Systemic functional grammar functions with description

Systemic functional grammar

Systemic-functional grammar ( SFG ) is a form of grammatical description produced by Michael Halliday. It is part of a social semiotic approach to the language called systemic functional linguistics. In these two terms, systemic regards the representation of language as “a network of systems or interdependent ways of investigating meaning”; Halliday’s functional refers to language as it is because of what it has evolved to do (see Metafunction ). So, what he calls the multidimensional architecture of the language “reflects the multidimensional nature of human experience and interpersonal relationships.”


Halliday describes his grammar built on the work of Saussure, Louis Hjelmslev, Malinowski, JR Firth and the Prague School linguists. He also drew on the work of the American anthropological linguists Boas , Sapir and Whorf. His “most important source of inspiration” was Firth, to whom he owes, among other things, the notion of language as a system. Among American linguists, Whorf had “the most profound effect on my own thinking”. Whorf “showed how it is that people don’t all mean equal, and how their unconscious ways of meaning are one of the most important manifestations of their culture”

From his studies in China, he lists Luo Changpei and Wang Li as two scholars from whom he gained “new and exciting insights into language”. He says that for giving him Luo a diachronic perspective and insights into a non-Indo-European language family. He learned from Wang Li “many things, including research methods in dialectology, the semantic basis of grammar, and the history of linguistics in China”.

Basic principles

Some core concepts support Halliday’s approach to grammar, which is part of his report on how language works. These concepts are the system, the function (meta), and rank. Another important term is lexicogrammar. In this view, grammar and lex are two ends of the same continuum.

Analysis of the grammar from a trinocular perspective, bringing three different levels. So to look at lexicogrammar, it can be analyzed from two levels, “above” (semantic) and “below” (phonology). This grammar emphasizes the view from above.

For Halliday, grammar is described as systems not as rules, on the understanding that every grammatical structure involves making a choice from a writable set of options. Language is therefore a meaningful potential . Linguists in SF tradition use system networks to map the options available in a language. With regard to English, for example, Halliday has described systems such as moodagencytheme, etc. Halliday describes closed grammar systems, that is, having a finite set of options. By contrast, lexical sets are open systems because new words come in a language all the time.

These grammatical systems play a role in constructing the meanings of different species. This is the basis of Halliday’s claim that language is meta functionally organized. He states that the raison d’être of language is meaning in social life, and for this reason, all languages ​​have three types of semantic components. All languages ​​have the means for constructing experience (the ideal component), means for assuming diverse and complex human social relationships (the interpersonal component), and means for enabling these two kinds of meanings to come together in the coherent text (the textual function). Each of the grammatical systems proposed by Halliday is related to these metafunctions. For example, the grammatical system “mood” is centrally related to the expression of interpersonal meanings, “type of method to the expression of empirical meanings, and” theme to the expression of textual meanings.

Traditionally, the “choices” are seen in terms of the content or structure of the language used. In SFG language gets analyzed in three ways (strata): semantics, phonology, and lexicogrammar. SFG shows a view of language in both structure (grammar) and words (lexis). The term “lexicogrammar” describes this combined approach.


From the start of his account of the language, Halliday has argued that it is inherently functional. His early papers on the grammar of English refer to the “functional components” of the language, as “general use of language, which, because they seem to determine the nature of the language system, require being on our account of that system included .” Halliday claims that this functional organization of language “determines the form that grammatical structure”.

Halliday refers to its functions of language as metafunctions. He proposes three general functions: the ideational, the interpersonal, and the textual.

Ideational Metafunction

The ideal metafunction is the function for construct the human experience. It is the means by which we face sense of “reality.” Halliday divides the ideational into the logical and experiential metafunctions. The logical metafunction refers to the grammar means for building grammatical units into complexes, for example, for combining two or more clauses into a clause complex. The empirical function relates to the grammar resources involved in constructing flux of experience through the unity of the article.

The ideal meta-function reflects the contextual value of the field, ie the nature of the social process in which the language is involved. An analysis of a text from the ideational function involves research into the choices in the grammatical system of “transitive”: that is, the types, participant types, circumstance types, in combination with an analysis of the means with which clauses are combined. Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar (in the third edition, with revisions by Christian Matthiessen ) contains the description of these grammatical systems.

