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