Saturday, 18 August 2012

Jim Martin On Context, Instantiation & Stratification

On Sysfling and Sys-Func, on 17 August 2012, Jim Martin wrote:
One possibility would be to give up the terms 'context of culture' and 'context of situation' as confusing.
Genre and register (field, tenor and mode) can be used as names of strata in models using a stratified model of context.
The term context alone can be used in models with just a single stratum of context (field, tenor and mode).
My impression is that both the stratified and unstratified models of context privilege context as a stratum of meaning, moving upwards in abstraction from (discourse) semantics – that is their modelling ideal. 
In a stratified model, context as a stratum of meaning is formalised in genre networks realised through register (field, tenor and mode) networks. In an unstratified model context as a stratum of meaning is formalised as field, tenor and mode networks.
All strata instantiate, so in either model system [formalised in networks as phonology/graphology, lexicogrammar, (discourse) semantics, plus context as field, tenor and mode or as register (field, tenor and mode) plus genre] is instantiated in text. We don't give a separate name to the instantiation of phonology, or the instantiation of lexicogrammar, or the instantiation of (discourse) semantics, so why give a special name to the instantiation of the stratum of context (i.e. context of culture instantiated as context of situation) and distinguished from the collective instantiation of phonology/graphology, lexicogrammar and semantics as text? We can simply have a stratified system, with context as a stratum (or two), realised through (discourse) semantics realised through lexicogrammar realised through phonology/graphology - all instantiated as text (or readings of text if we want to push instantiation a rung further and treat text as still a meaning potential to some degree). 
We of course have to bring multimodality into the picture; but that is the same problematic issue whether we have an unstratified model of context or not. Our notion of system on the instantiation hierarchy has ultimately to be broadened to allow for coupling across modalities, each with their own realisation hierarchy, so we end up with instances of multimodal text.
So I guess I am suggesting that the notion of context as a higher level stratum of meaning doesn't seem to be properly reconciled with instantiation in SFL models that distinguish the instantiation of context of culture in context of situation from the instantiation of language systems in text. If context is a higher stratum of meaning, then there is one instantiation process, not two.

Blogger Comments:

[1] The term 'context of culture' simply means context as system, and the term 'context of situation' simply means context as instance, where 'context' means a higher (more abstract) semiotic that is realised in language [ie Halliday's stratified model].  Confusion only arises when context is construed instead as language (register and genre) [ie Martin's stratified model].  Construing context as language suggests that Martin understood context as co-text when he devised his model.

[2] If genre and register are construed as contextual strata, then the meaning (valeur) of both 'context' and 'register' changes.  'Context' is construed as language instead of context, and 'register' is construed as more abstract than semantics instead of a more specific type of language.  This means that 'register' no longer means 'a functional variety of language', since higher strata are not functional varieties of lower strata — eg lexicogrammar is not a functional variety of phonology.  Using the term 'register' for context is thus likely to create confusion.

[3] The impression that "both the stratified and unstratified models of context privilege context as a stratum of meaning" in the narrow sense of linguistic meaning is a false impression.  In Martin's stratified model, contextual strata are construed as meaning, and accordingly, to a limited extent, they can be seen as construing semantics.  However, in Halliday's unstratified model, on the other hand, context is realised in meaning (semantics).  This demonstrates the confusion that can arise from construing "all strata make meaning" (semogenesis) as "all strata have meaning".

[4] The clause "all strata instantiate" is as big a source of theoretical confusion as "all strata make meaning".  The underlying reason for this is that the relation between instance and system is attributive.  That is, in a congruent representation of the theory, the instance pole of the cline is Carrier and the system pole of the cline is Attribute.  However, the verb 'instantiate' does not function as an Attributive process, as shown by the fact that, unlike Attributive processes, it can be used in receptive clauses.  This means that the theoretical relation cannot be expressed congruently using the verb 'instantiate'.  So the clause 'all strata instantiate' is, at best, an incongruent expression of the theory, which needs to be unpacked in a way that is true to the theoretical meaning.  And this is complicated further by the fact that the theoretical notion of instantiation also refers to a process: the selection of features in system networks and the activation of their realisation statements.

[5] It is simply not true that, in both models, context "is instantiated in text".  In Halliday's model, text is an instance of the system of language, not an instance of context.  It is the context of situationnot the text — that is an  instance of the context of culture.  The text, as an instance of language, and the situation, as an instance of context, are related stratally by realisation (symbolic abstraction).

[6] One reason for using the terms 'context of culture' and 'context of situation' when talking about the cline of instantiation at the level of context is that it clarifies which pole of the cline — system or instance — we are referring to.  We do the same in the case of the linguistic strata (semantics, lexicogrammar, phonology) when we use the term 'text' to refer to the instance pole of the cline.

[7] Again, context is not 'instantiated as text' (see [5]).  Text realises context (of situation).

[8] "Readings of text" does not "push instantiation a rung futher".  The relation between 'readings of a text' and a text is not the same as the (instantial) relation between a text and a linguistic system.  Locating 'readings of a text' as a point on the cline of instantiation creates a theoretical inconsistency.

[9] The text is an actualised instance of meaning potential: an ongoing instantial system (with or without 'readings of text' on the cline of instantiation — or anywhere else.)

[10] The notion of 'system' on the cline of instantiation does not need "ultimately to be broadened to allow for coupling across modalities".  The cline of instantiation models the relation between a system and instances of a system.  To the extent that "coupling" just means the co-selection of features, this is already built into the theoretical model as probabilities of co-selection at the system pole, as differences in probabilities across registers, in the middle of the cline, and as differences in actual co-selection frequencies at the instance pole.  And also to the extent that "coupling" just means the co-selection of features, it misses the point of co-selection, since what is significant about co-selected features is not that they are "coupled", but the relations between them, as defined by the architecture of the theory.

[11] It is certainly true that "the notion of context as a higher level stratum of meaning doesn't seem to be properly reconciled with instantiation in SFL models that distinguish the instantiation of context of culture in context of situation from the instantiation of language systems in text".  But the only stratification model that treats context as "a higher level stratum of meaning" is Martin's model.  In Halliday's model, meaning is located stratally in semantics.  Again, this demonstrates the confusion that can arise from construing "all strata make meaning" (semogenesis) as "all strata have meaning".

[12] Context is not a higher stratum of meaning on Halliday's model, and the process of instantiation can be viewed at any of the levels of symbolic abstraction: context, semantics, lexicogrammar, phonology.  The question of there being one or two processes of instantiation does not arise in Halliday's model.

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