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