenomena of human experience are held in tension by so many intersecting analogical lines that, while all of us have the same brains and live on the surface of the same planet, such diverse ways of semiotic mapping are not only possible but inevitable.

The Construction Of Meaning

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 353):
… our metatheoretic position is that the construction of meaning is both a discourse–semantic and a lexicogrammatical process.


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 423-4):
… reality is not something that is given to us; we have to construct an interpretation of it — or, as we prefer to put it, we have to construe our experience. Interpretation is a semiotic process, and our interpretation takes into account not only the concrete natural world but also the socio-cultural realm that is brought into existence as a semiotic construct …

Modelling The Relation Of Semiotic To Material Systems

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 439):
… the relationship has to be modelled in such a way that we can show how people as biological organisms and socio-semiotic persons interact with their material environment.

The Central Integrative Rôle Of Language

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 444):
… all of our experience is construed as meaning. Language is the primary semiotic system for transforming experience into meaning; and it is the only semiotic system whose meaning base can serve to transform meanings construed in other systems (including perceptual ones) and thus integrate our experience from all its various sources.

The Problem With Designed Systems

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 557)
Our “reality” is inherently messy; it would be hard to construe experience, in a way that was beneficial to survival, with a semiotic system whose typical categories were well-defined, clearly bounded, and ordered by certainty rather than probability. This is the problem with designed systems, including semiotic ones: as a rule, they fail to provide adequately for mess.

Language Creates Meaning

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 602):
Language is not a second–order code through which meanings created in some higher–order realm of existence are mysteriously made manifest and brought to light. To borrow the conceit that Firth was fond of caricaturing, there are no “naked ideas” lurking in the background waiting to be clothed. It is language that creates meaning, in the sense that meaning has for us as human beings (which is the only sense of it that we can know).

Location In Metasemiotic Space

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 603):
… our interpretation of meaning is immanent, so that meaning is inside language, not some separate, higher domain of human experience.

A Broadly Materialist Position

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 608-9):
… the human brain has evolved in the construction of a functioning model of “reality”. We prefer to conceptualise “reality construction” in terms of construing experience. This is not so much because it avoids metaphysical issues about the ultimate nature of reality — we are prepared to acknowledge a broadly materialist position …

Why ‘Construing Experience’ Rather Than ‘Reality Construction’?

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609):
… what is being construed by the brain is not the environment as such, but the impact of that environment on the organism and the ongoing material and semiotic exchange between the two.
Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609):
… we want to emphasise the evolutionary perspective, since this allows us to start from what human beings have in common with other species rather than always insisting on our own uniqueness: when we talk of “construction of reality” it is almost impossible to avoid taking our own construction as the norm, whereas parakeets, pythons, and porpoises have very different experiences to construe — different both from each other’s and from those of people.

For applications of SFL theory to philosophy, quantum physics and mythology, see Informing Thoughts

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Today's 'Typology Forum' Paper By Jim Martin

Paralanguage – a systemic-functional perspective

J R Martin
University of Sydney
SFL research exploring semiotic systems other than language, inspired by Kress & van Leeuwen's Reading Images (1996), has led to a surge of interest in multimodal discourse analysis. In this paper, drawing on this work, I will present some proposals for a model of paralanguage inspired by this work, and ask questions about the nature of the relationship between paralanguage and language – beginning to explore how this relationship is similar or different form that between language and other modalities of communication (asking in other words "What's 'para-' about paralanguage?"). Alongside Doran's and Johnston's presentations this opens up consideration of the nature of a functional perspective on typology which looks not just across languages but across semiotic systems – with a special focus on symbolism (i.e. formal symbolic systems such as those used in mathematics), sign language and paralanguage for this forum.

Blogger Comments:

To be clear, the model of body language that Martin and his collaborators have been using since 2009 is (their understanding of) the one I devised at the time as a Research Assistant. It was not inspired by Kress & van Leeuwen's Reading Images (1996), but by the final chapter of Halliday & Matthiessen's Construing Experience Through Meaning (1999), which relates language to other semiotic systems.

The model distinguishes three broad types of body language: protolinguistic, linguistic and epilinguistic. Protolinguistic body language is the use of the body to express the meanings of protolanguage; this does not cease with the ontogenetic move into language. Linguistic body language is the supplementary use of the body to make the meanings of language, as the raising of eyebrows in tune with the raising of tonic pitch, or the beating of hands in time with the rhythm of speech. Epilinguistic body language is the (non-linguistic) use of the body to express the meanings made possible by language, the analogue of pictorial semiotic systems. Linguistic body language is, of course, tri-stratal, but the others are bi-stratal (no grammar, just content and expression).

Postscript (17/1/19):

Martin's most recent publication misunderstanding, misrepresenting and rebranding my ideas, Embodied meaning: a systemic functional perspective on paralanguage (2019), is being critiqued here.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Today's 'Typology Forum' Paper By David Rose

The textual metafunction: making matter mean

David Rose
University of Sydney
The textual metafunction is sometimes presented as if it were an afterthought, there merely to organise interpersonal and ideational meanings into convenient structures of clause and text. But in the first stages of language, and in much of everyday discourse, it is the primary means of turning the world into meaning, with exophoric reference to the shared sensations of me and you, this and that, here and there. Once the world gets classified, and configured into clauses, and strung out into texts, the same resources used to indicate the world around us are re-deployed to indicate the semiotic world within a text. Where once there were only signs, now meanings come in messages, each of which must be sensible in the unfolding world of the text, and manage listeners’ attention to the information they present. 
Textual typological studies might start from observing these three general functions: introducing and tracking meanings through a text, or phoricity, contextualising messages, or thematicity, and managing information prominence, or newsworthiness. Resources for realising these functions are prototypically distributed between language strata: phoricity in the reference chains of discourse, thematicity in segmental structures of clauses, and newsworthiness in periodic structures of tone groups. But while they are in principle independently variable, both the functions and their realisations interact with each other, and variations in textual functions proliferate as a result. Perhaps also as a consequence of these interactions, their realisations come to vary across languages and registers. 
This paper will make some general observations about interactions between phoricity and thematicity and between thematicity and newsworthiness, and will exemplify variations in these interactions between languages. In the process, it will also illustrate textual variations in register, from dialogue to monologue, and from accompanying to constituting fields.

