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LSA Symposium Functions, Functionalism, and Linguistics. Systemic Functional Linguistics Basic Principles The proof of the pudding is in the [piano] playing Bill Greaves and Jim Benson . Outline. Malinowski

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lsa symposium functions functionalism and linguistics

LSA SymposiumFunctions, Functionalism, and Linguistics

Systemic Functional Linguistics

Basic Principles

The proof of the pudding is in the [piano] playing

Bill Greaves and Jim Benson


  • Malinowski
  • Metafunctions, strata, units, systems, structures, instantiation.
  • “Trinocular Vision”
  • Ape-Human dialogue in English
  • Literature: 18th C. Pope epigram
  • References
metafunctions sfl is all about the work that language does
METAFUNCTIONSSFL is all about the work that language does
  • Ideational work
    • Experiential: Representing the world as symbols
    • Logical Sorting out the internal connections in language.
  • Interpersonal work: Enacting social relationships
  • Textual work: Weaving the ideational and interpersonal work to engender a message
  • Context (Culture – Register – Instance)
  • Semantics
  • Lexicogrammar
  • Phonology
  • Phonetics
Where does context come from? 1. It comes from the experiential meanings we create in our semantic choices.

1. Experiential meanings and fields of discourse.

  • Experiential choices construe (create) our fields of discourse—and our fields of discourse push our semantics and lexicogrammar as the field expands.
  • “A fixed tripple of unit vectors, corresponding to a fixed choice of a (right handed) xyz coordinate system” is an instance of field restricted language necessary to play a role in the context of mathematics.
Where does context come from? 2. It comes from the interpersonal meanings we enact in our semantic choices.

2. Interpersonal meanings and tenor of discourse.

  • Interpersonal choices enact our tenors of discourse – our role relationships.
  • And as our society changes in social habits this puts pressure on our semantics, lexicogrammar and phonology to handle, for example, new norms of politeness.
where does context come from 3 it comes from our inventory of genres
Where does context come from? 3 It comes from our inventory of genres.
  • 3. Textual meanings weave interpersonal and experiential meanings into the various genres we find in our culture.
  • Learning how to shape seminar presentations and essays (Theme and Rheme and Given and New information), for example, is as painful a part of university education as learning the experiential semantic categories of the various disciplines.
  • EXCHANGE: TURN: MOVE (in interpersonal semantics)
  • CLAUSE: GROUP/PHRASE: WORD: MORPHEME (in lexicogrammar)
  • In semantics there is, for example, a MOVE system network:
    • [Give] / [Demand]
    • [Goods & Services] / [Information].
  • In lexicogrammar there is a MOOD system:
    • [Indicative] (+Finite +Subject) / [Imperative]
    • If [Indicative], then [declarative] (Subject^Finite)/ [interrogative (Finite^Subject]
  • In phonology there is a TONE system:
  • [tone 1] / [tone 2] / [tone 3] / [tone 4] / [tone 5]
an example tone choices in phonology realizing delicate mood key choices in lexicogrammar
An example: TONE choices in phonology realizing delicate MOOD: KEY choices in lexicogrammar

Consider the following utterances all containing the [declarative] wording I like it (Subject^Finite^Predicator^Complement), spoken in reference to a painting seen at an art gallery

5 different declarative key choices hallilday greaves intonation in the grammar of english pg 50
5 different DECLARATIVE: KEY CHOICESHallilday – Greaves Intonation in the Grammar of English, pg. 50
structures in lexicogrammar
STRUCTURES in lexicogrammar
  • Textual work:
    • Theme ^Rheme: I like hamburg / hamburg I like
  • Interpersonal work:
    • Finite ^ Subject : Do you like hamburg? I don’t!;
    • Subject ^ Finite: Everyone likes hamburg
  • Ideational work:
    • Actor Process Circumstance: Sue drove carefully

The structures vary independently:

  • Sue drove carefully – Carefully, Sue drove (around it)
    • Same ideational work; different textual work.
  • Sue drove carefully – Did Sue drive carefully?
    • Same ideational work; different interpersonal work
  • Sue drove carefully – Sue drove a pickup truck
    • Same textual and interpersonal work – different ideational work.

