SFG Introduction

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Introduction to SFG Page 1 of 55 Systemic Functional Grammar: A First Step into the Theory © Matthiessen & Halliday (please do not copy or quote without authors' permission) 1. Into systemic-functional theory of grammar 1.1 General: (lexico)grammar & the study of grammar ('grammatics') This is an introductory account of a particular theory of grammar, namely systemic-functional theory. Grammar is one of the subsystems of a language; more specifically, it is the system of wordings of a language
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  Systemic Functional Grammar: A First Step into the Theory by Christian Matthiessen & M. A. K. Halliday [c. 1997] © Matthiessen & Halliday (please do not copy or quote without authors' permission)  1. Into systemic-functional theory of grammar1.1 General: (lexico)grammar & the study of grammar ('grammatics') This is an introductory account of a particular theory of grammar, namely systemic-functionaltheory. Grammar is one of the subsystems of a language; more specifically, it is the system of wordings of a language. It is a phenomenon that can be studied, just like light, physicalmotion, the human body, and decision-making processes in bureaucracies; and just as in thecase of these and other phenomena under study, we need theory in order to interpret it. So forinstance, the physical phenomenon of the atom has been interpreted theoretically in terms of Democritus' theory, Rutherford's theory, Bohr's theory, and so on. We distinguish between thephenomenon itself (the atom) and various theoretical models of it. What kind of thing the atomis thought to be will of course vary considerably as we move from one theory to another.Democritus' atom was very different from Bohr's atom, in that it was indivisible, not aconfiguration of subatomic particles; that is, Democritus' theory allowed us to see much lessof the atom than Bohr's theory does. A well-known example of the way theory determines howwe interpret phenomena is light. Light can be interpreted either as particle or as wave; thereare two alternative theories. In this case, the alternatives turn out to be complementary, in thesense that each reveals something about light that we need to account for. This situation isquite typical in science: we need complementary theoretical perspectives to account for therich diversity of properties we uncover in the phenomena being studied.Grammar as a phenomenon of study is thus interpreted according to different theories. So asto maintain the distinction between grammar and theories of grammar, we shall call theory of grammar grammatics . The distinction is analogous to that between language and linguistics,or between society and sociology. The difficulty is that people often use the same term forboth the phenomenon and its study: e.g. we speak of the grammar of English (thephenomenon) but also of traditional grammar (one theory of the phenomenon). We couldclarify this situation if we called the second traditional grammatics . Our concern here is thuswith systemic-functional grammatics ; and we shall illustrate how it can be used in the study of  grammar with examples from the grammars of Chinese, English, and Japanese.Grammar (as a phenomenon) is part of language; it is the system of wordings , as we put itabove. But how it is conceptualized will depend on our grammatics. In the history of thinkingabout language in the West, there have been two somewhat different theoretical perspectives.Both have their srcins in Ancient Greece; there have been many variations, but we can stilltrace these two strands of thinking today. In one, language is a set of rules rules for specifyingstructures; so grammar is a set of rules for specifying grammatical structures, such as theconstruction of a transitive sentence with 'verb + object'. This perspective is that of logic andphilosophy, e.g. in the foregrounding of the sentence as the basic unit of language, organizedon a logical model into Subject + Predicate. Since the sentence is the basic unit, it is studied inisolation. In the other view, language is a resource, a resource for making meanings; so Page 1 of 55Introduction to SFG3/20/2010http://www.alvinleong.info/sfg/sfgintro.html  grammar is a resource for creating meaning by means of wording. This perspective is that of rhetoric and ethnography, e.g. in the foregrounding of text (discourse) as the basic unit of language, organized according to the rhetorical context. Since text is the basic unit, thesentence is studied in its discourse environment.The kind of grammatics that is usually presented in school is a diluted version of the 'grammaras rule' type of theory. It presents rules of grammar in terms of words in sentences, withwords serving functions such as Subject, Predicate, Object, and Adverbial. As a theory, it fallsfar short of the demands that are now being made on grammatical theories. On the one hand,it takes over too much from the European languages it was first applied to, starting with Greekand Latin; hence it is of limited value in interpreting the grammars of non-European languagessuch as Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese or the languages of otherregions and continents. On the other hand, it builds in too little of the overall grammaticalsystem of language. It allows us to see only a small fragment of grammar and does notprovide us with a way of interpreting the overall organization of the grammar of a language asa system of information. At this stage in history we need a richer theory of grammar to meetthe challenges of the age of information, e.g. in education (how to organize and give access toknowledge) and in computation (how to achieve the automatic processing of text). We are alsoin a position to learn more about grammar thanks to technical innovations: the tape recorderallows us to store and examine spoken language, and the computer allows us to manipulatevast amounts of text (spoken or written) for the purpose of grammatical study.Systemic-functional theory is one response to these demands. The theory was first developedin work on the grammar of Chinese; and it has been used in educational and computationalcontexts from an early stage. Unlike the theory of grammar that is still the received tradition inschool, systemic-functional grammatics takes the resource perspective rather than the ruleperspective; and it is designed to display the overall system of grammar rather than onlyfragments. We hope to bring this out in the discussion which follows. 