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  Text&Talk 2013; 33(4–5): 421 – 423

DOI 10.1515/text-2013-0019 

Srikant Sarangi

Editorial: The Halliday potential
This special issue “In honor of Michael Halliday” is the fourth to appear in Text &
Talk, following the ones on Aaron Cicourel (Briggs 2007), Dell Hymes (Blommaert
2009) and John Gumperz (Auer and Roberts 2011) as a way of recognizing the
contributions of key scholars who also have been associated integrally with the
development of the journal Text & Talk. These special issues are intended as a
platform not so much to eulogize these distinguished scholars but to occasion a
deeper engagement with some of the key ideas espoused by them, accompanied
by critical and evaluative judgments in terms of current and future research trajectories (Sarangi 2007, 2009, 2011).
The guest editor for this special issue, Geoff Thompson, as well as the contributors (comprising first- and second-generation Hallidayans) provide excellent
illustrations and extensions of Michael Halliday’s pioneering work under the
­umbrella of systemic functional linguistics (SFL). Over the years, Text & Talk
(­formerly Text) has remained an active outlet for disseminating SFL research (see,
in particular, Martin and Horarik 2003). A key feature of this special issue is the
extension of SFL to different domains of language use and language users. This is
supplemented by integration of approaches, consolidation of studies, reanalysis
of datasets and, above all, theory–practice interface concerning uses and users of
language.
Language as a functional system endowed with “meaning potential” is at the
core of the SFL enterprise, but as can be seen from the wide-ranging contributions to this special issue, the functional approach to language also extends to
other modalities, i.e., different meaning-making systems. Multimodality thus
comes to the fore. According to Halliday:
What we have to use is the word that Clifford Geertz (1973) uses, to “thicken” our understanding, “thick description”. This means we have to introduce further dimensions to our
understanding. I think the notion of multimodality [. . .] enables us to put the concept of
meaning into the centre of attention because what all the modalities share is that they are
semiotic modes. (Halliday 2006: 122)

The applied/appliable dimension of language study is a definitional pillar of
­Halliday’s SFL architecture. As he (2006: 114) puts it: “I never have seen a very
clear distinction between Linguistics and Applied Linguistics.” Halliday’s theory
of language is a way of getting things done in everyday lives. Theorizing does

As he confesses: Mainstream linguists don’t regard me as a linguist because I don’t ask linguists’ questions. then they say. and even empty. Halliday labels himself a grammarian rather than a ­linguist: I do think of myself as a grammarian primarily. There is. At the time of writing this editorial. (Halliday 2006: 116) These other-initiated questions about language find a robust expression in Halliday’s comprehensive model of language encompassing three (meta)functions – ideational.  Srikant Sarangi 422  not  happen in a void. “Oh how many languages do you speak?” (Halliday 2006: 121) In interactional terms. To put it bluntly. R. and I missed him by thousands of miles. I tend to ask other people’s questions about language. however. From my personal connection with Michael Halliday. In talking about Michael Halliday. Halliday’s rich intellectual life seems to have been shaped by influential scholars such as J. I was in Hong Kong sharing a few days with one of Michael Halliday’s close collaborators – Christian Matthiessen. although the embedding of such leanings in language study is manifest ­differentially. and everyone has questions about language. In a similar vein. you say you’re a linguist. respectively. Ironically. the division between linguistics and sociolinguistics (and by extension. True to his character. because when people ask you what you do for a living. outside of practice. I can only attest how he himself is an embodiment of these three (meta) functions when engaged in a conversation. on this very occasion Michael was visiting my parent institution. applied linguistics) seems artificial. language is not the object of. . by the way. Cardiff University. within or outside of their day-to-day “linguistic” jobs. as it is unlikely for the interlocutor to continue asking “how many grammars do you do?”. an implicit synergy among the two: both Halliday and Chomsky have strong political and ideological leanings. perhaps a topic shift or even topic closure is intended. because he views ­language as a social phenomenon. Wang Li and Basil Bernstein on the one hand and his extensive exposure to different language systems and their realizations at various levels. Firth. interpersonal and textual – all of which are integrally tied to the contexts of situation as well as culture. but the instrument for. one intuitively makes a contrast to Noam Chomsky in terms of their strikingly oppositional conceptualizations of linguistic inquiry – as functional study of language systems versus formal study of language structures. It’s a useful label. (applied) linguistic study.

2003. Sarangi. Editorial: The anatomy of interpretation: Coming to terms with the analyst’s paradox in professional discourse studies. Briggs. Text & Talk 29(3). Text & Talk 27(5/6). Martin. [Special issue]. (ed. L. Journal of Applied Linguistics 3(1). Text & Talk 31(4). Halliday. Roberts (eds.  423 Editorial: The Halliday potential  References Auer. . S. Negotiating heteroglossia: Social perspectives on evaluation. Cicourel. In honour of John Gumperz. 113–128.). J. Four decades of epistemological revolution: Work inspired by Aaron V. Text & Talk 29(3).). 2009. [Special issue]. Text & Talk 31(4). C. [Special issue]. Editorial: Hymes. 239–240. 2007. [Special issue]. 2011. Blommaert. Sarangi. Editorial: Contextualising Gumperz. (ed. Horarik. 2011. 2009. Applied linguistics: Thematic pursuits or disciplinary moorings? A conversation between Michael Halliday and Anne Burns. 567–584. S. [Special issue]. Sarangi.). S. P. K. A. M. & C. [Special issue]. J. Text & Talk 27(5/6). text and talk. 2006. 375–380. 2007. Text 23(2). [Special issue]. On Hymes. & M.

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