On the Dysfunctional Nature of Systemic Functional Grammar. (Language Teaching & Learning)

By Yates, Robert; Kenkel, Jim | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

On the Dysfunctional Nature of Systemic Functional Grammar. (Language Teaching & Learning)


Yates, Robert, Kenkel, Jim, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

In the past decade, there has been a growing interest in North America in systemic functional grammar (SFG). Because it assumes that meaning is directly related to the structure of language, many researchers claim that SFG is more relevant to the concerns of all English language teachers than the more dominant formalist approaches to language description. The basic assumption of SFG -- that language structure is derivative of meaning -- is fundamentally flawed. As a consequence, the actual SFG descriptions of some basic structures of English are inaccurate. We conclude that SFG offers little assistance to language teachers who need to understand the nature of language in general and English in particular.

Introduction

Teaching about English grammar requires an adequate description of the structure of English. Recently, there has been a growing interest in North America in MAK Halliday's systemic functional grammar (SFG) as such a description. Graddol, Cheshire, & Swann (1994), an introductory text on linguistics written in the UK and available in the States, notes that among a number of the current varieties of theoretical grammars, SFG is very influential in Australia and Great Britain. They claim that SFG has the widest "practical application" because it is constructed to "say something useful" about texts. In the United States, Grabe and Kaplan (1996, 1997) promote SFG for teachers of ESL because of its claimed relevance to texts while dismissing any value of a Chomskyan approach because its sentence level focus. In Australia, Halliday's home base, the National Centre for English Teaching and Research has issued several publications to explain SFG. One such introduction is Butt et al. (1995) written for pre-service and in-service teachers.

Given its importance in other English-speaking countries, it is not surprising that SFG publications are beginning to appear in North America. Halliday (1994), a very dense fundamental text is now accompanied by a workbook (Martin, Jattiessen, & Painter, 1997). Texts such as Thompson (1996) and Lock (1996), based heavily on Halliday (1994), are introductions to the basic principles of SFG. Interest in SFG appears to be growing in North America. The purpose of this paper is to examine the basic assumptions of SFG to determine the validity of its claims. We argue that there is considerably less to SFG than its adherents claim.

Grammar as function

Because SFG assumes that knowledge about language consists of recognizing the observable effects of linguistic choices in the context, it follows that every linguistic form derives from a function. Halliday (1994), the source for descriptions in other SFG oriented texts, claims that functional grammar is "functional" in "three distinct although closely related senses."

1) It is functional in the sense that it is designed to account for how the language is used ... Language has evolved to satisfy human needs ... -- it is not arbitrary ...

2) Following from this, the fundamental components of meaning in language are functional. All languages are organized around two main kinds of meaning, the "ideational" or reflective and the "interpersonal" or active. These components ... are the manifestations in the linguistic system of the two very general purposes ... (i) to understand the environment (ideational), and (ii) to act on the others in it (interpersonal). Combined with these is a third metafunctional component, the "textual," which breathes relevance into the other two.

3) Thirdly, each element in a language is explained by reference to its function in the total linguistic system. In this third sense, therefore, a functional grammar is one that construes all the units of a language -- its clauses, phrases and so on -- as organic configurations of functions. In other words, each part is interpreted as functional with respect to the whole. (pp. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

On the Dysfunctional Nature of Systemic Functional Grammar. (Language Teaching & Learning)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.