halliday’s systemic functional linguistics

Systemic-functional linguistics (SFL), is a study of functions and semantics which is claimed to be the basis of human language and communicative activity. As opposed to structural approaches that focuses primarily on syntax, SFL-oriented linguists begin with an exploration into social contexts and move on from there to look at how language acts upon, and is constrained and influenced by this social context.

A key concept in Halliday’s approach is the “context of situation” which obtains “through a systematic relationship between the social environment on the one hand, and the functional organization of language on the other.” (Halliday, 1985:11).

The ANALYSIS of CONTEXT is broken down into FIELD, TENOR, AND MODE. Collectively, they constitute the “register” of a text (Halliday, 1985:12).

* Field: what is happening, the nature of the social interaction taking place: what is it that the participants are engaged in, in which language figures as an essential component?

* Tenor: who is taking part; the social roles and relationships of participant, the status and roles of the participants

* Mode: the symbolic organization of the text, rhetorical modes (persuasive, expository, didactic, etc); the channel of communication, such as spoken/written, monologic/dialogic, +/- visual contact, computer-mediated communication/telephone/F2F, etc.


A brief introduction to the work of M.A.K. Halliday and Systemic-Functional Linguistics. Rretrieved 25 February from http://language.la.psu.edu/spcom497b/halliday.html

Halliday, M.A.K., & Hasan, R. (1985). Language, context, and text: aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Halliday, M.A.K. (1985). Spoken and written language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


8 thoughts on “halliday’s systemic functional linguistics

  1. perfect referencing, your prof would be very proud uh? hehehe… well for me, I learnt something new. But can you give me an example, how different is it from the normal discourse analysis?

  2. my prof has the eyes of an hawk and will be able to find mistakes in even the most perfect biblio:P

    unlike conventional critical discourse analysis which derived from social theories of linguistics (works of foucault, saussure, habermas, fairclough etc..), SFL has its roots in grammar, in what was earlier referred to as syetemic functional grammar. this is what draws the line between CDA and SFL.

    example: in an advertisement, CDA will focus on the message of the ad, and its embedded ideologies and how they influence and affect the audience. SFL on the other hand, is concerned with the form the words take, and how the selection of the form of words come together to create the message. SFL takes into consideration the intend of the message, but concerns itself with the engineering of the words.

    in simpler words, CDA is an artistic look at language, whereas SFL explores it from a scientific perspective.

    just about anyone who studies SFG or SFL will refer to the work of michael halliday, who in my opinion, has come up with one of the most operative model of SFL, which brings together the idea of Field, tenor and Mode and their respective metafunctions.

  3. hi, thanks for an intro to SFL, my question is that what are the differences btwn SFL (Halliday) and socio-linguistics like James Gee? thanks

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