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the phatic function in oriented towards the contact (the channel) between addresser and addressee.

- Language is used it open the channel of communication, maintain contact and close it, also to attract or

confirm attention;

the metalingual function focuses on the code or language.


Other functions can be derived from these:

imaginary function is part of the referential function regarding imaginary context;

- magic or incantatory function: in which “an absent or inanimate ‹third person›” of the referential function

- becomes “an addressee of a conative message”;

supplicatory or exhortative function is part of the conative function depending on whether the first person is

- subordinated to the second or the second to the first.

Each piece of the discourse will express one dominant function of a piece of discourse.

3. Metafunctions of language: Hallyday

The fundamental components of meaning in language are functional components. Language is as it is because of

what it has to do. However, language is characterised by diversity of use, with a speaker using language in any

given utterance for a variety of purposes. One can identify a certain number of what Halliday has termed

metafunctions (semantic macro-functions). These are only indirectly related to specific uses of language but are

nevertheless recognisable as abstract representations of the basic functions which language is made to serve.

These generalised function of language define the total meaning potential of the adult language system.

According to Halliday, all languages are organised around two main kinds of meaning, the ideational or reflective

and the interpersonal. These components, or metafunctions, are the manifestations in the linguistic system of the

two very general purposes which underlie all uses of the language:

a) to understand the environment: language has a referential function, it names and describes things in the

environment (ideational). This is language for information: i.e. learning and thinking with language. It is also

language as “content” and represent the speaker’s meaning potential as an observer. The ideational

metafunction correspond closely to Bhuler’s representational function;

b) to act on the others in the environment (interpersonal) – our interpersonal exchange (acting with language).

This is language as “inter-action” and represents the speaker’s meaning potential as an intruder in the

context of situation, both expressing his or her own attitudes and judgements and seeking to influence the

attitudes and behaviour of others. The interpersonal metafunction corresponds more or less to Buhler’s

conative and expressive functions.

Language has its own way of doing things and relating to the rest of our behaviour. This is language as “texture”

and represents the speaker’s text-forming potential: it expresses the relation of the language to its environment,

including both the verbal environment and the situational environment.


The ideation function is represents by transitivity (the way different types of process of the external world are

interpreted and expressed). The interpersonal function is represented by mood (the selections by the speaker of a

particular role in the speech situation and his determination of the choice of roles for the addressee) and

modality, (the expression of the speaker’s judgements and predictions). The textual functions is represented by

theme structures, which express the organization of the message: how a clause relates to the surrounding

discourse, and to the context of situation in which it is being produced.

The metafunctional hypothesis postulates that in all languages the content systems are organised into ideational,

interpersonal and textual components. This is presented as a universal feature of language. But the descriptive

categories are treated as particular. So while all languages are assumed to have a “textual” component, whereby

discourse achieves a texture that relates it to its environment, it is not assumed that in any given language one of

the ways of achieving texture will be my means of a thematic system. Even if there is such a system, the features

in it (the choices) may not be the same; and even if a feature embodies the same choice, it may not be realised in

the same way.

The functional-semantic approach therefore views language as a resource for making meaning and attempts to

describe language in actual use, focussing on texts and contexts. The concern of the functional approach is not

only with structures but also with how those structures construct meaning.

There are four main theoretical claims about language. The first is that language use is functional, the second,

that its function is to make meanings, the third, that these meanings are influenced by the social and cultural

context in which the exchange takes place; and lastly, that the communication involves choosing some linguistic

items and discarding others, and as such it is a semiotic process. If we take all these four points together, we see

that language use is functional, semantic, contextual, and semiotic, and this is why the approach we are adopting

in the English linguistics course can be called functional-semantic.

A basic premise of this approach is that language is a purposeful activity. This means that people use language to

achieve a goal. People also use language to interact and then do so to make meanings. The overall purpose of

language, therefore is a semantic one, since people communicate meanings.

2 – Text, context and genre: socio-cultural aspects of English

1. Language as a social activity

Language is a meaning potential in that it centres on what the speaker can do or mean. Language also functions in

some environment. We experience language not in isolation but always in relation to a social setting that is make

up of people, action and events. This social settings, or immediate environment, in which language functions is,

for Halliday, the “context of situation”. The topic under discussion and the background adn experience of the

speakers would be more relevant as features of the interaction than the immediate surroundings or objects or


Many of these ideas were first developed by John Rupert Firth, who views linguistic behaviour as a network of

relations between people, things and events. He also sees language as a mode of action. Language is thus a way

of doing things and getting things done, of behaving and making others behave in relation to surroundings and


situations. According to Firth, a normal complete act of speech is a pattern of group behaviour, of common

verbalisations and speech behaviour is determined by typical recurrent social situations. Firth therefore place

importance on both situational and cultural contexts.

