About eflfunc

I'm an EFL teacher in Japan and this is a blog to record some thoughts on using Systemic Functional Linguistics in the foreign language classroom.

Appraisal (Overview)

Here are two sentences:

Luton Town nearly won.

Luton Town were on the verge of what would’ve been a giant-killing act.

In terms of the meaning, the two seem to be the same. Yet there is some fundamental difference between them. The first sentence is merely describing the action, a factual statement, while the second is adding something of our opinion of the event. The second sentence comes from a Guardian newspaper sports report. The sports “report” is a bit of a misnomer really as we generally already know the result. It actually functions to evaluate various aspects of the the game: Was it exciting? Did the better team win? How were the players? As such, it uses a lot of language to provide the writer’s opinion. According to Martin & White, we can call this the ‘language of evaluation’, or appraisal.

Appraisal can be looked at from three perspectives. The first of these is what is termed ENGAGEMENT. As I said above, we can make a fundamental distinction in language between facts and opinion. We present some piece of information as either an agreed-upon fact of the world, a monogloss, or open to interpretation from different points of view, a heterogloss. Martin & White give the example of the difference between the following:

Francis Bacon was the author of The Tempest. (monogloss)

They say Francis Bacon was the author of The Tempest. (heterogloss)

It is important to remember that a monogloss is not necessarily true but is being presented as such while heterogloss can be used to cast doubts upon something, for example President Trump’s comments on global warming casting doubt on the scientific consensus  (“But I don’t know that it’s man-made”) while presenting an alternate hypothesis as fact (“Something’s changing and it’ll change back again”).

The second perspective is our ATTITUDE towards something, which itself can be expressed in two ways. Firstly, we can give an emotional response to something, in what can be termed AFFECT. This can be done in one of three ways: Mental Processes (e.g. I love Liverpool FC), nouns (e.g. My passion is for Liverpoool FC) or adjectives (e.g. Liverpool FC is great!). Secondly we can make a distinction between human or non-human participants. For human entities, we can pass JUDGEMENT in terms of positive or negative behaviors or attributes, while for non-human entities we can pass APPRECIATION. For example, this headline has an example of both:

  • He is proof god exists (JUDGEMENT)
  • Messi Fans Respond…After Ridiculous Freekick Goal (APPRECIATION)

The third perspective of Appraisal is GRADATION, whereby we can make our opinions toward something stronger or softer through FORCE and sharper or softer through FOCUS. For example, in sports reporting we might want to compare a team that wins 6-0 easily against one that struggles to win 1-0, as in an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper that talks about “thumping wins” (FORCE:raise) and “not so pretty ones” (FORCE:lower). Additionally, we might want to consider something in terms of how it conforms to our notions of class membership, for example the same Guardian opinion piece characterizes Eddie McGuire’s apology as a “qualified apology ” (FOCUS:soft) and the “acute embarrassment” (FOCUS:sharpen) his comments brought to the AFL. 

The system of Appraisal can thus be represented as:

Appraisal Network

This is not to say that it is one or the other, as there is often overlap between them and one item can simultaneously function in different ways. For example the phrase ” a giant-killing act” could be analysed as:

  • ATTITUDE: positive appreciation
  • GRADATION: raised force

As ever, please look here for a clearer explanation!

References:

J. R. Martin and P. R. R. White (2005) The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Palgrave, London.

The Appraisal Website

Task and Culture

At our college, we have a lot of international students – around half the students are from (East, South-East, Central & South) Asian countries other than Japan – which, of course, creates its own challenges of navigating a multi-cultural classroom. One of the biggest problems has to do with tasks and ‘games’ or speaking activities.

From talking to many students it’s clear that there are a lot of cultural differences that do affect activities in the classroom. The common Pelmanism, or card matching game, for instance. In Japan there is a similar game (called カルタ karuta) which is a traditional game played at New Year. However, students from sub-continent Nepal or Bangladesh have never seen it and consequently, of course, don’t know how to play, the rules or goals. Additionally, many Vietnamese students know of the game but for them games are not played in an educational setting so they do not see the activity as a ‘learning’ one. As such, they do not take the task seriously and often either fail to complete the task or complete it perfunctorily.

I am interested, however, as to how this affects task-based language learning (TBLL) and assessment. One of the key criteria by which TBLL is assessed is by task completion (see Ellis, 2003). Yet, if the very nature of the task itself is culturally-biased then these students are not, in fact, being assessed on their language abilities but on how well they have been acculturated to the demands of that particular task or how well they can perform as if they have been for the assessor. Either way, they would naturally be at a disadvantage compared to a candidate already familiar with the cultural expectations of the task.

