Chapter 2 – Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG)
Halliday’s model (1971, 1976 and 1985/1994) is based on systemic functional grammar (SFG). A functional grammar considers that language performs a number of different functions and that any piece of language is likely to be the result of choices made on different functional levels. It is designed to account for how language is used, and claims that everything can be explained, ultimately, by reference to how language is used.
The theory behind Halliday’s account is also known as systemic since it is a theory of meaning as choice, by which a language is interpreted as a network of interlocking options. Halliday’s model is designed for the study of language as communication; meaning/function is attributed to the writer’s or speaker’s motivated linguistic choices, and the grammar relates these choices systematically to the wider sociocultural framework. Another important aspect of Halliday’s theory is the notion of register.
Register analysis and lexicogrammatical analysis
When you analyse a text, there are three register variables to take into consideration:
FIELD (what is being spoken/written about);
TENOR (writer-reader relationship) and;
MODE (form and structure of language).
These variables are typically ‘realised’ by specific elements which perform a related functional role (for more details on this, see Baker 1992: 15-17).
Halliday’s model also provides a detailed analysis of three interconnected elements of meaning or metafunctions in a text. These metafunctions are the manifestations in the linguistic system of three general purposes, which underlie all uses of language:
1. The ideational metafunction which is described as the way in which the information concerning the fictional world is given. In other words, it is the strand of meaning which transmits an experiential view of the world. It is realised by the denotational (i.e. ‘content’) component of lexical items. The major lexicogrammatical realisation of this metafunction is the transitivity system: the process described by the verb, the participants and circumstances associated with the process. Transitivity is analysed according to:
Processes: material (punch, touch, fall, etc.); mental (like, think, etc.); relational (be, have, etc.); behavioural (worry, listen, smile, etc.); verbal (say, ask, etc.); existential (there is, etc.).
It is also interesting to see whether this process is expressed as a verb (e.g. The government has raised taxes this year.) or as a nominalisation: (e.g. This year has seen a rise in taxes.)
Participants (pronouns or noun groups):
In an active sentence:
Actor (often the grammatical subject): The government has raised taxes five times.
Goal (often the grammatical object): The government has raised taxes five times.
In a passive sentence: functional analysis still allocates role of Goal: Taxes have been raised five times.
In an ergative/middle sentence: no feature of agency: Taxes have risen five times.
Circumstances (adverbial group or preposition): adjuncts of time, place, cause, agent, manner: it is interesting to look at the position of these circumstantial groups.
Next section describes the interpersonal and textual metafunctions.