Climate and weather are the same thing, but they vary in instantiation.

    • The Canadian climate is the “big picture” built up by all of the instances of Canadian weather that we have on record.
    • As the instances change, the climate changes. (If global warming continues the Canadian days (weather) will get hotter, and the Canadian climate will support tropical plants.)
  • Every time you (and I) (and students in English medium courses in India) talk, it’s an instance of English.
    • All the instances of English talk since, say the year 700? Have built the “big picture” of global English.
    • More locally, all the instances of English talk in Canada have built the “big picture” of Canadian English.
    • Every instance of a Canadian doctor talking with a clinician has helped build the “tighter picture (register)” of Canadian medical English.
    • Every instance of s/he is helping (or failing) to build an English that responds to our current social values.
trinocular vision
Trinocular Vision

“No man is an island”

  • Nor is any stratum a thing unto itself.
  • A one dimensional view just won’t do.
  • Each stratum exists as a set of relationships with the strata above and below.
  • Segmental phonemes, for example, exist as a construal relationship with WORDS in lexicogrammar.
    • /k/ is a phoneme class because it helps construe the word cat in the stratum above.
    • /k/ is a phoneme class because it can be realized as a recognizable phonetic class of sounds in the stratum below: [k].
  • Segmental phonemes exist as a realization relationship with phonetic classes, e.g. IPA.
central eye on phonetics instantial sound realizations described through physics or anatomy
Central eye on phoneticsInstantial sound realizations, described through physics or anatomy.
Two skulls From Benson and Greaves Functional Dimensions of Ape-Human Discourse
so what is this a picture of
So what is this a picture of?
  • Brain sizes. 3/3 and 1/3.
    • All sorts of biology is relevant. In this case inter-species overlap. Bonobos and humans have 99.7% of their genes in common. We diverged only about 6 million years ago.
    • A bonobo brain is HUGE in terms of brain – body mass ratio. (Humans are right off the scale.)‏
  • Social context. The position represents dialogue.
    • We work with enculturated bonobos.
    • How Kanzi happened.
marks and sound in a social context how kanzi happened
Marks (and sound) in a social contextHow Kanzi happened
  • Using a keyboard that “spoke”, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh was trying to teach Matata, Kanzi’s 30 year old wild caught mother, WORDS.
  • Then, so it was thought, Matata could do SENTENCES.
  • But Matata didn’t like her WORD lessons and didn't learn WORDS much less do SENTENCES.
  • Infant Kanzi was a pain in the neck. Always in the way.
  • But when Mata was sent away Kanzi spontaneously used the keyboard to communicate with Sue!
  • Sue said “Skip the grammar lessons. Give him a warm cultural context and the keyboard.” The rest is history.
phonemes are abstract classes and so are graphemes
PHONEMES are abstract classes—and so are GRAPHEMES

We are all familiar with the English PHONEME and GRAPHEME systems. But to make their abstract nature perhaps a bit clearer, here is an alternative GRAPHEME system.

It was developed by Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and used by bonobo apes at the Language Research Center.

There are 384 GRAPHEMES. These directly realize a set of 384 LEXICOGRAMMATICAL WORD choices. The next slide shows a number of the tokens:

When one GRAPHEME token is pressed, a computer speaker produces the sound of its word.

the lexigram system which can be drawn on by humans or enculturated bonobos
The lexigram system, which can be drawn on by humans or enculturated bonobos
  • These lexigrams constitute a SYSTEM: a choice must be made from the 384 terms in the system
  • It is a “flat” system: There is no rank scale. In formal terms, /coffee/ simply means not any of the other 383 choices. It is not a graphological WORD consisting of LETTERS. It is the grapheme /coffee/. Full stop.
  • Like other phoneme or grapheme systems, the lexigram system exists as a set of construal and realizational relationships with the strata above and below.
  • Looking upwards, the lexigram /coffee/ construes the word coffee in the lexicogrammar.
  • Looking down, the word coffee is written on the computer keyboard as one of 384 grapheme choices recognized by the size color and shape of their graphetic realizations, but each word is spoken by the computer speaker as a string of English phonemes recognized by their phonetic characteristics.
these graphemes are classes
These graphemes are classes
  • Now, here is evidence that a GRAPHEME is a class, with widely differing allographs at the PHON/GRAPHETIC stratum. In the video on the next slide Panbanisha is learning how to produce her allographs for the grapheme [coffee] Click on the image in the next slide.
panbanisha sue and peter gabriel co construct a speech genre bakhtin 1986