1.2 Grammar as resource; systems & their realization in structure We use language to interact with one another, to construct and maintain our interpersonalrelations and the social order that lies behind them; and in doing so we interpret andrepresent the world for one another and for ourselves. Language is a natural part of theprocess of living; it is also used to 'store' the experience built up in the course of that process,both personal and collective. It is (among other things) a tool for representing knowledge, or,to look at this in terms of language itself, for constructing meaning.Grammar is 'part of' this resource. But the relation of grammar to other 'parts' of the linguisticsystem is not a part to whole relation; rather, it is a symbolic one. Grammar is a resource forcreating meaning in the form of wordings. Let us illustrate this point by reference to one broadarea of semantics and grammar, an area that we shall characterize as interpersonal: this is oneof three such general areas, the other two being ideational and textual.In interacting with one another, we enter into a range of interpersonal relationships, choosingamong semantic strategies such as cajoling, persuading, enticing, requesting, ordering,suggesting, asserting, insisting, doubting, and so on. The grammar provides us with the basicresource for expressing these speech functions, in the form of a highly generalized set of  Page 2 of 55Introduction to SFG3/20/2010http://www.alvinleong.info/sfg/sfgintro.html  clause systems referred to as MOOD. This is the grammar as system, its paradigmaticorganization.A system, in this technical sense, is a point of choice. In the grammars of Chinese, English,and Japanese, the most general choice in mood is that between 'indicative' and 'imperative'clauses. These two are the options or terms in the system. The following examples illustratethe contrast between 'indicative' and 'imperative' in English:Any grammatical choice can be represented as a system with two or more alternative terms or features , as shown graphically in Figure 1.Fig. 1: A systemThis graphic representation shows (i) the system name (MOOD TYPE); (ii) the terms from whichone has to be chosen ('indicative'/'imperative'); (iii) the condition under which the choice isavailable, the entry condition ('clause'). The full set of conventions for the systemicrepresentation is given in the Appendix.How do we know that this system is part of the grammar of English? There are three parts tothe answer. (i) If we look at the wording of the examples given in the table above, we can seethat there are systematic differences between the 'indicative' ones and the 'imperative' ones.The former have a Finite verb, whereas the latter do not; and the former have a Subject,whereas the latter may or may not have one, it is typically absent. (ii) If we look at the systemitself to consider what choices are available for 'indicative' clauses, we find that they have achoice in tense ('past/present/future'), expressed through the Finite verb; and also in person,expressed through the Subject. In contrast, if we look at the system to consider the choicesthat are available for 'imperative' clauses, we find that they have no choice in tense and theSubject can (in principle) only be the addressee, 'you'. (iii) If we look at the distinction inmeaning that the system makes, we find that the choice has to do with the nature of what isbeing negotiated in the dialogue: either information ( 'indicative', e.g. Did the spy come in from the cold? Yes, he did. ), or goods-&-services ('imperative', e.g. Come in from the cold! OK. ). These three parts to the answer illustrate three general angles of approach to any systemin the grammar: (i) ' from below ', (ii) ' from around ', and (iii) ' from above ', see Figure 2. (Wereturn to this point below in Section 3.3.) We now explore the system from different angles, Systemic option (term)Example 'indicative'the spy/I/you came/ comes/will come in from the cold;who came in from the cold?;did/does/will the spy/I/you come in from the cold?'imperative'[You] come in from the cold! Page 3 of 55Introduction to SFG3/20/2010http://www.alvinleong.info/sfg/sfgintro.html  beginning 'from below', from the point of view of how the systemic contrast is created in thewording.Fig. 2: Perspectives on a system(i) Systemic contrasts are created by some aspect of the wording: the terms of the system aredifferentiated by means of grammatical structure (e.g. the absence vs. presence of an elementof structure such as Subject), by means of grammatical or lexical items (e.g. the grammaticalitem ka  in Japanese indicating interrogative clauses), or, as a further step, by means of aphonological feature (e.g. rising vs. falling intonation). We say that systemic terms, or features,are realized (expressed, coded) by aspects of the wording. The choice in the MOOD systembetween 'indicative' and 'imperative' is realized structurally : only indicative clauses normallyhave a Subject. We can indicate the presence of the grammatical function Subject in indicativeclauses as in Figure 3.Fig. 3: System with associated realization statementThe arrow represents the relation of  realization : the feature 'indicative' is realized by thepresence of the function Subject, stated as +Subject. The different types of  realizationstatement are summarized in the Appendix. The presence of Subject is one step in thespecification of the function structure of an indicative clause, i.e. of the organization of theclause as a configuration of functions.(ii) When we come to explore 'from around', we find that, through their entry conditions, anumber of systems come together as an inter-related set, called a system network . We canillustrate again from the grammar of MOOD. The choice between 'indicative' and 'imperative' isthe most general one in this area of the grammar; but each alternative leads to furtherchoices. For instance, indicative clauses are either 'declarative' ( they rode horses  ) or Page 4 of 55Introduction to SFG3/20/2010http://www.alvinleong.info/sfg/sfgintro.html
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