Systemic functional grammar

Systemic functional grammar (SFG) or systemic functional linguistics (SFL) is a model of grammar that was developed by Michael Halliday in the 1960s. [, accessed 30 July 2008] It is part of a broad social semiotic approach to language called systemic linguistics. The term "systemic" refers to the view of language as "a network of systems, or interrelated sets of options for making meaning"; [Halliday, M.A.K. "Introduction to Functional Grammar" Second Edition (1994) London: Edward Arnold., p.15] The term "functional" indicates that the approach is concerned with meaning, as opposed to formal grammar, which focuses on word classes such as nouns and verbs, typically without reference beyond the individual clause.

Systemic functional grammar is concerned primarily with the choices that the grammar makes available to speakers and writers. [, accessed 30 July 2008] These choices relate speakers' and writers' intentions to the concrete forms of a language. Traditionally the "choices" are viewed in terms of either the content or the structure of the language used. In SFG, language is analyzed in three different ways, or strata: semantics, phonology, and lexicogrammar. [, accessed 30 July 2008] SFG presents a view of language in terms of both structure (grammar) and words (lexis). The term "lexicogrammar" describes this combined approach.


According to SFG, functional bases of grammatical phenomena are divided into three broad areas, called metafunctions: the "ideational", the "interpersonal" and the "textual". [Elke Teich, "Systemic Functional Grammar in Natural Language Generation" (1999) Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, p.21.] Written and spoken texts can be examined with respect to each of these metafunctions in register analyses. [O’Halloran, K. A. (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 2, Getting Inside English" (2006) The Open University, pp.13-4.]

The ideational metafunction

The ideational metafunction relates to the "field" aspects of a text, or its subject matter and context of use. [O’Halloran, K. A. (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 2, Getting Inside English" (2006) The Open University, p.31.] Field is divided into three areas: semantic domain, specialization, and angle of representation. [O’Halloran, K. A. (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 2, Getting Inside English" (2006) The Open University, p.178.]

Within the semantic domain, SFG proponents examine the subject matter of a text through organizing its nouns, lexical verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. These are the words which carry meaning in a text, as opposed to function words, whose purpose is grammatical.

Specialization is partially determined through attention to jargon or other technical vocabulary items. [O’Halloran, K. A. (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 2, Getting Inside English" (2006) The Open University, p.32-3.]

Examining the angle of representation involves a close look at types of processes, participants, and circumstances. [Coffin, C (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 3, Getting Practical" (2006) The Open University, pp.68-86]

The interpersonal metafunction

The interpersonal metafunction relates to a text's aspects of "tenor" or interactivity. [O’Halloran, K. A. (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 2, Getting Inside English" (2006) The Open University, p.15.] Like field, tenor comprises three smaller areas: the speaker/writer persona, social distance, and relative social status. [Coffin, C (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 3, Getting Practical" (2006) The Open University, p.11] Social distance and relative social status are applicable only to spoken texts. [O’Halloran, K. A. (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 2, Getting Inside English" (2006) The Open University, p.22.]

The speaker/writer persona concerns the stance, personalization 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 negative language. Social distance means how close the speakers are, e.g. how 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 a mother and child would be considered unequal. Focuses here are on speech acts (e.g. whether one person tends to ask questions and the other speaker tends to answer), who chooses the topic, turn management, and how capable both speakers are of forming evaluations on the subject. [Coffin, C (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 3, Getting Practical" (2006) The Open University, pp.22-3]

The textual metafunction

The textual metafunction relates to "mode"; the internal organization and communicative nature of a text. [O’Halloran, K. A. (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 2, Getting Inside English" (2006) The Open University, p.36.] This comprises textual interactivity, spontaneity, and communicative distance. [Coffin, C (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 3, Getting Practical" (2006) The Open University, p.245]

Textual interactivity is examined with reference to disfluencies such as hesitators, pauses and repetitions.

Spontaneity 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 [Coffin, C (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 3, Getting Practical" (2006) The Open University, p.158] with reference to lexical chains [Coffin, C (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 3, Getting Practical" (2006) The Open University, p.158] and, in the speech register, tonality, tonicity, and tone. [Coffin, C (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 3, Getting Practical" (2006) The Open University, p.184] The lexical aspect focuses on sense relations and lexical repetitions, while the grammatical aspect looks at repetition of meaning shown through reference, substitution and ellipsis, as well as the role of linking adverbials. [Coffin, C (ed.) "English Grammar in Context, Book 3, Getting Practical" (2006) The Open University, p.158]

Systemic functional grammar deals with all of these areas of meaning equally within the grammatical system itself.

