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systemic functional linguistics (SFL)

By Richard Nordquist, Guide Filed In:
1. Grammar & Rhetoric Glossary 2. > Reading - Syntax

An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 3rd. ed., by M. A. K. Halliday, rev. by Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen (Hodder Arnold, 2004)
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Learn Irish OnlineAward Winning Irish Courses Online Gaeilge gan Str! by Mount Eden PropertyGrammar Zone ...Brick and Definition: The study of the relationship between language and its functions in social settings. In systemic functional linguistics (SFL), three strata make up the linguistic system: meaning (semantics), sound (phonology), and wording or lexicogrammar (syntax, morphology, and lexis). Systemic functional linguistics treats grammar as a meaning-making resource and insists on the interrelation of form and meaning. See also:

Applied Linguistics Linguistics Meaning Pragmatics Register Semiotics Sociolinguistics

Systemic functional linguistics was developed in the 1960s by British linguist M.A.K. Halliday (b. 1925), who had been influenced by the work of the Prague School and British linguist J.R. Firth (1890-1960).


"While individual scholars naturally have different research emphases or application contexts, common to all systemic linguists is an interest in language as social semiotic (Halliday 1978)--how people use language with each other in accomplishing everyday social life. This interest leads systemic linguists to advance four main theoretical claims about language: 1. that language use is functional 2. that its function is to make meanings 3. that these meanings are influenced by the social and cultural context in which they are exchanged

4. that the process of using language is a semiotic process, a process of making

meaning by choosing. These four points, that language use is functional, semantic, contextual and semiotic, can be summarized by describing the systemic approach as a functional-semantic approach to language." (Suzanne Eggins, An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, 2nd ed. Continuum, 2005)

"According to Halliday (1975), language has developed in response to three kinds of social-functional 'needs.' The first is to be able to construe experience in terms of what is going on around us and inside us. The second is to interact with the social world by negotiating social roles and attitudes. The third and final need is to be able to create messages with which we can package our meanings in terms of what is New or Given, and in terms of what the starting point for our message is, commonly referred to as the Theme. Halliday (1978) calls these language functions metafunctions, and refers to them as ideational, interpersonal and textual respectively. "Halliday's point is that any piece of language calls into play all three metafunctions simultaneously." (Peter Muntigl and Eija Ventola, "Grammar: A Neglected Resource in Interaction Analysis?" New Adventures in Language and Interaction, ed. by Jrgen Streeck. John Benjamins, 2010)

Also Known As: SFL, systemic functional grammar, Hallidayan linguistics

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