2. Context: co-text and context of situation

Initially, the term context was used exclusively to refer to the words and sentences that go with a text, con-text in

the strict sense of the word. A text is a complex entity consisting of more than a sum of its parts as it is made up

of a web of interdependent relationships, which confer meaning on each other and can only be interpreted in

relation to each other. The co-text therefore refers to a text’s linguistic context.

Contextual features are also to be found in what goes on in the total environment beyond the physical realisation

of language. We can therefore distinguish between the co-text, the linguistic context, and the context of the

situation, the extra linguistic one.

Context is a source of meaning for every language event since it gives the hearer or reader a frame of reference

within which to interpret what has been uttered or written. Disambiguating textual elements is crucial to

understanding and interpreting discourse as a whole.

As was stated above with regard to Firth, and as we shall see more fully below, all meaning is situated in both a

context of situation and a context of culture the co-text/context of situation distinction was first made by the

anthropologist in his theory of context in relation to translation.

The relationship between language use and the context of situation identified by Malinowski was further

developed by Firth, who, as we have seen, viewed linguistic essentially as the study of meaning in terms of how

language function in context. Here therefore worked out a set of variables which he felt had to be present in the

context of situation for meaningful interaction take place: the participants in the situation, the action taking place

(verbal and non-verbal), other relevant features of the situation and the effect of the verbal action.

A similar set of variables for describing the context of situation was proposed by Hyems in his work on the

ethnography of communication: the form and content of the message, the setting, the participants, the intent

and effect of the communication, the key, the medium, the genre and the norms of interaction. In order to

communicate effectively language users need to produce utterances which are both linguistically correct and

appropriate to the socio-cultural context. In other words, communication involves not only linguistic competence

(an abstract knowledge of the language system) but also the ability to use and interpret language appropriately in

relation to the social context. This is the communicative competence.

Jakobson puts forward six constituent factor as making up any speech event.

All communication consist of a message initiated

by an addresser, whose destination is an


The message requires a contact between

addresser and addressee, which may be oral, visual, electronic or whatever. It must be formulated in terms of a

code: speech, numbers, writing, sound-formation etc. And the message must refer to a context understood by

both the addresser and the addressee, which enables the message to make sense.


The addresser is the person who originates the message. The addressee is the person to whom the message is

addressed. The message is the form that the message takes (grammatical and lexical choice) and the information

carried (the topic). The context is the setting in which the communicative act takes place, i.e. the social or

physical context. The contact is the medium or physical channel through which the message is transmitted; it is

also the psychological connection that is set up between addresser and addressee. The code refers to the

language system used (English, Cockney, sing language, semaphore etc.)

The central point to emerge from Jakobson’s account of communication is that the message does not and cannot

sully all of the meaning of the transaction and that a good deal of what is communicated derives from the

context, the code, and the means of contact. Meaning therefore resides in the total act of communication.

These six elements involved in the transmission process are never in perfect balance. Jakobson goes to argue that

each of the six elements involved in the communication event has a distinct functional role related to the

functions of language. The nature of the message is determined by the fact that is takes on the functional

character of whichever of the six elements involved happens to be dominant.

3. Halliday’s conceptual framework of the context of situation: field, tenor and mode

Halliday distinguishes three main variables in the context of situation:

1. the field of discourse refers to the play – the kind of activity, as recognised in the culture, within which the

language is playing some part. This refers to the type of social action which is taking place: the event, the set

of participants it includes, the spatial and temporal setting what the participants know and believe in relation

to all the notions which become subject-matter. Field therefore refers to what is going on, including:

activity focus, the nature of the social activity;

- object focus, the subject matter.


Establishing text’s field of discourse implies decisions on the shared knowledge that can be assumed

between the addresser and addressee, on what degree of specialised terminology may or should be used

and how information is presented grammatically (e.g. active/passive).

2. the tenor of discourse refers to the players – the actors, or rather the interacting roles, that are involved in

the creation of the text. In other words, it indicates the set of socially meaningful participants roles and

relationships – social, psychological and intellectual – which are involved, including the status of the

participants and other situation-specific characteristics.

Tenor therefore refers to the social relationships between those taking part, and can be specified as:

status of power: agent roles, peer or hierarchy relations (mother-daughter, teacher-student);

- affect: degree of like, dislike or neutrality (whether they are on good terms or not);

- contact: frequency, duration and intimacy of social contact (whether they know each other well);

- role structure: questioner-answerer, informer-enquirer.


