A pragmatic reconstruction of M.A.K. Halliday’s systemic functional grammar
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 03:18 by Peter K. Wylie
M.A.K. Halliday’s metafunctional functionalism, which forms the basis for the semantics of his grammar, is based upon a revision of Bühler’s triadic functions of language. However, the more philosophical, classical American branch of the pragmatic tradition developed a likewise triadic understanding of experience, which also differs from Bühler’s. Whitehead’s pragmatic metaphysics provides the most comprehensive example of such a non-reductive philosophical system, crowned by an aesthetically-based general theory of value. These different functional trajectories suggest the possibility of reconstructing Halliday’s central functional notions, including his three metafunctions and subject notions (Theme, Subject and Actor), thereby radicalizing existing critiques advanced by McGregor, Martin, Bateman and others. On this view, the organic unity of language is based upon its expressive compositionality, grounded in the compositionality of value rather than independent metafunctions. An emphasis on action, motivated by the expression and realization of value, means that the underlying conceptions of language also differ. Although Halliday’s grammar is amongst the more comprehensive, functional linguistic theories, his functionalism is based upon the system network formalism. On this pragmatic view, the contents conveyed by a grammar are not abstract, general categories as Halliday holds, but rather valuations intrinsic to the organization of language itself. These function to organize the now grammatically central activity of reference, understood not representationally, as language transcendent, but immanently. The content of the grammar, now understood as composed of indexicals or shifters, generalized beyond words to all forms of grammatical expression, is, then, essentially reflexive, relative and variable. Indeed, not just Halliday’s textual metafunction, but the whole of the grammar provides language users with the means to jointly coordinate their linguistic activities by varying the valuations that form the organizational basis for their discourse.