M2: Unit 1: Chapter 2 Continuation – Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG)

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Ch 1: Introduction Ch 4: Corpus-Based Translation Studies Ch 7: Limitations & Potential of Corpus Processing Tools
Ch 2: Systemic Functional Grammar Ch 4 Continued: Corpus-Based Translation Studies Ch 8: Bibliography
Ch 2 Continued: Systemic Functional Grammar Ch 5: The Feel of the Texts
Ch 3: Point of View (POV) Ch 6: Advantages of Corpus Processing Tools

Chapter 2 Continuation: Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG)

  1. The second metafunction is called the interpersonal metafunction; described as the way in which the communication is established between the speaker and the hearer. In other words, it is the strand of meaning which transmits the relationship between writer and reader, including evaluation. It deals with the communication role that the speaker adopts: informing, questioning, greeting, persuading, etc. In English, the major lexicogrammatical realisation of this metafunction is modality, i.e. ‘the speaker’s judgement of the probabilities, or the obligations, involved in what he is saying […] The ‘intermediate degrees between the positive and negative poles are known collectively as modality’ (Halliday: 1994: 75-88).



‘Modality refers broadly to a speaker’s attitude towards, or opinion about, the truth of a proposition expressed by a sentence. It also extends to their attitude towards the situation or event described by a sentence’ (Simpson 1993: 47). It is realised by:

  • mood element: finite (tense, declarative, interrogative, etc.)
  • modals: probability (might, possibly, etc.); usuality (usually, always, etc.); obligation/necessity (should, must, necessarily); inclination/wanting (want, wish, hopefully…) [1].
  • also  subject pronouns; attitudinal epithets (beautiful, difficult) and connotative lexical items (struggle up…)

Example of modality range:

  1. Might we possibly have made a mistake?
  2. We probably made a mistake.
  3. I think we made a mistake.
  4. We made a mistake.
  5. The third metafunction is known as the textual metafunction and is described as the way in which the information is structured and organised in language (i.e. the strand of meaning which gives a text structure). It is concerned with the creation of text and more particularly with the internal organisation of the sentence. It is realised by thematic and information structures (the order and structuring of elements in a clause):
  1. Theme: first element in the clause. The theme is the ‘starting point’ of the clause.
  2. Rheme: the rest of a clause after the theme: ‘the part in which the theme is developed’. E.g. I am writing a piece on the war in Iraq/ A piece on the war in Iraq I am writing.

The textual function is also realised by forms of cohesion which give a text its texture through cohesive ties, lexical fields and referential chains. Here are some examples of cohesive ties at a lexical level: ‘Wash and peel three apples. Put the apples in a dish’ and a grammatical level: ‘This window is broken. I’ll have to install a new one.’

Forms of cohesion:

  • Reference:  pronouns, demonstratives: anaphoric and cataphoric reference;
  • Substitution and ellipsis:  replacement (does, so) and omission;
  • Conjunction: and, but, because, finally… parataxis (parallel and structures) and hypotaxis (subordinate which/that…);
  • Lexical cohesion: repetition, synonymy, general nouns, superordinates, collocation, lexical fields, referential chain.

Cohesion is linked to coherence: the accessibility, relevance and logic of the concepts and relations underlying the surface texture.  Consequently, choices of wording and syntactic structure are linked to the different linguistic or ‘lexicogrammatical’ realisations in a text.

According to Halliday, all linguistic choices are meaningful as well as stylistic.  Because of the close links between the metafunctions and lexicogrammatical patterns, it is thus possible to see how the metafunctions are working and how meaning is expressed in the text.


register variable metafunction realised by…
FIELD ideational transitivity structurestechnical/content lexis
TENOR interpersonal modality structurespersonal pronouns etc.
MODE textual cohesive devicestheme-rheme structure

When reviewing SFG, it is also important to consider the notion of language as ‘meaning potential’:

All types of option, from whatever function they are derived, are meaningful. At every point the speaker is selecting among a range of possibilities that differ in meaning; and if we attempt to separate meaning from choice we are turning a valuable distinction (between linguistic functions) into an arbitrary dichotomy (between “meaningful” and “meaningless” choices) (Halliday 1970: 338).

And the concept of markedness: an element is marked when it differs from the typical or expected pattern. Markedness (and unmarkedness) is the result of a deliberate choice on the part of the writer. It has a function, encoding the meanings which the writer wishes to transmit.

The analysis of the surface lexicogrammatical features, and consideration of what choices the writer had, can help uncover those meanings. Here follows an example of a marked thematic structure (word order):
‘A great deal of publicity, the book received in China’ (Baker 1992:133).

Now that Halliday’s account of language has been reviewed, we can go into the notion of point of view and see how it can be analysed in translation in Chapter 3.

[1] These categories are sometimes known by other names and are sometimes broken down differently (Simpson 1993 uses epistemic, perception, deontic and boulomaic).