Martin Joos gives an example of five levels of formality, ranging from the extremely formal and impersonal to

the highly informal and personal: frozen, formal, consultative, casual and intimate.

Establishing a test’s tenor discourse implies decisions on mood (indicative or imperative), the use of

archaic/modern terms and formal/informal choice of lexis and syntactic structures.


3. the mode of discourse refers to the parts, that is, the particular functions that are assigned to language in a

particular situation. Mode includes the channel of communication, both in the sense of medium (written,

spoken, written to be spoken) and of instrumentality (phone, tape, telex) and the type of presentation of the

text (extempore, prepared). The rhetorical function of the text (descriptive, didactic, expository etc.) also

comes under mode of discourse. Mode therefore refers to how language is being used and to the medium

chosen, whether spoken or written.

Speaking and writing are manifestation of the same linguistic system but they differ in various ways and make use

of different linguistic resources. One very obvious difference is that writing does not incorporate all the meaning

potential of speech since it leaves out the prosodic and paralinguistic traits that are typical of spoken discourse.

Besides, spoken language is typically more dependent on its context than written language and presents a

dynamic view or reality (a world of happening) as compare to writing, which offers an essentially synoptic view (a

world of things). Descriptions of spoken discourse are necessarily process-oriented while those of written

discourse are product-oriented. Most

importantly, spoken and written discourse are

used in different contexts and for different

purposes. In addition, these two media should

not be viewed as totally separate varieties but

rather as a continuum with extremes that display

marked differences and various overlapping forms in between.

An interesting range of mode variation is illustrated by Gregory and Carroll and reproduced below:

A further feature of the mode of discourse is the way information is presented in a text in terms of theme and

rheme, given and new information focus. The Beatles’ song Yesterday is a vivid example of how information can

be foregrounded and backgrounded by differences in syntactic structures.

4. The concept of register 7

These three variables of field, tenor and mode, taken together, determine the range within which meaning are

selected and the forms which are used for their expression. In other words, they determine their register. The

notion of register refers to fact that language not only varies according to the type of situation but also that it can

also be predicted from what is known about the situation. In developing his theory of meaning-in-context, Firth

pointed out that if people are given a description of a context, they can predict what language will be used. In

other words, the speakers of any discourse community can reconstruct the context of situation surrounding a text

on the basis of their shared knowledge about typical and recurrent relationships between text and context.

5. The context of culture

Both the co-text and the context of situation are essential features of communication but in order for language

users to be able to function effectively a further component of context comes into play, namely, the context of

culture. Awareness of cultural differences and similarities is essential to the interpretation of meaning. Culture

has generally been taken to refer to the personal development of a cultivated mind (she's a cultured person) or a

knowledge of country’s history and institutions as contribution to human civilisation (the cultural heritage of

Great Britain). Here, however, culture is used in the sociolinguistic and anthropological sense to mean all socially

conditioned aspects of human life: the way of life of a society.

Language is an integral part of culture and not an isolated phenomenon. The relevance of this to linguistic lies in

the extent to which culture conditions people’s behaviour and is reflected in the language they speak. An extreme

view claimed that the language people speak determines their perception of reality as thought is conditioned by

language. A more moderate view is that the lexical distinctions drawn by each language will tend to reflect the

culturally important features of objects, institutions and activities in the society in which the language operates.

Just as each text has its environment, the context of situation, so the language system has its environment. The

context of culture determines the nature of the code. As a language is manifested through its texts, a culture is

manifested through its situations.

6. The concept of genre

The close relationship that exists between text send context means that a speaker will look for the linguistic

resources that are most appropriate to any given situation. The concept of appropriateness is, however,

culture-specific and related to conventions that are recognizable by the members of a particular culture. Native

speakers will have an implicit competence of the linguistic behaviour that is associated with each situation in their

culture and will also be aware of the purpose or goal of the interaction. These culturally-specific, goal-oriented

forms of communication are known as genres. In the words of Hatim and Mason genres

are conventionalised forms of text which reflect the functions and goals involved in particular social

occasion as well as the purpose of the participants involved in them.

This definition is akin to the one given by Swales in relation to English for special purposes. For Swales genre

is a recognizable communicative event characterised by a set of communicative purposes identified

and mutually understood by the members of the professional or academic community in which it

regularly occurs. 8

There are different genres as there are conventionally-recognizable types of social activity, ranging from literally

genres (novels, short-stories, autobiographies and sit-coms) to popular written genres (newspaper articles,

instruction manuals and recipes) and educational genres such as textbooks, essay writing, lectures, seminars and

examinations. In everyday life people take part in genres like the following:

making appointments; gossiping;

- -

exchanging opinions; chatting with friends;

- -

telling stories; going to interviews;

- -

seeking and supplying information; buying and selling things.

