Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis

By Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard; Malcolm Coulthard | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

On critical linguistics 1

Roger Fowler

‘Functional linguistics’ is ‘functional’ in two senses: it is based on the premiss that the form of language responds to the functions of language use; and it assumes that linguistics, as well as language, has different functions, different jobs to do, so the form of linguistics responds to the functions of linguistics. The first paper in Explorations in the Functions of Language (Halliday, 1973) makes this point about requests for a definition of language: ‘In a sense the only satisfactory response is “why do you want to know?”, since unless we know what lies beneath the question we cannot hope to answer it in a way which will suit the questioner’ (Halliday, 1973:9). In the interview with Herman Parret, Halliday accepts that there may be an ‘instrumental linguistics…the study of language for understanding something else’ and that an instrumental linguistics will have characteristics relevant to the purpose for which it is to be used. In doing instrumental linguistics, though, one is also learning about the nature of Language as a whole phenomenon, so there is no conflict or contradiction with ‘autonomous linguistics’ (Halliday, 1978:36).

‘Critical linguistics’ emerged from our writing of Language and Control (Fowler et al., 1979) as an instrumental linguistics very much of that description. We formulated an analysis of public discourse, an analysis designed to get at the ideology coded implicitly behind the overt propositions, to examine it particularly in the context of social formations. The tools for this analysis were an eclectic selection of descriptive categories suited to the purpose: especially those structures identified by Halliday as ideational and interpersonal, of course, but we also drew on other linguistic traditions, as for example when we needed to talk about speech acts or transformations. Our conception of instrumentality or purpose was quite complicated, and perhaps not fully enough discussed in the book. We were concerned to theorise language as a social practice, a ‘practice’ in the sense that word has acquired in English adaptations of Althusser: an intervention in the social and economic order, and one which in this case works by the reproduction of (socially originating) ideology (Kress and Hodge, 1979). In this way the book was intended as a contribution to a general understanding of

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