 

References:

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press

 

Textual Theme

Here is a quote from dprview comparing two cameras:

In most circumstances the Z7’s image quality will be remarkably similar to that of the D850. However, it’s not quite fair to say it’s the same.

We can see that it is comprised of two marked clauses, both beginning with the Themes underlined. The first clause is a marked topical Theme with a prepositional phrase, but the Theme of the second clause, ‘however’, serves to link the two clauses together. This is called a textual Theme.

Textual Themes are made up of:

  • Continuatives (e.g., umm, yeah,)
  • Conjunctions, either paratactic (‘linking’ e.g., and, or, but, …) or hypotactic (‘binding’ e.g. when, while, if, because, …)
  • Conjunctive adjuncts, which are adverbial groups or prepositional phrases that link one part of discourse to another (e.g. in other words, actually, as a result, …).

(See SFG Page for more and better info).

Interpersonal Theme

This is an exchange from the TV show ‘Friends’ (Season 1, Episode 4) between the characters Monica and Joey:

Monica: Hey, Joey, what would you do if you were omnipotent?

Joey: Probably kill myself!

Here we can see that certain elements of the conversation have been foregrounded reflecting the personal nature of the conversation. These are called the interpersonal Theme, and include:

  • Vocatives: “Joey”
  • Modal adjuncts: “Probably”
  • Wh- questions: “what”
  • Finite operators, like modals.

 

Topical Theme

Here is a sentence from the Wikipedia page for Japanese writing:

The modern Japanese writing system uses a combination of logographic kanji and syllabic kana

The part highlighted in bold is called the ideational, or topical, theme. These show the main topic, or what the sentence is about. Sometimes, sentences do not begin with the grammatical subject of the sentence. The topical theme can also be a prepositional phrase:

In modern Japanese, the hiragana and katakana syllabaries each contain 46 basic characters;

an adverb of time:

Even today Japanese high schools teach kanbun as part of the curriculum;

or subordinate clause:

when used as a suffix meaning “try out”, the whole verb is typically written in hiragana.

All clauses, however, must have at least one topical theme.

 

Theme & Rheme

The Theme of the clause is:

the element that serves as the point of departure of the message.

It is the Theme that helps us organise the clause as a message. Everything else is the Rheme. In English, the Theme is the first part of the clause, such as this example from H&M (p.90):

The duke

has given my aunt that teapot.

Theme

Rheme

The Theme can be identified as:

the first group or phrase that has some function in the experiential structure of the clause, i.e. that functions as a participant, a circumstance or the process

(H&M,p.90)

These are called topical Themes. Whatever follows the topical Theme is the Rheme.

Where

shall I put the pot?

Put

the pot on the table.

I

put the pot on the table.

On the table

I put the pot.

Did you

put it there?

Let’s

leave the pot there.

Theme

Rheme

More correctly though, the topical Theme marks the end of the Theme. It might also be the case that there are other elements that come before the topical Theme. We might want to foreground our opinions or feelings about the topic, in which case we might use an interpersonal Theme, or we might want to link to some other message, and so use a textual Theme. This cartoon from Footrot Flats is a good example of an extended multiple Theme:

Related image

NO = Textual Theme

REALLY = Interpersonal Theme (modal adjunct)

HORSE = Interpersonal Theme (vocative)

THIS LITTLE GUY = Topical Theme

Now that we can identify a topical Theme, the next element is the Rheme:

IS MY COUSIN MIGUEL FROM CHIHUAHUA = Rheme

In extended longer text, the Theme also enables us to repackage discourse as a message. We can see this in the author bio for Murray Ball, where the preceding passage is repackaged into the following Theme (underlined):

…for a while it seemed that his cartoons would serve only to agitate – All this changed in the mid-1970s

Transitivity

TRANSITIVITY, along with MOOD and THEME, is one of the three “principal systems of the clause” (H&M, p.10) which the the central unit of lexico-grammar. The world around us is constantly changing and in flux. Think about the action in a game:

Image result for viv richards hitting a cricket ball

We can represent this picture is several different ways. The batter is Viv Richards, he is hitting the ball for six, or he is out. The system of TRANSITIVITY allows us to represent the world as this constant flow of experience, who does what to whom under what circumstances, and construe this experience as “a quantum of change in the flow of events as a figure” (H&M, p.213). There are three elements to the system of TRANSITIVITY as a figure:

Transitivity structures express representational meaning: what the
clause is about, which is typically some process, with associated participants
and circumstances (H&M, p.361)

We can thus represent the picture above as being composed of these three elements, centered around the Process:

Transitivity1

For EFL, viewing the clause from the perspective of TRANSITIVITY is particularly useful in highlight the differences between phrases that may appear the same to  a learner. For example, consider the two sentences:

  1. I looked up the building
  2. I looked up the building

While they have the same words, there are fundamental differences between them which can be explained through the transitivity. In sentence 1., the Process ‘looked up’ refers to searching on, for example, Google Maps, while the second refers to physically looking:

1.

I

looked up the building
Participant Process

Participant

2.

I

looked up the building
Participant Process

Circumstance

It can also highlight the differences between Participants and Circumstances, for example:

1.

He

is hitting the ball for six

Participant

Process Participant

Circumstance

2.

He

is hitting the ball for the West Indies
Participant Process Participant

Participant

 

 

Generic Structure Potential (GSP)

When you go to buy something in a convenience store you can be reasonably certain of what’s going to happen in that situation. First, you’ll walk in and you might say ‘hello’. Then you’ll ask for some batteries and then pay. We can guess this sequence due to our previous experience with these kinds of situations and the fact that they are nearly always the same. Some parts may change (you might not say hello) but you always have to pay.

Within certain recurring sets of texts then, coherence of structure is formed through obligatory and optional elements, the totality of which forms the Generic Structure Potential (GSP) (Halliday & Hasan, 1985) for that set. For example, the GSP for ‘service encounters‘, is:

GSP

In other words, there are certain obligatory elements that characterize the genre, in this case the ‘Sale’, ‘Purchase’ and ‘Purchase Closure’, and other optional ones that add elaboration but are not necessary. There is thus a ‘structure’ to social interactions. We can call it ‘Potential’ because it has a predictive quality that allows us to navigate these social situations almost unconsciously.

Cohesion

For SFL, a text can be defined as “a unit of language in use” (Halliday & Hasan, 1976, p. 1) and is distinguished from non-text by the two-fold concept of unity: unity of structure and unity of texture (Halliday & Hasan, 1985). This can also be termed as coherence and cohesion.

Cohesion is concerned with how the text ties together internally and is formed when one element of a text is dependent for its interpretation on another (Halliday & Hasan, 1976). Without it the surface features of a text may not relate to each other and it is thus central to the way in which text is produced and comprehended. According to Halliday & Hasan (1976), cohesion can be divided into grammatical and lexical cohesion.

Grammatical cohesion consists of:

  • cohesion between messages, or the system of CONJUNCTION (e.g. but, so)
  • cohesion in meaning, or REFERENCE (e.g. he, she, this)
  • cohesion in wording, which consists of ELLIPSIS (e.g. Yes, I am [O]) and SUBSTITUTION (e.g. one, some, no)

Lexical cohesion also consists of three parts:

  • elaborating which may also be divided into:
    • identity, which consists of REPETITION (e.g. bear – bear) and SYNONYMY (e.g. sound – noise)
    • attribution, or HYPONOMY (e.g. tree – oak)
  • extending, or MERONYMY (e.g. tree – trunk)
  • enhancing, or COLLOCATION (e.g. smoke – fire)

 

Here are some examples with the cohesion underlined.

Conjunction

John walked to town, because he wanted some fried chicken.

Reference

John lives near the park. He often goes there.

Types of reference

  1. Exophoric – refers to outside the text

John borrowed some money from me.

     2. Endophoric – refers to within the text

           a. Anaphoric – refers back to previous text

I saw John. I asked him for the money.

           b. Cataphoric – refers forward to text

This will surprise you. He paid me back!

Ellipsis

Most of the students had an ice-cream but Eva didn’t have an ice-cream.

Substitution

John loves fried chicken. He has some every day.

Repetition

John ran to the shop and then he ran home.

Synonymy / Hyponomy / Meronymy

      Eva walked to town and strolled around the park.

      She looked up at the autumn trees. The oaks had a beautiful colour.

She climbed up a tree and sat on the branch.

Collocation

It was hot. John was sweating.

 

Here is an example of cohesion in a sports text:

スクリーンショット 2015-03-24 19.17.48

References:

Halliday, M., & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English: Longman.

Halliday, M., & Hasan, R. (1985). Language, context, and text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective: Deakin University Press.