- -

Each of these genres carries with it a set of convention or “scripts” which enables members of a discourse

community to produce and predict the kind of “moves” that are involved and the linguistic exchanges associated

with them.

Genres tend to reflect conventionally-accepted types of goal-oriented discourse, which differ from one another

mainly in the lexicogrammar and phonological features that typically accompany or realise these meanings. The

number of possible situations in which people use language (registers) is only apparently infinite; in reality they

make un a much smaller number of general types of situations (genres).

An analysis of the contextual configuration of a single text in terms of field tenor and mode (i.e. its register) will

provide the evidence of this genre (i.e. a conventionally-recognised purposeful activity or event or situation) since

it displays the same basic set of obligatory elements. Genres are closely bound to culture and there are

repertoires of culturally-recognisable linguistic behaviour that members of different cultural communities will

implicitly relate to the various type of situation. Thus, vocabulary and grammar are often used in regular ways and

are restricted by conventions pertaining to a given culture. As cultures evolve, genres may change or disappear

altogether with new ones taking their place. TV quiz programmes have undergone profound changes since their

first appearance while web-sites and e-mails constitute comparatively new genres.

3 – Dialects as varieties of English

Linguists use the term variety when describing variations in language based on actual use. According to Halliday,

language varieties fall into two main groups:

one group relates to reasonably permanent characteristics of the user in language events, and come under

- the language variety of dialects;

the other relates to the user’s use of language in such events, and comes under the language variety of

- diatypes (or registers).

The main difference between dialects and diatypes (or registers) is that dialects are saying the same thing

differently while registers are saying different things. So dialects tend to differ in phonetics, phonology (so-called

“accents”), vocabulary and grammar, but not in semantics; while registers tend to differ in semantics and

therefore in grammar and vocabulary (as expression of meaning) but rarely in phonology.

Dialect refers to characteristic features of language which are related to different users of language. They refers

to the speaker’s place in relation to his/her individuality, dimension of time, place, social class and speech


community. t eras of birthplace, class, education, age. This includes geographical varieties, regional variety, social

varieties, temporal varieties and user-specific varieties called idiolects.

1. Geographical varieties

Geographical dialect refers to the users’ geographical or regional provenance (physical dimension) and is most

easily distinguished by accents. A major distinction in the English-speaking world is between American English

(AmE) and British English (BrE) but there are regional dialects within these broad categorisation. The Canadian

standard of English is very close to the American and coincides in nearly all aspects, although both AmE and BrE

spelling may be found.

Apart from pronunciation, the main differences between the two geographical varieties fall under the heading of

spelling, grammar and syntax, vocabulary and punctuation. Some examples are given below: AmE items are given

as the first alternative and BrE items as the second.

 spelling difference:

-am/-amme: program – programme; -ize/-ise: specialize – specialise;

- -

-er/-re: center – centre; -s/-c: defense – defence;

- -

-o/ou: color – colour; -l/-ll: traveling – travelling;

- -

-lyze/-lyse: analyze – analyse; -og/-ogue: dialog – dialogue.

- -

 grammar and syntax:

the use of articles in not constant: in BrE it disappears → to go to a university vs to go to university;

- the expression in future and in the future: in BrE the meaning of “beginning now”, “from now on” is

- expressed by in future; AmE uses in the future, which in BrE will have the meaning “at some point in the


the use of prepositions may also differ in the two varieties of English at time: different than – different

- from, speak with – speak to, she wrote her friend – she wrote to her friend.

there are also morphological differences between the two varieties, the past participle form of the verb

- “to get”: get got gotten – get got got.

in AmE accommodations is always plural, whereas in BrE it is always singular.


 the greatest difference between AmE and BrE are lexical:

certain monosemous words in one variety have a direct synonym in the other: station wagon – estate

- car, highway – motorway, cookie – biscuit, garbage – rubbish;

the greatest confusion is caused by words which exist in the two varieties but which have totally

- different meanings: potato chips – crisps, French fries – chips or French fries, sidewalk – pavement,

pavements – road, first floor – ground floor; second floor – first floor;

the differences in punctuation between AmE and BrE are not striking:

-  in expression of time a full-stop is used between hours and minutes in BrE (11.15 a.m.), while AmE

prefers a colon (11:15 a.m.);

 in AmE the colon ends the salutation of a business letter (Dear Mr Jackson:) while the comma ends

that of a friendly letter (Dear Michael,). In BrE the comma is used in both cases.



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