Tuesday, 25 October 2016

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Writing, Sounding And Wording

Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 7): 
… writing is not the representation of speech sound. While every writing system is related to the sound system of its language in systematic and nonrandom ways (exactly how the two are related varies from one language to another), the relationship is not a direct one. There is another level of organisation in language to which both the sound system and the writing system are related, namely the level of wording, or ‘lexicogrammar’. … The sound system and the writing system are the two modes of expression by which the lexicogrammar of a language is represented, or realised (to use the technical term).

Monday, 24 October 2016

Semiosis Defined

Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 5):
… the making and understanding of meaning …

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Grammatics Defined

Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 5):
… the model of grammar …

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Two Complementary Perspectives On The Text

Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 3,4):
… (1) focus on the text as an object in its own right; (2) focus on the text as an instrument for finding out about something else. Focusing on text as an object, a grammarian will be asking questions such as: Why does the text mean what it does (to me, or to anyone else)? Why is it valued as it is? Focusing on the text as instrument, the grammarian will be asking what the text reveals about the system of the language in which it is spoken or written. … But the text has a different status in each case: either viewed as artefact, or else viewed as specimen. … specimen here might mean specimen of a particular functional variety, or register

Friday, 21 October 2016

‘Text’ As Instance Of Language

Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 3):
When people speak or write, they produce text; and text is what listeners and readers engage with and interpret. The term ‘text’ refers to any instance of language, in any medium, that makes sense to someone who knows the language; we can characterise text as language functioning in context (cf.  Halliday & Hasan, 1976: Ch. 1; Halliday, 2010). Language is, in the first instance, a resource for making meaning; so text is a process of making meaning in context.

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 618):
There is no point asking whether the ideation base of our technologised natural languages necessarily had to evolve the way it did. But it is extreme pertinent to ask, given the enormous demands now being made on both the material and semiotic resources of the human species, what the options are for the way it may evolve in future.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Ongoing Reconstrual Of Experience

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 618):
… the ontogenetic perspective shows that in fact our experience is being ongoingly reconstrued and recategorised as we grow from infancy to maturity. This is the outcome of processes taking place in human history — evolutionary events that are at once both material and semiotic, and that cannot be reduced to either purely physical processes driven by technology or purely discursive processes driven by ideology.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Developmental Dynamic

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 618):
… it is a steady progression, marked by three periods of more rapid development at the transitions: from protolanguage to language (generalisation, associated with bipedal motion), from commonsense (spoken) language to written language (abstractness: the move into primary school), and from non-specialised written language to technical language (metaphor: the move into secondary school).

Monday, 17 October 2016

Developmental Dynamic

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 618):
The developmental dynamic of “generalisation — abstractness — metaphor” provides the semiotic energy for the grammar, enabling it to serve as the powerhouse for construing experience in the form of scientific knowledge.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Reconstrual Of Experience As Technical Knowledge

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 617):
Semiotically, the critical factor is that of metaphor; the semiotic bonds that had enabled the child to learn the mother tongue in the first place, bonds between figures and their elements on the one hand and clauses and their transitivity functions on the other, are systematically … untied. The categories of experience are deconstrued, to be recategorised … in the “objectifying” framework of grammatical metaphor.

Saturday, 15 October 2016


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 615, 616):
General terms are not necessarily abstract; a bird is no more abstract than a pigeon. But some words have referents that are purely abstract — words like cost and clue and habit and tend and strange; they are construing some aspect of our experience, but there is no concrete thing or process with which they can be identified. … experience is being reconstrued in order to build up a form of knowledge that is systematically organised and explicit.

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Ontogenesis Of Ideation: Abstractness & Grammatical Metaphor

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 615):
… there are two further developments [besides generalisation] to come before the ideation base can take the form it has to take if it is to produce discourse … and there is some elapse of time before children take these further steps … abstractness [and] (grammatical) metaphor.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Ontogenesis Of Ideation: Generalisation

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 615):
This principle of generalisation — that is, naming general classes rather than specific individuals — is what makes it possible to construct an ideation base. When they have reached this stage, children can make the transition from protolanguage to mother tongue, building up figures and sequences of figures, and simultaneously structuring these as moves in dialogic exchanges (… the interaction base) and as messages or quanta of information (the text base). In other words, they “learn how to mean” according to the metafunctional principle of adult semiosis.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 615):
A prerequisite for the semiotic construal of experience is generalisation: the move from “proper” to “common” as the basic principle of referring. … this opens the way (i) to constructing hierarchies of classes … and (ii) to naming other kinds of element, process and qualities, which can be construed only in “common” terms. Since these other elements have distinct and complementary functions it becomes possible to combine them into organic structures, as complex elements or as figures.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Shared Experience Of The Group