Interpersonal Metafunction

The interpersonal metafunction relates to aspects of a tenor text or interactivity. Just like a field, tenor consists of three subareas: the speaker/writer persona, social distance, and relative social status. Social distance and relative social status only apply to spoken texts, although a case has been created that these two factors may also apply to written text.

The speaker/writer persona concerns the attitude, personalization, and prestige of the speaker or writer. It involves looking at whether the writer or speaker has a neutral attitude, which can be seen through the use of positive or negative language. Social distance means how close the speakers are, for example how nickname shows the degree to which they are intimate. Relative social status asks whether they are equal in terms of power and knowledge about a subject, for example, the relationship between a mother and child would be considered unequal. Focuses on language acts here(For example, whether a person tends to ask questions and the other speaker tends to answer), who chooses the subject, turn management, and how both speakers are evaluating the subject.

Textual Metafunction

The textual metafunction concerns mode; the internal organization and communicative nature of a text. This consists of textual interactivity, spontaneity, and communicative distance.

Textual interactivity is tested against the fluid present, such as hesitators, breaks, and repeats.

Spontaneity is determined by focusing on lexical density, grammatical complexity coordination (how clauses are linked), and the use of nominal groups. The study of communicative distance involves looking at a text of cohesion – that is, how it relates to each other, as well as all the abstract language that it uses.

Cohesion analyzed in the context of both lexical and grammatical and intonation aspects related to lexical chains and in the registered speech, tonality, tonicity, and tone. The lexical aspect focuses on feeling relationships and lexical repeats, while the grammatical aspect looks at the repetition of meaning demonstrated through reference, substitution, and ellipse, and the role of linking adverbial.

Systemic functional grammar treats all of these significant areas equally under the grammatical system itself.

Michael Halliday (1973) outlined seven functions of language with regard to the grammar used by children:

  • the instrumental function serves to manipulate the environment, to ensure that certain events happen;
  • the regulatory function of the language is the control of events;
  • the representative function is to use language to make statements, explain facts and knowledge or to report to reality if the speaker/writer sees it;
  • the interactional function of the language serves to ensure social maintenance;
  • the personal function is to express emotions, personality and “gut-level” reactions;
  • uses the heuristic function to acquire knowledge, to learn about the environment;
  • the imaginative function serves to create imaginary systems or ideas.

Relationship to other parts of the grammar

Halliday’s theory provides to explain how spoken and written texts construct meanings and how the means of language are organized in open systems and functionally tied to meanings. It is a theory of language in use, creating systematic relationships between choices and forms within the less abstract layers of grammar and phonology, on the one hand, and more abstract layers such as the context of the situation and the context of culture on the other hand. It is a radically different theory of the language of others that were less abstract to explore as autonomous systems, the most striking being Noam Chomsky’s. Since the main purpose of systemic functional grammar is to be the grammatical system as a raw material for making meaning, it directs various problems. For example, it is not trying to address Chomsky’s thesis that there is a “finite rule system that generates all and only the grammatical sentences in a language.” Halliday theory encourages a more open approach to the definition of language as a source; instead of the emphasis on grammar as such, a systemic functional grammatical treatment focuses instead on the relative frequencies of the choices made in the use of language and assumes that these relative frequencies reflect the likelihood that certain paths will be chosen earlier than others by the available means. Thus, SFG has described language as a finite control system, but as a system realized instantiations, which is continuously expanded by the realizations that realize and continuously reproduced and reused.

Another way to understand the difference in problems between systemic functional grammar and most variants of generative grammar is through Chomsky’s claim that “linguistics is a sub-branch of psychology “. Halliday investigates linguistics more as a sub-branch of sociology. SFG, therefore, pays much more attention to pragmatics and semantic discourse than is traditionally the case in formalism.

The orientation of systemic functional grammar has served to encourage various other grammatical accounts that deal with a number of weaknesses of the theory and similarly address issues not seen in more structural accounts being addressed. Examples include the Richard Hudson model called the word grammar.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button