Panbanisha, Sue, and Peter Gabriel co-construct a speech genre (Bakhtin 1986)

A “jam session”. The goal is for Panbanisha to make music at the keyboard interactively with Peter Gabriel

The musical interaction is inherently dialogic

The stages in the surrounding conversations:

SONG TOPIC NEGOTIATION: Panbanisha takes the lead in deciding on a song topic

SONG PRODUCTION: Panbanisha plays the song (with verbal FACILITATION by Sue and Peter where necessary)

EVALUATION: Sue and Peter appraise the song

CODA: Sue and Peter discuss its significance

1 ideational work
1. Ideational work:


sense experience

as symbol.

FIRST ORDER (Dealing with “the world”)

1 ideational an ape and a piano
1) Ideational: An ape and a piano

Peter Gabriel brought three members of his band to interact with the bonobo apes (99.6% of our genes) Kanzi and Panbanisha and their caregiver Dr. Sue Savage Rumbaugh.

He presented them with an electronic keyboard.

Here is a clip of Panbanisha and the keyboard near the beginning of the first day:

(Next slide)

what happens next 3 days of multi modal bilingual trialogue
What happens next: 3 days of multi-modal bilingual trialogue

The media:

Human voices

Computer speaker emitting male English words

Arbitrary Graphic computer keys

Ape voice

The languages:


Western music

The three participants:

Panbanisha (bonobo)

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh (human)

Peter Gabriel (human)


FIELD OF DISCOURSEGoal directed social action. Not the same thing as subject.“What am I?” is a good test. If our goal is to make music, I’m a musician.

bending the field of discourse
Bending the Field of Discourse

Panbanisha makes a computer say Orange, Banana.

Opening field: Caregiving: dining: dining on fruit: dining on orange and banana

Peter and Sue bend the field through qualification:

Song about oranges and bananas

The field is now music. oranges and bananas together designate a class of songs.

Other “bends”

Grape Song

Grooming Song

2 interpersonal work
2: Interpersonal work:




FIRST ORDER (Dealing with “the world”)

from halliday greaves pg 50 declarative key system tone 5 has a second instance with sue speaking
From Halliday-Greaves, Pg 50:[declarative]:[key] system(tone 5 has a second instance with Sue speaking)
rank scale exchange turn move grooming song exchange

Upper case – sound from a LEXIGRAM

Sue: QUIET. Quiet things, and grooming is a QUIET THING. It's a quiet thing.

Peter: That's true. Let's start it.

Sue whisper: Quiet. Can you play a grooming song.

Peter: Can you play a grooming song?

Sue: whisper: I want to hear a grooming song. Play a real quiet grooming song.


Pan (piano): 2 NOTES (followed by jam session)

grooming song exchange
“Grooming Song” exchange

(Upper case -- /*/1 QUIET=computer saying the word in male voice with falling contour when Sue presses the lexigram key)

Sue: /*/1 QUIET /*/5 quiet things // 5 ^ and */grooming is a /*/ 1QUIET /*/1THING // 5 ^ it's a */quiet thing //

Peter: // 1 ^that's */true //1 ^ let's */ start it //

Sue whisper: // 1 quiet // 2 can you / play a / grooming */ song //

Peter: // 2 can you / play a / grooming */ song //

Sue: whisper: //1 I want to /hear a */grooming song. //1 Play a /real /quiet /grooming */song //

Pan: // 1 GROOM // (Panbanisha presses lexigram)

Pan (piano): 2 NOTES

bottom line
Bottom line:

The sight, touch and sound of the keyboard have been re-presented as components of Panbanisha’s new social role as a musician involved in a jam session.

Language? Well, the trialogue didn’t take place in German! Or Chinese! Pambanisha was, by selecting and pressing computer lexigrams keys, producing sounds that were English. The clauses to which she responded were English clauses. The semantic network – the meanings which changed her from a disinterested “couch potato” in front of the keyboard into a full participation in a jam session was enacted through choices in the English mood system. And the culture which was created through this, although a unique bonobo-human culture, was composed of English speakers.

