Systemic Functional Approach to Linguistics

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Systemic functional linguistics is the study of the relationship between language and its functions in social setting. In systemic functional linguistics, three strata make up the linguistic system: meaning (semantics), sound (phonology) and wording or lexicogrammar (syntax, morphology and lexis). Systemic functional linguistics treats grammar as a meaning-making resource and insists on the interrelation of form and meaning.

According to Halliday, language has developed in response to three kinds of social functional ‘needs’. The first is to be able to construe experience in terms of what is going on around us and inside of us. The second is to interact with the social world by negotiating social roles and attitudes. The third and final need is to be able to create messages with which we can package our meanings in term of what is New or Given, and in terms of what the starting for our message is, commonly referred to as the Themes. Halliday calls the language functions Metafunctions, and refers to them as Ideational, Interpersonal and Textual respectively. Halliday’s point is that any piece of language calls into play all three metafunctions simultaneously. According to SFG, functional bases of grammatical phenomena are divided into three broad areas, called metefunctions: the ideational,the interpersonal and the textual. Written and spoken texts can be examined with respect to each of these metafunctions in register analyses. The ideational metafunction relates to the field aspects of a text, or its subject matter and content of use. Field is divided into three areas: semantic domain, specialisation and angle of representation. Witin the semantic domain, SFG proponents examine the subject matter of a text through organising its nouns, lexical verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Thes are the words which carry meaning in text, as opposed to function words, whose purpose is grammatical. Specialisation is partially determined through attention to jargon or other technical vocabulary items. Examining the angle of representation involves a close look at types of processes, participants and circumstances. The interpersonal metafunction relates to a text’s aspects of tenor or interactivity. Like field, tenor comprises three smaller areas: The speaker/ writer persona, social distance and relative social status. Social distance and relative social status are applicable only to spoken texts. The speaker/writer persona concerns the stance, personalisation and standing of the speaker or writer. This involves looking at whether the writer or speaker has a neutral attitude, which can be seen through use of positive or nagetive language.Social distance means how close the speakers are, howv use of nicknames shows the degree to which they are intimate. Relative social status asks whether they are equal in terms of power and knowledge on a subject, for example, the relationship between mother and child would be considered unequal. Focuses here are on speech acts. (E.g whether one person tends to ask questions and other speaker tends to answer), who chooses the topic, turn management, and how capable both speakers are of forming evaluations on the subject. The textual metafunction relates to mode; the internal organizations and communicative nature of a text. This comprises textual interactivity, sponteneity and communicative distance. Textual interactivity is examined with reference to disfluencies such as hesitators, pauses and repitations. Sponteneity is determined through focus on lexical density, grammatical complexity, coordination(how clauses are linked together) and the use of noun phrases. The study of communicative distance involves looking at a text’s cohesion, that is how it hangs together, as well as any abstract language it uses. Cohesion is analysed in the context of both lexical and grammatical as well as intonational aspects with reference to lexical chains and, in speech register, tonality, tonicity and...
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