Robin P. Fawcett
Centre for Language and Communication Research
University of Wales, Cardiff, UK


Strand: lexicogrammar English

Title: The nominal group in English: reasons for a revised systemic functional approach

The description of the English nominal group (ngp) in Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar (1985/94) - and so in the now numerous excellent 'introductions to the introduction' that are now on the market - is very much less comprehensive than the description of the clause. Matthiessen (1995) provides a useful and rather fuller discussion of the functional structure, adding many of the relevant system networks. In some respects he extends Halliday's account, but there are still many constructions that occur regularly in texts for which it is hard to provide a principled, functional framework to be outlined here.

The use of the term 'Sydney Grammar' reflects Michael Halliday's helpful suggestion that we should see the variations within the family of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) as different 'dialects' of one 'language'. So we can speak of 'the Sydney dialect' of SFL, the 'Cardiff dialect', the 'Nottingham dialect', the 'Madrid dialect', etc.) By the 'Sydney Grammar', then, I mean the model of lexicogrammar set out in Halliday (1985/94) and Matthiessen (1995), and reflected in the many 'spin-off' publications.

Some of the recent publications in the systemic functional literature have included ideas first presented in my earlier work on the English nominal group (Fawcett 1974-6 and 1980, summarized in Butler 1985). The most important of these concepts was that of 'selection' , e.g. as expressed in the word of in 'several of her children' and 'a very large number of this country's children'. This concept is given quite a prominent position in the account of the ngp found in the Madrid Grammar (Module 47 of Downing and Locke 1992). And Matthiessen (1995:655), introduces the concept to Sydney Grammar, generously acknowledging my work as the source of the concept. Yet he appears not to accept its full implications, introducing it only to account for what he terms 'facet' relations (i.e. where a new ngp is introduced, as in 'a picture of the house'). Halliday (1994:195-6) also uses the term 'facet', but in a sense limited to what we shall here treat as 'partitive' selection. (So unlike Matthiessen, Halliday does not treat 'quantifying' expressions such as a pack in a pack of cards as 'facet'.) Matthiessen, than, is here extending the concept of 'facet' to include very many types of selection - including, it is clear from his Table 7-10 (p.657) types which we shall here distinguish as separate functional elements (the 'representational', 'typic', quantifying', and 'partitive' determiners). However, Matthiessen has adopted the concept of selection only for the 'problem cases', while keeping to Halliday's earlier analysis for the supposedly simpler ones. Yet, if we SFL grammarians are to be true to our functional principles, WE SHOULD APPLY THE PRINCIPLE OF SELECTION TO ALL CASES - irrespective of whether the 'selecting' element is expounded by a single word or by a group. A related problem is that neither scholar provides for more than one such case to occur in a single nominal group - and yet such cases occur quite regularly.

In this paper I shall show why that 'selection' in one of the fundamental organizing principles of the English ngp. I shall present numerous examples of high-frequency constructions in which the concept helps to provide an insightful functional account of the meaning of a ngp, drawing on material from my forthcoming Handbook for the Analysis of Sentences in English Text (2 volumes). I shall introduce the NINE TYPES OF DETERMINER that we currently recognize in the Cardiff Grammar - and possible a tenth that we are currently considering and on which your views would be welcome - and I shall summarize the principle ways in which the Sydney and Cardiff accounts of the ngp currently differ.

The paper will concentrate on the functional structure of the nominal group - and on the potentially many embedded units within it - rather than on the system networks from which nominal groups are generated. In this way it will be possible to present within a single talk an overall outline which listeners can take away and try out for themselves, e.g. in text analysis or syllabus design. The handouts will include a sheet that summarises the 'structure potential' of the English ngp, with examples, which will help in understanding and analysing the structure of many regularly occurring but little discussed cases that occur in real-life texts (including cases such as one of his children, the youngest of his children, one of the youngest of his children, a picture of a group of the youngest of those children, etc).

To summarise. The Cardiff Grammar grew out of the work of Halliday and others in the 1970s, supplemented where appropriate by later writings. Some Cardiff Grammar concepts have already been introduced to the Sydney and Madrid Grammars, and I shall show here why those working in those frameworks might find it useful to incorporate more of the Cardiff Grammar's approach to the English ngp. Alternatively, if you find the Cardiff Grammar helpful on these matters, you might wish to consider trying it out for the ngp as a whole - or, when the Handbook appears, to functional syntax as a whole.