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.


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


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!


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


John loves fried chicken. He has some every day.


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.


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


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.


The Alphabet Song

Here, in Japan, there are two versions of the Alphabet Song. There’s the familiar one:

W-X-Y- and Z–,
Now I know my A,B,C,
Won’t you come and sing with me?

The version used in most Japanese schools, however, is:

Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing,
Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing.

Now I know my A,B,C,
Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing.)

This got me wondering what exactly the function of the ABC song actually is. You might think that it is obviously to teach children the alphabet but I’m not sure this is the case. If it were, then the Japanese version is much clearer and does perform, and is designed to perform, this function. Yet the original version is quite different. I personally think that the role of teaching the alphabet for the original version is, in fact, secondary. I think the primary function of the ABC song, and similar nursery rhymes, is to teach fundamental concepts of how a text is constructed – it provides a bridge between the spoken and written worlds.

Firstly the original version rhymes. Each line ends with a lengthened /i:/ sound. Textually, this introduces the concept of rhyme as a resource for cohesion across a text. Secondly, it introduces the concept of rhythm, in this case a regular trochaic (strong + weak) pattern, introducing rhythm as a resource for cohesion within a text. These two together provide some idea of generic coherence – they hold it together as a text and we can recognise it as such.

The second part of the song provides a link between the stratum of Expression and that of Content. Both the rhythm and the rhyme are the same yet it is now mapped onto the lexico-grammar. This demonstrates formally the interaction between the two stratum and how lexico-grammar is realised through Expression. Semantically it also introduces a basic clause relation of statement + suggestion (in the form of Now that…Why don’t...).

I think then that the ABC song does, in fact, do more than just teach the alphabet. It introduces the fundamental concepts of texture and textuality and the operation of the three stratum of Expression, Content and Context. The importance of songs and nursery rhymes is also well-recognised in L1 acquisition (see Guardian) and it would be interesting to see any effects on L2 acquisition. The Japanese version of the ABC song, however, is quite different.