Anvita Abbi

Center of Linguistics and English, Jawaharlal Nehru Univ., New Delhi 110067, India


India As A Linguistic Area

A linguistic area or sprachbund is taken to be a contiguous geographic area that includes languages of different families sharing grammatical features that they do not share with other languages of the same family. Contact-induced structural convergence of languages spoken within an area often results in such an area and is representative of fairly strong and stable multilingualism. Though it is difficult to isolate similarities due to genetic inheritance from the similarities due to borrowing, yet linguistic diffusion across diverse languages of an area must be studied as widespread diffusion is a reflection of the sociolinguistic history of the region. Language contact in Indian languages has brought about gradual convergence resulting in structural isomorphism, meaning thereby grammar and semantics are fully replicated in one another. Indian languages of the Dravidian, the Indo-Aryan, the Munda and the Tibeto-Burman families share among others, many morphological and syntactic features that represent shared common ‘world view’ of the speakers of these languages. Some of the significant areal features, such as reduplication, echo formation, explicator compound verbs, non canonical marking of the experiencer subjects, and signification of ‘manner adverbs’ in verb sequences are representative areal features of the Indian linguistic area.



Jim Benson, Meena Debashish and William Greaves

York University, Canada


On the interpretation of bonobo vocalizations in a bonobo-human English discourse setting
"Can apes speak English? Yes or No?" is a question which may make sense to those who believe in an all or nothing genetically inherited language faculty.  We prefer to ask a different question.  "To what degree can the socially constructed and transmitted English language system be processed by a biologically evolved and transmitted bonobo brain?"
Under the direction of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the Language Research Center in Atlanta Georgia developed a small, unique bonobo-human culture established and maintained through clear fields tenors and modes of discourse.  Within that culture there is clear semantic choice, clear lexical choice, clear graphemic and phonemic choice, and plenty of graphitic and phonetic potential for indication.
The question at each of these strata is not whether, but rather how much (or how little).  This paper will explore a part of the picture which has only recently come under examination: the vocalizations Kanzi and Panbanisha make when interacting with Sue and others.  These vocalizations take their place among various means of communication in the culture:  the selection of signs from the 450 computer keyboard keys, the sound of the spoken words these keys activate, the production of some of these signs in chalk and other media by the apes, gaze, and pointing.  Not to be left out, of course, are vast numbers of full-blown English clauses uttered with communicative intent by Sue and the other researchers involved.
We will examine the sound of some of the bonobo vocalizations, and explore some of the ways they are English.
Benson, J.D. (2002). Bonobo-human discourse: where does Kanzi's "bad surprise" come from?. In La Linguistique fonctionnelle au tournant du sie, Claude Tatilon et Alain Baudot, (eds). Toronto: Eitions du GREF.
Benson, J.D., Greaves, W.S., Iwamoto, K., Lukas, J., & Savage-Rumbaugh, S.(2002). Stratal analysis of a fragment of human-bonobo discourse. In La Linguistique fonctionnelle au tournant du sie, Claude Tatilon et Alain Baudot, (eds).  Toronto: Eitions du GREF.
Benson, J.D., Greaves, W.S., O'Donnell, M., & Thiabault, P. (2002). Evidence for symbolic language processing in a bonobo (Pan paniscus). Journal of Consciousness Studies, 9,12, pp. 33-56.
Benson, J.D., Fries, P.H., Greaves, W.S., Iwamoto, K., Savage-Rumbaugh, S.,& Taglilatela, J. (2002). Confrontation and support in bonobo-human discourse. Functions of Language, 9.1, 1-38.
Taglilatela, J. P., Benson, J.D., Greaves, W.S., Rumbaugh, D., & Savage-Rumbaugh, S. (in press). Language, apes, and meaning-making. (in press). In Language Development: Functional Perspectives in Evolution and Ontogenesis. G. Williams and A. Lukin (eds.). London: Continuum.


Robin Fawcett,

Computational Linguistics Unit, Centre for Language and Communication Research, School of English, Communication and Philosophy (ENCAP), Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3XB, UK;


