Interpersonal modal Adjunct v Experiential Circumstance

I always do that. (Adjunct)
I do that all the time. (Circumstance)

I usually do that. (Adjunct)
I do that almost everyday. (Circumstance)

I often do that. (Adjunct)
I do that at times. (Circumstance)

I sometimes do that. (Adjunct)
I do that now and then. (Circumstance)

I rarely do that. (Adjunct)
I don’t do that much. (Circumstance)

I never do that. (Adjunct)
I don’t do that at all. (Circumstance)


Field of discourse

Here is a recipe for Lemon Risotto from

We know this is a recipe, and not say a research report, partly through the field of discourse.

Within the context of situation, field refers to:

what is happening, to the nature of the social action that is taking place: what is it that the participants are engaged in, in which language features as some essential component?

(Halliday & Hasan, 1985, p.12)

We can divide field into three areas:

1. experiential domain, or what the text is about. In the case of a recipe, it is about food and food preparation.

2. goal orientation, or what the text is for in terms of both short-term and long-term goals. The short-term goal is obviously to make the recipe but the long-term goal is, I think, a little more complicated. Why are we making this dish? For example, as some research shows, there are cultural differences between Japanese and English that affect the long-term goals of food preparation. In Japan, cooking is, to a large degree, a serious matter and the goal is to reproduce the recipe exactly as shown, as opposed to the life-style/aspirational aspect of more Western cooking. I think also there are differences in the idea of the home as a private space, as in Japan, or a more public space for entertaining, as in English. This in turn affects the last area:

3. social activity, or what the text is doing. The activity of cooking in Japan is essentially a private or family activity. There is no real equivalent of the English-speaking or European idea of entertaining in your home or the dinner party. You can see this difference most clearly when looking at portion sizes. Googling ‘lemon risotto recipe’ or ‘レモン リゾット レシピ’ brings up recipes that in English, such as the one above, nearly always serve 4-6, or more, whereas the Japanese ones are for 1-2 people.

These three areas together make up the field of discourse, which is expressed through the experiential metafunction: there are specialised lexical items, such as broth, arborio and peel as well as material Processes, like simmer and stir. To a large degree, I think we also know that the above is a recipe (and the field of discourse is recognised by) external features such as lay-out, pictures, and the fact it says ‘recipe’.

Although I think there is a lot more to it and Hasan, in particular, has gone much further into the system of field in more detail, for the purposes of EFL I’ve found discussing just these three to be useful.

Directions Game

I added a game to the Resources page that practises giving directions. I use it especially with Junior/Senior High School kids. Usually the language of commands is introducted, understandable enough, with giving directions around town (turn left at High Street). The problem, however, is that Japan doesn’t have any real street names. There is a conceptual problem as the activity doesn’t match their own schema of ‘giving directions’. I’ve found a way around this is to create a new schema of ‘game’ with a grid layout:

Student A: Where is the strawberry?

Student B: Go straight. Turn left at C. Turn right at A. Turn left at V. Go straight. It’s number 24.

The students enjoyed the ‘game’ element (I put them into teams and made it a race) and it seemed to make more sense to them.


Clause vs Sentence

The difference between a clause and a sentence can be difficult, but important. A clause basically must have a Finite whereas a sentence is just an orthographic convention beginning with a capital and ending with a full stop. Here is a text from SMH that illustrates this difference nicely:

When designing their own home, architects Sacha Zehnder and Jaya Param of Walk North Architects were reminded regularly they’d chosen ”the most difficult block” in the area.
Steep, tree-covered, 50 metres above sea level, with no road access; and, on idyllic but somewhat logistically challenging Scotland Island, in the middle of Pittwater and accessible only by boat.

Here the first part actually contains three clauses in one sentence: a mental Process (‘were reminded’) and a projected clause (‘had chosen’) plus a hypotactic ‘when’ clause. The second part, on the other hand, is a ‘sentence’, in that it begins with a capital and ends with a full stop, but is not a clause as there is no Finite element. I think the second sentence is, in fact, a kind of logico-semantic relation of enhancement giving reasons why the area is ‘difficult’ (although I guess you could also it’s elaboration – exemplifying the ‘area’).

