Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Secret Squirrel Stuff in the Australian Curriculum English: The Genesis of the 'New' Grammar

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Secret Squirrel Stuff in the Australian Curriculum English: The Genesis of the 'New' Grammar

Article excerpt

Theoretical foundations of the New Grammar in the Australian Curriculum: English

The Australian Curriculum: English (hereafter AC:E), developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (hereafter ACARA) for implementation in schools in 2012, took, in the words of Derewianka (2012, p. 127), 'a fairly radical step' with the form and function of grammar made available for classroom use. The AC:E introduces a new model of grammar that weaves traditional Latin-based grammar theory with Systemic Functional Linguistics (hereafter SFL) theory. Evidence of the genesis of this new grammar is not overtly marked in the AC:E, but rather 'hidden' as 'Secret Squirrel Stuff' across a number of sections of the AC:E. Myhill (2014, p. 116) hypothesised that a similar strategy was used in the United Kingdom to mediate between the politics of grammar as the mechanism to ensure 'verbal hygiene' vis-a-vis grammar as a 'dynamic description of language in use'. Evidence of the weaving of traditional Latin-based grammar theory with SFL theory is contained within the AC:E in (i) a statement in the 'Organisation' section, (ii) the definition of 'language features' in the glossary, (iii) the structure of the sub-strands within the 'Language Strand', and (iv) within the Content Descriptions and Content Elaborations. Each of these four instances will be discussed in turn.

The first instance of the innovative weaving of traditional grammar theory and SFL theory is in the 'Organisation' section of the AC:E where attention is drawn to the use of 'standard grammatical terminology within a contextual framework, in which language choices are seen to vary according to the topics at hand, the nature and proximity of the relationships between the language users, and the modalities or channels of communication available' (ACARA, 2015, p. 7). The import of this statement is not only the implication that the AC:E draws on two separate systems of grammar, but also that one system is subsumed within the other (Exley & Mills, 2012). Specifically, the nomenclature of 'standard grammatical terminology' (ACARA, 2015, p. 7) refers to the use of traditional Latin-based grammar theory such as that revealed via an analysis of the form of language such as noun, verb, adjective and adverb and so forth. The nomenclature of 'contextual framework' (ACARA, 2015, p. 7) identifies the underpinning theory of SFL, a theory in which the relationship between form and function is paramount. In SFL theory language is understood to be construed via three interrelated systems of meaning: field, tenor and mode. In his landmark text, Language as Social Semiotic, Halliday (1978, p. 62) explained field, tenor and mode as the determinants that collectively 'serve to predict text'. Although the AC:E does not explicitly use the terms of field, tenor and mode, their systematic norms are identifiable in the following ways. The 'topics at hand' (ACARA, 2015, p. 7) refer to the situational elements of field (or subject matter) of the text. The 'relationships between the language users' (ACARA, 2015, p. 7) refer to the situational elements of tenor within the text. 'Modalities or channels of communication' (ACARA, 2015, p. 7) refer to the situational elements of mode, otherwise known as or channels of communication, such as spoken, written, visual or multimodal text. In SFL theory, field, tenor and mode work together to influence register (Halliday, 1978). Derewianka (2012, p. 139) explains how the model of register 'suggests a systematic relationship between context and text'. The choices made by text producers (authors, speakers, artists or web-designers and so forth) and text consumers (readers, listeners, viewers or web users and so forth) vary along the 'commonsense-specialised' field (subject matter) continuum, the 'informal-formal' tenor (roles and relationships) continuum, and the 'spoken-written' mode (channel of communication) continuum (see Humphrey, Droga & Feez, 2012, p. …

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