Tuesday, 7 April 2015

David Rose On The Relations Between Grammar, Semantics and Text

That said, there is an interesting ambivalence in recent IFG editions about the relations between grammar, semantics and text, both realisational and instantial. … 
In fact IFG explicitly models ‘text’ both as the unit of analysis of the semantic stratum, consistent with discourse semantic theory, and as instantiating grammatical systems. It also discusses domains of instantiation of semantic systems as stretches of discourse, also consistent with discourse semantic theory. What it doesn’t admit is the discourse semantic systems described in English Text, Working with Discourse, and a considerable body of other scholarly work. 
My own view is that this omission has as much to do with personal institutional politics within the SFL leadership, as it does with the relative merits of the theory.

Blogger Comments:

 [1] In SFL, the word 'text' is used to refer to the highest semantic unit and to the instance pole of the cline of instantiation.  Its valeur depends on what it is contrasted with.  It is misleading to call this 'ambivalence', which means:
  • uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.
[2] The notion of text as a semantic unit was imported, unaltered, by Martin into 'discourse semantic theory' from Halliday's Systemic Functional linguistics; hence the "consistency".

[3] Each text is an instance of systemic potential — whatever the linguistic stratum; just as, above the linguistic strata, at the level of context, situation is an instance of culture.

[4] IFG (Halliday and Matthiessen 2004), as the name suggests, is an introduction to functional grammar, not 'discourse semantic systems'.  Halliday and Matthiessen (2004: 550-1):
for a systemic description of this [cohesive reference] as a semantic system, see Martin (1992).
Martin's English Text and Martin and Rose's Working With Discourse and 'a considerable body of other scholarly work' are also listed in the References.  

Considering how inconsistent 'discourse semantic theory' is with the core architecture of Systemic Functional Linguistics (e.g stratification and metafunction), its citing in IFG is an act of great generosity, especially in face of bullying insults, such as those of Rose quoted above (appraisal analysis here).

For a rigorous assessment of the "relative merits" of 'discourse semantic theory', including the degree to which it is consistent with (a sound knowledge of) Systemic Functional linguistic theory, see here.