Blogger Comments:

[1] Rose's negative appraisal — implied by 'afterthought' and 'merely' (counter-expectancy: limiting) — of an unsourced characterisation of the textual metafunction is unjustified. Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 398):
The textual metafunction is second-order in the sense that it is concerned with semiotic reality: that is, reality in the form of meaning. This dimension of reality is itself constructed by other two metafunctions: the ideational which construes a natural reality, and the interpersonal, which enacts an intersubjective reality. The function of the textual metafunction is thus an enabling one with respect to the rest; it takes over the semiotic resources brought into being by the other two metafunctions and as it were operationalises them.
[2] Here Rose confuses the ideational and textual metafunctions.  It is the ideational metafunction that construes experience as meaning ("turns the world into meaning").

[3] As Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 530) point out, the textual metafunction only operationalises the resources already created by the other metafunctions:
Reference is a way of referring to things that are already semiotically accessible: either actually, in the text, or potentially, in the context of situation.
[4] To be clear, "classifying the world" is construing experience as ideational meaning.

[5] To be clear, it is experiential options that are "configured into clauses", and "configured" takes a structural (syntagmatic) rather than systemic (paradigmatic) perspective on the clause.

[6] To be clear, it is meaning that is "strung out into texts", through the process of instantiation during logogenesis.

[7] To be clear, these resources are ideational potential, construed of experience, and on the SFL model, they do not "indicate" the world, since there are no meanings outside semiotic systems that can be "indicated".

[8] To be clear, in theoretical terms, this "redeployment" is the process of instantiation during logogenesis.

[9] To be clear, in theoretical terms, "indicate" here refers to the logical projection of second-order meaning.

[10] To be clear, in SFL terms, this is the semogenic distinction between protolanguage ("signs") and language ("messages"), though there is no reason to think that this is Rose's meaning.

[11] Here Rose switches to promoting Martin's work on textual systems, as if the preceding paragraph leads naturally to them, and as if they address the (confused) issues he has raised.

[12] This misrepresents the model in Martin (1992).  The meanings that are introduced and tracked are participants, and the system for doing so is termed IDENTIFICATION, not phoricity.  Martin's model is Halliday & Hasan's (1976) model of cohesive reference, misunderstood, rebranded and relocated from lexicogrammar to discourse semantics (evidence here).  Essentially, Martin confuses
  • textual reference with reference in the sense of ideational denotation, like his source Du Bois (1980),
  • interpersonal deixis of nominal group structure with non-structural textual reference, and, as a result,
  • nominal groups realising participants with reference items,
which is why the experiential feature 'participant' is presented (Martin 1992: 325) as the unit and entry condition of this textual discourse semantic system.

[13] These refer to Martin's (1992) reworkings of Halliday's THEME and INFORMATION, which confuse linguistic theory (Theme, New) with writing pedagogy, namely:
  • introductory paragraph, rebranded as Macro-Theme, 
  • topic sentence, rebranded as Hyper-Theme (misunderstood from Daneš (1974)), 
  • paragraph summary, rebranded as Hyper-New, and 
  • text summary, rebranded as Macro-New.
Evidence here.

[14] In SFL theory, these are all systems of the lexicogrammatical stratum.

[15] In SFL theory, reference chains represent (non-structural) cohesive relations within the lexicogrammar.

[16] The claim that thematicity is "distributed" in segmental structures is not only inconsistent with SFL theory, but also with Martin (1992), and most notably with Martin & Rose (2007), where such structures are modelled as waves in a chapter titled Periodicity.

[17] This follows Martin (1992: 384) in confusing the content plane (INFORMATION is a lexicogrammatical system) with the expression plane (the tone group is a rank unit of the phonological stratum).

[18] The notion of "interaction" between strata — different levels of symbolic abstraction — repeats Martin's (1992: 488) misunderstanding of the dimensions of the SFL theoretical architecture as modules.  See the explanatory critiques here.

[19] To be clear, in SFL theory, because 'register' refers to a functional variety of language, it is modelled as a point on the cline of instantiation.  Here Rose follows Martin (1992) in misconstruing register as a stratum of context, the culture as semiotic system.  See the critiques here.

[20] To be clear, in SFL theory, the dialogue vs monologue distinction is one of MODE, a system of context (culture), not register (language).

[21] The notion of 'constituting field' derives from Martin (1992: 185, 193) where it applies to activity sequences, which are modelled in that work as context (field), misconstrued as register, but in Martin & Rose (2007: 100-3) as discourse semantic.  To complicate matters further, Rose, like Martin, confuses the ideational semantics (that realises a field) with field (misconstrued as register).

Moreover, in presenting this distinction as a textual distinction at the level of context, it invites confusion with Hasan's (1985/9: 58) feature opposition of ancillary vs constitutive LANGUAGE RÔLE in her model of MODE, the textual system at the level of context (culture), not register (language):
First, there is the question of the LANGUAGE RÔLE — whether it is constitutive or ancillary. These categories should not be seen as sharply distinct but rather as two end-points of a continuum.