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 614):
When we talk of “construing experience” as the metafunctional realm of the ideation base, we are referring to the shared experience of the group, the culture and the species; it is by means of dialogue that children gain access to this shared experience and are enabled to construe their own experience with reference to it. And the dialogic nature of discourse serves the child also as a metaphor, as the semiotic manifestation of the social conditions of human existence.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Meaning Arises In Shared Social Consciousness

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 614): 
Semiotic systems are social systems, and meaning arises in shared social consciousness; this is evident already in the protolanguage, when infants depend on being treated as communicating beings, and those within their “meaning group” are tracking them — unconsciously creating the language along with them. We find this manifested also in the forms of discourse, in the way children participate in constructing narratives of shared experience.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Transition From Protolanguage To Language

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 614):
Children make the transition from protolanguage to language typically in the second half of the second year of life. […]; we may assume that in general terms they are recapitulating the phylogenetic evolution of language, although of course we can only speculate about the way that evolution took place (it is important to say explicitly that all human languages known today are equally far removed from that phase in our semiotic history). During that stage they learn to construe elements and figures, and in this way "semanticise" both the construction of experience and the enactment of interpersonal relations. In terms of the grammar, they learn to form groups and clauses, and to select systemic options simultaneously in transitivity and in mood.

Blogger Comments:

[1] Since the 'phylogenetic evolution of language' includes the evolution of Modern English from Anglo-Saxon, this is obviously not true in the terms that it is stated.  (The ontogenesis of Modern English does not recapitulate the evolution of Modern English from Anglo-Saxon.)  The notion that ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis derives from the 'Biogenetic Law' of Ernst Hæckel, in the field of biology; Thain & Hickman (1994: 67):
Notorious view propounded by Ernst Hæckel in about 1860 (a more explicit formulation of his mentor Muller's view) that during an animal's development it passes through ancestral adult stages ('ontogenesis is a brief and rapid recapitulation of phylogenesis').  Much of the evidence for this derived from the work of embryologist Karl von Bær.  It is now accepted that embryos often pass through stages resembling related embryonic, rather than adult, forms.
[2] If different languages have evolved at different rates, then this is not strictly true; though it is true enough to undermine racist claims that speakers of the most conservative languages are somehow inferior, which is presumably the reason for including the parenthetical disclaimer.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

How To Transcend The Limits Of Protolanguage

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 613-4):
… you need a semiotic of a different kind, one that allows for a purely abstract level of representation “in between” the two faces of the sign. To put this another way, the sign has to be deconstructed so that, instead of content interfacing directly with expression, the relationship is mediated by a systematic organisation of form (a lexicogrammar). In other words, the semiotic has to become stratified.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Why Children Move From Protolanguage To Language

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 613):
… because the protolanguage sets limits on both dimensions of meaning. You can converse in it, but you cannot build up a dialogue: that is, it allows exchange of meaning, but it precludes any form of interpersonal dynamic, in which meanings expand on the basis of what went before. You can point with it, but you cannot refer: that is, it allows focus on an object, but it precludes any form of ideational systematic, in which phenomena are construed as configurations and in taxonomies.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Human Vs Nonhuman Protolanguage

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 613):
The elements of protolanguage are “signs” (that is, content/expression pairs); they are thus formally identical with the semiotic resources of higher mammals (primates and cetaceans) — but with one important difference: the signs of other species become codified as the form of communication among adults, whereas those of children are transitional to a system of a different kind, and hence do not stabilise into a settled pattern but are constantly shifting on both semiotic planes.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Immediate Significance Of The Protolanguage

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 612-3):
But the immediate significance of the protolanguage is that by acting semiotically in these particular contexts children construe the fundamental distinction between "self" and "other", and the further distinction of "other" into persons and objects (cf. the discussion and figure in Halliday, 1978b). The consciousness of the self arises at the intersection of the various semiotic roles defined by each of these systems* — as well as, of course, from awareness of being one interactant in the general dialogic process (Halliday, 1991).

*Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 613n):
There is a sense in which these rôles anticipate the functions in the transitivity structure of the clause: proto-Beneficiary (instrumental), proto-Agent (regulatory), proto-Carrier (interactional), and proto-Senser (personal).

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Microfunctions Foreshadow The Metafunctions

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 612):
These already foreshadow the semantic motifs of the adult language, the experiential and interpersonal metafunctions, although they are not in any direct correspondence with them; thus the "personal" signs expressing curiosity, or pleasure/ displeasure, constitute the beginning of the semiotic exploration of experience and open the way to naming and classifying phenomena, while the interactional signs are the ones whereby a child enacts social relationships with caregivers and others who are close (Halliday, 1975; 1984b). Here we see the earliest context for the later emergence of types of process within the grammar (Halliday, 1991).