The semantic systems for ‘theme’ in English

In the 1960s Halliday made a number of innovative proposals about the concept of theme which have been highly influential - both within Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and on functional approaches to language in general.  These proposals have only changed in minor respects in Halliday 1985 & 1994, and scholars - including many working in SFL - have increasingly pointed out various shortcomings.  The present paper provides an alternative SFL approach to ÔthemeÕ in English that is both comprehensive and pragmatic - and that resolves these problems.  My starting assumption is that thematic meanings are meanings between which a user of a language chooses, just as we choose between meanings of transitivity, mood and so on.  While the focus is on the system networks for the various types of theme, I adopt an explicitly trinocular approach. That is, in deciding how the system networks for the various types of theme should be, I draw on evidence that is (1) from above (the discourse purposes that the various thematic constructions may serve); (2) at its own level (the relations of the various systems of choices in thematic meanings to each other and to other systems, especially those in transitivity); and (3) from below (the functional syntax that realizes the thematic choices).  This fresh and explicitly functional approach leads us to recognize seven or eight distinct types of theme (depending on how we count them), together with several minor variants.  The systems for the major types are summarized in one diagram (Figure 2).  These include new syntactic and semantic analyses of the structures known in formal grammars as cleft, pseudo-cleft, extraposition and left-dislocation.  Indeed, this new framework provides for five types of theme (some quite frequent, some very rare) that are not covered in either Halliday 1994 or Matthiessen 1995.  The trinocular approach is reflected in the fact that each section on a type of theme has sub-sections entitled form and meaning and discourse purposes.  The paper also contains supplementary sections on (a) why we should not treat elements of the clause that always occur early - such as and and because -- as types of theme; (b) some apparently borderline cases of theme in reporting clauses; and (c) the fact that (unmarked) Subject Themes are frequently covert - and that they need to be shown in the analysis.  Taking this position has major consequences when analyzing texts, especially in the so-called pro-drop languages such as Spanish.  I provide full analyses of the functional syntax of the key examples throughout, and I also analyze selected examples at the level of meaning.   The picture of the discourse purposes served by the various types of theme is less complete, but I describe work in the COMMUNAL Project that models higher decision-making that affects what is required in the corresponding semantic system networks for theme.  By the end of this paper it will be clear that the various types of theme recognized in this comprehensive treatment cover a very wide range of meanings, and that they serve an even wider range of purposes in discourse - so raising the question of whether there is a singe, unified concept of theme.


Guowen HUANG

School of Foreign Languages, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China


A Functional Analysis of Translated Poems (from Chinese to English)

Translation is a new discipline which needs to draw on findings and theories of other related disciplines in order to develop and formalize its own methods of study.  It is widely accepted that linguistics has a great deal to offer to the budding discipline of translation studies as linguistics is a discipline which studies language both in its own right and as a tool for generating meanings. This is particularly true of modern linguistics, which no longer restricts itself to the study of language as a system of structures, but rather relates to the world around and to other disciplines as well as to the communicative functions of the language. In this paper, we will demonstrate how Systemic Functional Linguistics can be applied to the analysis of translated (English) versions of ancient Chinese poems, especially Tang poems.  The aim of this exercise is to show how a Systemic Functional analysis can help us to understand and evaluate the English versions of ancient Chinese poems.  This study is involved with both discourse analysis and contrastive studies of English and Chinese.  We will first review some basic concepts of Systemic Functional Linguistics, and then explore important aspects of studies in terms of the evaluation of translated texts, and we will finally discuss implications for the present study.



Jim Martin

University of Sydney, Australia


Fine tuning: theoretical delicacies in SFL

Although introduced as a fundamental theoretical parameter in Halliday 1961, delicacy remains a relatively underexplored dimension of systemic theory (compared with the work on say realisation, instantiation or rank).

In this paper I'll explore delicacy in relation to four dimensions of analysis:

i. axis  the relation of delicacy in system to delicacy in structure as far as functional labelling is concerned;

ii. stratification  the relation of delicacy to stratal boundaries, and implications for modelling grammatical metaphor;

iii. instantiation  the relation of delicacy to field specificity as far as lexis as delicate grammar is concerned; and

iv. metafunction  the relation of delicacy to typological and topological profiles of gradable and categorical meaning.

My feeling is that delicacy can be made to work harder than it has in SFL by way of fine tuning the flexitheory to complementary tasks.



Bernard Mohan

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada


Social Practices in a multilingual, multicultural learning organisation

There has recently been increased interest in studying social practices as units of meaning and action which can be analysed through the ecology of discourses that construct and maintain them. In effect, this approach draws together aspects of discourse analysis and aspects of ethnographic and qualitative research in a dynamic convergence. This paper will data from a study of a group of social practices (e.g. cooperative learning, tutoring) conducted by a group of bilingual, bicultural researchers over a number of years of immigrant ESL learners in a high school in Western Canada. Following Senge it will regard the school as a learning organisation (i.e. an organisation that learns), drawing the implication that learning in the organisation typically involves reflections on social practices, which become a further element in the discourse ecology.  It will be shown how such organisations can thus be fruitfully portrayed in discourse terms. Additionally it will be  shown how a social practice perspective has special advantages in  revealing significant aspects of multilingual, multilcultural contexts. Significant implications will be discussed for language learning, culture learning, language socialisation, and developments in  societies which are multilingual and multicultural.



Chris Nesbitt

Faculty of Education, Univ. of Technology, Sydney.