3 textual work
3: Textual work:

Weaving ideational and interpersonal meaning together into message.

SECOND ORDER (Dealing with the first order)

textual work done in different strata
Textual work done in different strata

Work done by the lexicogrammar stratum:

Theme – Rheme structure. Grammatical work realized in lexicogrammatical structure

Work done by the phonology stratum:

Given – New structure. Grammatical work realized in phonological structure.

clause 1 5 and grooming is a 1quiet 1thing clause 2 5 it s a quiet thing
Clause 1: // 5 ^ and */grooming is a /*/ 1QUIET /*/1THING Clause 2: // 5 ^ it's a */quiet thing //

Grooming is Theme of the first clause. (Grooming is the first ideational element.)

The word it is Theme of the second clause. (It is the first ideational element.)

The first clause is spoken as three information units because the computer speaker always gives a [tone 1] Tonic utterance. The second clause is a single information unit.

Quiet is New in the second clause. (Why? Because the speaker is boss. When she places Tonic (*/ indicates the most significant pitch change) on the syllable quiet she forces us to treat the word as New.)

Thing is Given. (Why? Anything after New is being treated by the speaker as Given.)

part two




register in a written literary text two spoken interpretations
Register in a written literary text:two spoken interpretations

Frederick, Prince of Wales had a stately home at Kew. In 1736 the poet Alexander Pope gave him a puppy complete with a collar inscribed:

I am his Highness’ Dog at Kew;

Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are you?


the way into the poem through context
The way into the poem through CONTEXT

The functional questions are:

what are the ideational and

what are the interpersonal choices which create this imagined world, and

how are these choices woven together into a recognizable literary genre?


We can think of CONTEXT at any level of generality:

All the contexts that have been created over time

Commerce: The first attempt to barter

Sport: snowboarding

Gender based power relationships in Homer’s Greece

An unlimited (we can always create new ones) number

Contexts of a clearly defined “register”: a discussion between skipper and crew about whether or not to set a spinnaker at the next mark in the race. This is a slice towards the instance end. In such a tight register huge ranges of language choice are simply not up for grabs.

The context being construed, enacted and engendered in these instances: two particular readings of Pope’s epigram.

sfl focuses is on the three kinds of work that language does
SFL focuses is on the three kinds of work that language does

SFL is an “appliable” linguistic theory. That it to say, it focuses on the three kinds of work that language does.

Ideational work. Construing FIELD of DISCOURSE:

Experiential: re-presenting, as symbols, the world we encounter through our senses

Logical: organizing our reasoning on the basis of our experience

Interpersonal work. Enacting TENOR of DISCOURSE: Enacting our relationship with others.

Textual work: Engendering MODE of DISCOURSE: Weaving ideational and interpersonal meaning together to create message.

experiential work three views of a dog s world
EXPERIENTIAL WORKThree views of a dog’s world

HISTORY would shed light on cause and effect in the linear flow of events unfolding in time: how “His Highness” came to live in Kew, etc.

POLITICAL SCIENCE might take a less linear view and focus on the effectiveness of “His Highness’s” place in the governance of England.

SYSTEMIC FUNCTIONAL LINGUISTICS sheds light on the role that language plays in creating and maintaining the social world in which His Highness, His Highness’ dog, and His Highness’ courtiers play out their respective lives (just as language played a role creating the three day context in which Panbanisha grew to be a jazz pianist).

experiential construing field context isn t the material setting it is something we make
EXPERIENTIAL: construing FIELDCONTEXT isn’t the material setting; it is something we make

The tool we make field with is (mostly) language.

This room has four walls, a floor, a ceiling, and rows of chairs with people in them.

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire . . .

See! Just by language I have (sort of) changed the field to a Eighteenth Century religious discussion in which I have great social power because I’m preaching a sermon. But the room hasn’t changed.

the field of the epigram
The Field of the epigram

In this epigram the work of construing field is done primarily through lexis:

His Highness (Lexical set: My Lord, Your Majesty, Your Grace, etc.)

Kew (Lexical set: Kew, Windsor, Buck House, etc.)