Monday, 3 October 2016

From Proto-Sign Inventory To Proto-Semantic Systems: Microfunctional Domains

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 612):
Children gradually build up an inventory of such proto-signs, and towards the end of the first year the signs begin to form systems, sets of contrasting terms in particular proto-semantic domains or micro-functions: typically, the instrumental (e.g. 'I want/1 don't want'), regulatory (e.g. Do that!/ Do that!!'), interactional (e.g. I’m here/ where are you?'), and personal domains (e.g. 'I like that/ I'm curious about that').

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The Emergence Of Symbolic Acts: Proto-Signs

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 612):
Then, as they become aware of themselves and their environment, children feel a tension building up between two facets of their experience: between what they perceive as happening "out there" and what is happening "in here", within their own borders so to speak. We can watch babies of around 3-4 months struggling to reconcile these complex sensations: they can see a coloured object, reach out, and grasp it and pull it towards them. The inner and the outer forms of this experience have to be brought into line; in order to achieve this, children begin to act in a new, distinctively symbolic mode. A typical example of such an "act of meaning" is the high-pitched squeak a child of around 5 months may produce when some commotion takes place that has to be assimilated. Adults interpret these proto-signs as a demand for explanation: "Yes, that's a bus starting up. Isn't it noisy!" Thus meaning arises out of the impact between the material and the conscious as the two facets of a child's ongoing experience.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Pre-Language: No Distinction Between Symbolic And Non-Symbolic Acts

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 611-2):
Newborn children can exchange attention with their mothers, addressing them and recognising that they are being addressed by them; the infant’s whole body is actively involved in the exchange. This is “pre-language” (“pre-meaning”, even “pre-text”): but it is not language — no distinction is yet being made between symbolic and non-symbolic acts.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Levels Of Human Individuality

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 610-1): 
The human individual is at once a biological “individual”, a social “individual”, and a socio–semiotic “individual”:
as a biological “individual”, s/he is an organism, born into a biological population as a member of the human species.
as a social “individual”, s/he is a person, born into a social group as a member of society. “Person” is a complex construct; it can be characterised as a constellation of social rôles or personæ entering into social networks … 
as a socio–semiotic “individual”, s/he is a meaner, born into a meaning group as a member of a speech community. Meaner is also a complex construct. … 
These different levels of individuality map onto one other: a meaner is a person, and a person is a biological organism. But the mappings are complex; and at each level an individual lives in different environments — in different networks of relations.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Collective Consciousness

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609): 
Edelman’s interpretation of higher–order consciousness … suggests that this form of consciousness (unlike primary consciousness) is constituted in language. Language is a socio–semiotic system, so it follows that higher–order consciousness is constituted socio–semiotically; and since socio–semiotic systems are collective, it follows that higher–order consciousness must also be collective. …
But it is the rôle of language in the construction of experience as meaning — as shared activity and collaboratively constructed resource — that gives substance to the concept of collective consciousness as an attribute of the human condition.
Cf Edelman (1992: 133): 
higher–order consciousness adds socially constructed selfhood to this picture of biological individuality … but it is highly individual (indeed it is personal).
Cf Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 193): 
Human collectives: intermediate between conscious beings and institutions… if singular pronominalise with it.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Why ‘Construing Experience’ Rather Than ‘Reality Construction’

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609):
… the concept of experience is, or can be, a collective one: experience is something that is shared by the members of a species — construed as a “collective consciousness”, in Durkheim’s classic formulation.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Why ‘Construing Experience’ Rather Than ‘Reality Construction’

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609): 
… we want to emphasise the evolutionary perspective, since this allows us to start from what human beings have in common with other species rather than always insisting on our own uniqueness: when we talk of “construction of reality” it is almost impossible to avoid taking our own construction as the norm, whereas parakeets, pythons, and porpoises have very different experiences to construe — different both from each other’s and from those of people.

Monday, 26 September 2016

What Is Construed By The Brain

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609):
… what is being construed by the brain is not the environment as such, but the impact of that environment on the organism and the ongoing material and semiotic exchange between the two.

Sunday, 25 September 2016


Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 608-9): 
… the human brain has evolved in the construction of a functioning model of “reality”. We prefer to conceptualise “reality construction” in terms of construing experience. This is not so much because it avoids metaphysical issues about the ultimate nature of reality — we are prepared to acknowledge a broadly materialist position …