Christian Matthiessen

David Butt


(Research Team: Helen de Silva Joyce [NSW AMES]; Chris Cleirigh, Annabelle Lukin, Chris Nesbitt, Diana Slade [Centre for Language & Literacy, UTS]; David Butt, Christian Matthiessen, Canzhong Wu [Centre for Language in Social Life, Macquarie University])
Welcome to Pizza Hut: a cross-stratal analysis
This paper will report on the progress of an ARC Linkage Project titled “Modelling the Melody of Human Speech”.  This project is part of a long-term research effort by the teams at University of Technology, Sydney, and Macquarie University to describe and model the interpersonal resources of spoken English across strata — from context (tenor) to phonetics (pitch movement, etc.).

The focus of the the project is to develop a more detailed and richer account of the TONE system of Australian English and its phonetic, lexicogrammatical, semantic and contextual correlates, through the analysis of a corpus of service encounters. Our methodology is aimed at developing our understanding of the phonological resources of tone in relation to meaning. We are therefore working towards cross-stratal correlations involving phonological features of tone, lexicogrammatical features of mood and assessment, semantic features of speech function, and contextual features of tenor. The project offers the opportunity to develop the first fully cross-stratal profile of a register in English.



David Rose

University of Sydney, Australia


Narrative and the Origins of Discourse

This paper takes an evolutionary perspective on discourse, by contrasting discourse strategies across diverse language families, including Pitjantjatjara (Australian), Tagalog (Austronesian), Chinese (Sino-Tibetan), Telugu (Dravidian), Gaelic (Indo-European) and Oko (Niger-Kordofanian).  Discourse systems are illustrated in traditional narratives, a common genre across languages that displays complex strategies for representing sequences of events, introducing and keeping track of participants, and organising information in each step.  Two sets of questions are addressed: firstly how discourse functions shape the diverse grammatical patterns through which discourse is realised; and secondly to what extent discourse strategies have evolved independently in each language clade, or descended from common ancestral systems.  This study builds on discourse and contrastive work by the folllowing authors:


Caffarel, A., Martin, J.R. & Matthiessen, C.M.I.M., eds. 2003. Language Typology: a functional perspective. Amsterdam: Benjamins

Martin, J.R. & Rose, D. 2003. Working with Discourse: meaning beyond the clause. London: Continuum

Rose D. 2001a. The Western Desert Code: an Australian cryptogrammar. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics

Rose D. 2001b. Some Variations in Theme Across Languages. In Functions of Language  8.1, 109-45

Rose D. in press. Emergent Meanings: expanding potential for interaction and representation in the evolution of language. In Evolutionary Anthroplogy, 30pp



Erich Steiner

University of Saarland, Saarbrücken, Germany


Systemic contrast vs. instantial contrast - and translation as a way of negotiating them?

We shall start with an introduction, in which the key notions of system, instance, contrast, and translation are revisited and their specific contours outlined in a Systemic Functional context. We shall then focus on systemic contrast, attempting to clarify typical SFL-approaches to that area in comparison to more structure oriented approaches. Our goal here will be to show more precisely what an SFL-approach has to add or change relative to these other approaches. The specifics of this contribution may turn out to be more in the method, than in the object of study.

We shall then move on to instantial contrast, once more attempting to bring out the specifics of SFL-methodology. Among other claims, we shall suggest that whereas there is a very respectable tradition of structure-oriented work on contrast between languages (i.e. language systems), there is relatively little on contrasts in the instance. In this area, then, both object and method of research are relatively little explored fields. Furthermore, it will be seen that instantial contrasts present the source of the dynamics of language, as in language change.

Finally, we shall turn to the question of whether translation is a way of negotiating contrasts in the sense above. Our first claim will be that contrast by itself is less than (philosophically) contradiction, but more than difference. In other words, contrast in the system by itself probably does not cause change, but, especially through its realization in the instance, is more than simply a “variant”. We shall first consider some recent work on contrast investigating translations and other forms of “multilingual” texts. Our primary aim will be to raise the question of whether contrasts observed there are possible causes of change. Our secondary aim will be an elucidation of the notion of “negotiating”, which is quite frequently used in postmodernist and also SFL-usage, with the aim of finding out whether it can be given a sufficiently clear definition in order to make it into more than a vague metaphor.