Whose dog (Important lexis because the vocative “Sir” of “Pray tell me Sir,” predicts e.g.Whose Private Secretary, but definitely not whose *dog.

interpersonal work move choice in dialogue creates coupled roles
INTERPERSONAL WORK MOVE choice in dialogue creates coupled roles

The [statement] I am His Highness’dog places the imagined audience (courtier at Kew) in the complementary role of acknowledger.

The [command] pray tell me Sir places Sir in the complementary role of complier.

The [question] whose dog are you? places Sir in the complementary role ofanswerer.

how do we respond to the created situation
How do we respond to the created situation?

We can read this as though we are overhearing one half of a conversation between the dog and a courtier

Or we can read it in the shoes of the courtier, as though the dog is speaking to us.

In the first case, we may be amused.

In the second case, even though we know full well that it is fiction, it might not seem quite so funny.

textual work weaving field and tenor in the spoken mode
TEXTUAL WORK: Weaving Field and Tenor in the [spoken] Mode.

What follows are annotations in Praat of these two different spoken version of the epigram.

The top tier displays the waveform and the second the spectrogram.

The third tier displays the words, with */ indicating that a particular word is Tonic.

The fourth tier distinguishes Given from New information (Location of the Tonic).

The fifth tier explains interpersonal meaning (shape of the Tonic).

The bottom tier identifies the speaker.

summary of praat displays
Summary of Praat displays

Similarities: Greaves and Benson wove field and tenor together in identical ways in the first line of the couplet with two information units, and the same distribution of Given and New information.

Differences: In the second line they also had the same number of information units, but these were distributing New and Given information differently.

The main difference in sound was not textual but interpersonal: Benson’s voice quality was markedly nasty and signaled his ironic interpretation.

the end
The End.

But if your appetite is whetted . . . . .

amuse gueule
Amuse gueule

Functional Dimensions of Ape-Human Discourse by: James D. Benson, William S. GreavesSeries: Functional LinguisticsHardback Price£60.00/$95.00Paperback Price£15.00/$25.00DescriptionPAPERBACK PUBLISHED JULY 2009Functional Dimensions of Ape-Human Discourse asks the question ‘what do interactions between apes and humans mediated by language tell us?’. In order to answer this question the authors explore language-in-context, drawing on a multi-leveled, multi-functional linguistics. The levels are context of culture, context of situation, semantics, lexicogrammar, and phonology; and the functions are ideational, interpersonal, and textual.

2)“Human Language—Human Consciousness” Sue Savage Rumbaugh. See also the comments by Tom Givon and Paul Thibault.


Leong Ping Alvin:

This cheerful website is a great help when getting into the lexicogrammatical stratum.

Key Terms in Systemic Functional Linguistics [Paperback] (Continuum, 2010) by

Christian Matthiessen (Author), Marvin Lam (Author), Kazuhiro Teruya (Author). This is very useful for all strata.

Working with Functional Grammar (Arnold, 1997) by J. R. Martin, Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen and Claire Painter also focuses on the lexicogrammar. 


An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics. (2nd ed. Continuum 2005)by Suzanne Eggins.

Intonation in the Grammar of English(Equinnox 2008) by M.A.K. Halliday,and William S. Greaves.

Focuses on phonology and phonetics, but is also an introduction to SFL theory. Has a CD with “hot” sound and video icons.


Analysing Casual Conversationby Suzanne Eggins, Diana Slade

Introducing Functional Grammar (2nd ed Arnold Publication) by Geoff Thompson. 

entrees lexicogrammar system networks

Lexicogrammatical Cartography: English Systems by Christian Matthiessen (Tokyo: International Language Sciences Publishers, 1995)

Expensive. Hard to get. Important.

entrees semantics ideational metafunction

Construing Experience Through Meaning: A Language-Based Approach to Cognition (Open Linguistics) [Paperback] (Continuum 1999/2006) by M.A.K. Halliday , Christian Matthiessen.


entrees lexicogrammar

(Although the title says “introduction”, this is much more easily digested as an entrée.)

An Introduction to Functional Grammar (3rd ed Hodder Arnold 2004) by M. A. K. Halliday and Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen


other restaurants
Other restaurants