Children’s grammar

Michael Halliday (1973) outlined seven functions of language with regard to grammar used by children: [Butler, Christopher S., "Structure and Function" (2003) John Benjamins Pub Co, p.415]

* The instrumental function serves to manipulate the environment, to cause certain events to happen.
* The regulatory function of language is the control of events.
* The representational function is the use of language to make statements, convey facts and knowledge, explain, or report to represent reality as one sees it.
* The interactional function of language serves to ensure social maintenance.
* The personal function is to express emotions, personality, and “gut-level” reactions.
* The heuristic function used to acquire knowledge, to learn about the environment.
* The imaginative function serves to create imaginary systems or ideas.

Relation to other branches of grammar

The theory sets out to explain how the continuous emission of sounds or the continuous concatenation of characters (wordings) construes meanings. This is a radically different approach to language from Noam Chomsky's and it is not intended to answer his question of "what is the finite rule system which generates all and only the grammatical sentences in a language?" In SFG, adult human language is not viewed as a finite rule system, but rather as a system realized by instantiations which is back-feeded by the very instantiations that realize it.

Another way to understand the difference in concerns between functional and generative grammars is through Chomsky's claim that "linguistics is a sub-branch of psychology." Halliday investigates linguistics as though it were a sub-branch of "sociology". SFG therefore pays much more attention to pragmatics and discourse semantics, at the expense of an easily computable formalism.

Systemic functional grammar has been used to derive further grammatical accounts —for example, the model has been used by Richard Hudson to develop "word grammar".

See also

*Functional grammar
*Nominal group
*Systemic linguistics
*Thematic equative

Other significant systemic functional grammarians:
* [ Robin Fawcett]
* [ James R Martin]

Linguists also involved with the early development of the approach:
* Randolph Quirk
* Richard Hudson


External links

* For more information, see the SFG web site at: [ Systemic functional grammar]
* For a large bibliography containing the vast majority of systemic functional writings, see the bibliography site at: []
* [ Word grammar]
* [ Manxman Audio Visual Games - A simplified description of using SFG techniques in English language tuition for adolescents ]
* [ Open Learn (Teacher's Discussion and Information Community) - A forum and resource for educators interested in using SFL in the classroom. ]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Functional grammar — is a model of grammar motivated by functions. The model was originally developed by Simon C. Dik at the University of Amsterdam in the 1970s, and has undergone several revisions ever since. The latest standard version under the original name is… …   Wikipedia

  • Nominal group (functional grammar) — Those five beautiful shiny Jonathan apples sitting on the chair In systemic functional grammar (SFG), a nominal group is a group of words which expresses an entity. A nominal group is widely regarded as synonymous to noun phrase in other… …   Wikipedia

  • Grammar — is the field of linguistics that covers the rules governing the use of any given natural language. It includes morphology and syntax, often complemented by phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics. Each language has its own distinct… …   Wikipedia

  • Systemic linguistics — is an approach to linguistics that considers language as a system. It was developed by Michael Halliday. It is considered functional rather than generative in linguistic orientation.ystemThe label Systemic is related to the System Networks used… …   Wikipedia

  • Functional Discourse Grammar — Die Functional Discourse Grammar (FDG) ist eine neuere Grammatiktheorie. Von führenden Vertretern der Functional Grammar (FG) wurde sie im ersten Jahrzehnt des 3. Jahrtausends vor allem in Amsterdam in Weiterentwicklung der FG entwickelt. Über… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Functional theories of grammar — A range of functionally based approaches to the scientific study of language have been termed functional . The grammar model developed by Simon Dik bears this qualification in its name, Functional Grammar, as does Michael Halliday s Systemic… …   Wikipedia

  • Grammar framework — In theoretical linguistics, the following fundamental approaches towards constructing grammar frameworks for natural languages are distinguished:*Generative grammar: algorithmic (phrase structure grammars) **Transformational grammar (1960s)… …   Wikipedia

  • grammar — n. comparative; descriptive; functional; generative; historical; prescriptive; structuralist; systemic; transformational grammar * * * [ græmə] descriptive functional generative historical prescriptive structuralist systemic transformational… …   Combinatory dictionary

  • Danish functional linguistics — For the architectural style of the same name, see Danish Functionalism (architecture). Danish functional linguistics (also referred to as Danish functionalism) is a strand of functional linguistics drawing heavily on the work and ideas of Louis… …   Wikipedia

  • Subject (grammar) — ExamplesSidebar|35%|In the sentences below, the subjects are indicated in boldface. # The dictionary helps me find words. # Ice cream appeared on the table. # The man that is sitting over there told me that he just bought a ticket to Tahiti. #… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.