Damodar Thakur



The Language of Mysticism: A Linguistic Study
Mysticism for this paper has been defined as the supra-logical, supra-rational, and supra-sensuous  cognition of reality and this paper is intended to verify the hypothesis that the variety of language used by mystics all over the world has certain features on the basis of which it can be distinguished from other well-known varieties. The sample texts studied for this purpose included extracts from the Vedas including Upanishads, and from the writings of mystics like Plotinus, Meister Eckhart, Lao-tzu, Zen Buddhists, and Sufis like Jalaluddin Rumi. The study revealed the following:
(i) The communicative act that operates like the nerve centre of this language variety is the act of description. Other communicative acts like exclamations and narrating a sequence of events (as in a parable) do occur at times but only as variants of the central act of description.
(ii) In other language varieties, description is mostly in terms of what an object is like, but in mystic texts, Reality is often described in terms of what it is not. This results in a profuse use of negatives.
(iii) In other varieties of language, contrariety and contradiction  occur only rarely, if at all, but these are some of the distinguishing features of the language of mysticism.
(iv)Though this variety of language is characterised primarily by its unique semantic constructs (like negativity and contradiction) for structuring reality, it can be described in terms of certain lexical and syntactic features as well.
(v) It is characterised not by features (like alliteration, consonance, assonance and pun) which are lost in translation but by features which cut across language barriers and can be described as mystic universals.

(vi) Some of the features characteristic of the language of mysticism are not confined to the writings of poets and hermits traditionally recognized as mystics; they can also be found in the later writings of some twentieth century scientists like Einstein, Oppenheimer, Max Planck and Schroedinger.



Gordon Tucker

Centre for Language and Communication, Cardiff University, UK


Comprehensive Lexicogrammar

Systemic functional grammars, through their system networks and realisation rules, have traditionally focused on the generation and description of ‘regular’ linguistic expressions such as clauses.

There is, however, especially in spoken language, a considerable number of linguistic expressions, that are considered to be either on the periphery of lexicogrammar or outside of the domain of  lexicogrammar proper. Such expressions include single word utterances, as in greetings and valedictions, conversational formulae, fixed and semi-fixed expressions and idioms.

In this paper, I explore the possibility of ‘reining in’ as much of this linguistic material and locating it within a ‘comprehensive’ lexicogrammatical description. Amongst other things, this involves extending the domain of the lexicogrammar, accounting for ‘non-clausal’ expressions and establishing a more systematic and systemic relationship between their meanings and realisations. I will propose, by way of exemplification, new system networks, realisation rules and structural descriptions  for a range of these phenomena.



Canzhong Wu

Linguistics Department, Macquarie University, Australia


Exploring language through SysConc

A concordance program is designed to facilitate the intensive study of  linguistic phenomena in a natural and authentic context. It allows the user to search for a search item in a corpus, investigating word frequencies, collocations and morphological characteristics. However, most concordance programs are very constrained with respect to the kinds of analyses they can do, the type of output they can give, and even the size of the corpus they can process, making many linguistic research questions difficult to address. SysConc is a new concordance program, and is designed to overcome these constraints, and provide the user with a totally new experience in exploring language through corpus.

Apart from general features found in other concordance programs, SysConc has several unique features: 1) it is truly multilingual and platform independent; 2) it supports search in any number of files, and the results can be represented in different formats; 3) search criteria can be a single item, or multiple items, or items defined in terms of feature; it can also be based on regular expressions; 4) search results can be annotated according to the categories defined by the user.

In this paper, I intend to demonstrate the functionality of SysConc, and exemplify how SysConc may help (systemic) linguists in doing research.



Geoff Williams

Department of English, University of Sydney and The Centre for Language in Social Life, Macquarie University, Australia


Grammatics in the Ontogenesis of Literacy

The central proposition of this paper is that young children’s ability to use grammatics to reason about meaning construction is much greater than has often been recognised, particularly in English-based education systems. The proposition is argued on the basis of outcomes of research with children aged from six to twelve years in Sydney schools over the last decade.  I will suggest that pedagogic anxiety to use ‘grammar’ primarily to raise literacy standards has seriously restricted expectations of children’s achievement.  More positively, a different pedagogy can provide children with significant intellectual ‘tools’ (in Vygotsky and Luria’s sense) with which to explore language use.

Central to views about children’s abilities to learn and use grammatics is the question of what aspects of description are pedagogically ‘basic’, in the sense of the elements which must be taught first.  It is often assumed that word classes (‘parts of speech’) must be both pedagogically and descriptively basic. However, in this research we have found it useful to begin systematic instruction with systemic functional linguistic concepts, particularly processes and their associated participants, and Theme and Rheme.  This approach has enabled us to build, for children, specific and highly visible relations between social activity, register and grammatical features.   These features are then progressively recontextualised across registers to construct abstract understanding of their functionality. In this paper I will exemplify the approach through a discussion of children’s development of the concepts Theme and Rheme.

The paper will attempt to theorise elements of this approach by reconsidering Halliday’s (2002 [1984]) discussion of the ineffability of grammatical categories, using two perspectives on Token/Value relations.  One of these perspectives is well-recognised in pedagogy: the paper proposes that both are necessary in the ontogenesis of a genuinely functional grammatics.