Topics in SFL: Studies in the Arabic Language


There is a very rich and extensive SFL description of Arabic in a PhD thesis by Mohamed Ali Bardi (, completed 2008. Title: "A Systemic Functional Description of the Grammar of Arabic". The work was carried under Christian Matthiessen's supervision at Macquarie Univeristy. The description includes all the three metafunctions (THEME, MOOD, TRANSITIVITY).

Abstract: here.


Ashraf Fattah has recently completed a Ph.D. at the University of Westminster in London. Embedded in a systemic functional framework, his PhD research was a study of one of the translation-specific features of Arabic translations, namely explicitation. Among other things, it reveals a tendency of explicitation features to cluster in various metafunctional environments, with the overall effect of reducing vagueness or complexity, avoiding ambiguity, and enhancing comprehensibility. It also analyses conjunction, clause-complexing (including shifts in taxis and nesting), embedded expansion, internal (circumstantial) augmentation and de-metaphorization shifts in Arabic translation.

Abstract: here.

Added 2011 by Ashraf Abdul Fattah: In this corpus-based study, you will find an introductory section on clause types and functional elements in the clause from a systemic functional perspective, including the use of Interpersonal Adjuncts (Mood and Comment) as a grammatical environment, not necessarily the most common one, for the realization of modal assessment (Section

Other grammatical means for realizing modality are also highlighted with interesting examples from the corpus (e.g. metaphorical realization of modality and the use of modalized embedded nominal clauses), with variations in the value and orientation of modality. The intention behind this fairly cursory, yet revealing, introduction, was largely to set the scene for the ensuing chapters dealing with the main subject of the study, namely clause complexing and conjunctive explicitation in Arabic translated and non-translated texts written by the same authors. Some emphatic modal constructions (including explicitly objective constructions) were incidentally found to be markedly more common in the translated texts (Section 6.3 Reinforcement).

Contact me for a copy of the thesis:

From around 2000:

Talaat Pasha is doing my research at Utah University ( USA):

I am now preparing for a proposal for my Ph.D thesis. I am interested in how language is used to affect people's ideology - particularly in the political discourse and media in general.

I want to analyze two corpuses of texts from Arabic and English newspapers dealing with same events and see how the same event is represented differently on the lexicogrammatical system ( transitivity, theme and thematic progression).

ALL of the following are all from 1996:

Christian Matthiessen: As far as I know, there isn't really much systemic work on Arabic. Professor Y. Aziz has presented some work, e.g. on Theme -- but that was in the 1980s, before the Gulf War (he used to be in Iraq; I think he might have moved now).

Aziz, Yowell Y. 1988. “Cohesion in spoken Arabic text.” In Erich H. Steiner and Robert Veltman (ed.), Pragmatics, discourse and text: explorations in Systemic Semantics. London: Frances Pinter. 148-157.

I studied Arabic back in Sweden and know a bit about the grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (the contemporary version of Classical Arabic), so I might be able to give some helpful pointers. There are also of course general typological issues where I might be able to help a little and strategies for moving into a new language (since I have had experience in one way or another with Akan, Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Vietnamese etc.).

Arabic would be very interesting indeed to model systemically, so I would certainly encourage the student. One of the challenges will obviously be one of complexity management -- of finding functionally motivated ways of staging the development of the account so that the complexity doesn't become overwhelming. (For instance, the grammar of word rank [morphology] is an interesting area of Arabic, with challenging features (and for a systemic-like treatment of morphology, Dick Hudson's work on Beja would be a helpful reference), but it might be easier to delay the modelling of this.)

Chris Cleirigh: there is a paper in paul tench (ed) studies in systemic phonology by Djafar Eddaikra & Paul Tench called the pharyngealisation system in algerian spoken arabic. though it's not grammar, it may be a place to start.

Dr Djafar Eddaikra is at Departement d'Anglais, Institut des Langues Etrangeres, University of Blida, Blida, Algeria;

Dr Paul Tench: Centre of Applied English Language Studies, University of Wales, College of Cardiff, PO Box 94, Cardiff CF1 3XE, Wales.

Bill Greaves: Try Afaf El-Menoufy at Cairo University. She works in English, but should know of Arabic people. She was one of Michael Halliday's first Ph.D.'s.

Rob Veltman: Jim Martin, I think, has an interesting element in 'The meaning of features in systemic linguistics', in which he draws attention to the paradigmatic, featural orientation of SL (as opposed to the linear one of structural traditions) via an analysis of the Hebrew verb paradigm. It is possible to reinterpret the diagram and associated paradigm in terms of Arabic. Source Halliday & Fawcett ed. (1987).

Also, in Steiner & Veltman eds. (1988) there is a contribution by Yowell Aziz (pp.148-157) 'Cohesion in spoken Arabic texts'. Yowell was at the time at Mosul University, Iraq and maybe someone for your student to contact.

Michael Hall: I am an MA (Applied Linguistics) student at Melbourne University, and an ESL/LOTE teacher (Arabic and Spanish). I am currently writing up a description of Transitivity in Arabic, part or all of which I intend to submit as an MA thesis in 6 months time. If I can find enough interested people (even 3 or 4 would do for a start) I would like to help establish some kind of Arabic Systemics network or association. I'm sure the people are out there - there are over 220 million Arabic speakers in the world, many of whom study linguistics - but the difficulty is in establishing contacts. It seems that the Arab universities are not yet well integrated into the E-mail/Internet system (I've only just connected myself). Anyway, I would be happy for any future enquiries regarding Arabic to be directed to me. I have established a mailing list and bibliography of SFL-related publications and research and look forward to the establishment of an Arabic Systemics group.

Michael Suggests contacting: Linda Rashidi and Afaf Almenoufy. (He had an Arabic SFL page up and running on the Web. But its long since dissapeared.)

Martin Davies: I have been looking for the name of YOWELL AZIZ, and - as you can see! - I have now found it. He is, or was, at the University of Mosul, Iraq, and has been working on a systemic description of Arabic for some years now, giving papers on it whenever he could get to an SF congress. Anyway, the last address I have is, if you want to try, is simply Dr. Yowell Aziz, English Department, Mosul University, Iraq.