I think a lot of EFL students might miss the logico-semantic link between the two parts if they are not familiar with the difference between ‘sentence’ and ‘clause’.


Discourse function of “How are you?”

A bit further to my post on the XKCD comic, I’ve been spending time recently in class on the discourse function of “How are you?”. While it may seem like a small and basic point I think it actually gets to the heart of what an SFL approach to teaching can bring to the classroom. Because very few students can answer the question appropriately. The most common responses I get are: “I’m tired/sleepy”, “I’m happy/hungry” (from kids), “Today is busy”, “Not good” (with no explanation) through to the always charming “I have diarrhea”. What’s going on here?

I think part of the problem is the result of a traditional approach to teaching that emphasises grammatical forms over everything else. The responses above are grammatically correct and, as one student told me, that’s what they were taught in their very first English lesson in Junior High School – focus on the verb ‘to be’. This, however, entirely misses the point of the question “How are you?”.

The question is not concerned with the Ideational content of its lexico-grammar – I’m not really concerned with the current state of your physical condition – but in fact operates at the strata above. At the context level it serves to both establish and reinforce interpersonal relationships and power structures in an indirect way. Slight variations in turn-taking, lexical, phonological selections are used for “constructing and signalling degrees of solidarity and intimacy in relationships” (Eggins & Slade, 1997:117). If we compare, for example, “Good morning. Now young lady, how are
you today?” spoken by a doctor in a consultation with “Hallo Stewie, how are you mate!” in casual conversation (both examples from BNC) we can see these differences quite clearly.

Also on a generic level the question plays an important role. Here, it functions as an opening, or way in, to the conversation. Even in a medical examination, where we might expect a focus on Ideational content, it in fact functions as an Opening stage before the Examination stage. Here is an extended conversation from the BNC:

(Doctor) Good morning, good morning.
(patient) Good morrow.
(Doctor) How are you today?
(Patient) I’m fine. How are you?
(Doctor) I’m alive. Causing trouble.
(Patient) (laugh) I suppose you’re ahead of the game if you’re alive.
(Doctor) Yes. That’s it. Now then young man, what can we do for you today?

Note here that it is the Doctor who opens the conversation and also the Doctor who makes a little joke, both of which establish the Doctor as the participant with higher power and authority yet also reinforce the (possibly) on-going nature of the Doctor-Patient relationship.

In a slightly different form, “How are you?” is also an important generic component of letters, as this example from the BNC shows:

Dear Laura, I hope you are well, we’re
all fine. Are you enjoying school?

There is a cultural difference to this. Japanese correspondence, even highly formal, will insert a digression on the weather that serves a similar opening function.


In defence of “How was your weekend?”

Recently, a (Japanese) staff member came up to me and said that a student had asked her, “Why do teachers always ask ‘How was your weekend?'”. We ended up having an interesting chat about the role of ‘casual conversation’ in English and some of the differences between this and Japanese. It also got me thinking about just why do teachers ask it and is it in fact pedagogically worthwhile. I believe it is.

  1. Authentic interaction – In many EFL contexts, the textbook holds sway. This is unavoidable due to many and varied reasons. However well written the text-book and however skillfully it is used it is still a fact that, by its very nature, it does not promote genuine interaction – the topics are out of the participants control and the language is dictated by the pedagogical aims rather than the other way around. The ‘weekend’ conversation is thus one of the few classroom contexts in which an authentic exchange of information can take place.
  2. Cultural value – The importance of ‘casual conversation’, especially story telling (see Eggins & Slade, 1997), as a genre within many English-speaking cultures is often under-valued or overlooked. ‘Casual conversation’ is, in fact, a very important genre to signal in-group identification and membership and those unfamiliar with or not competent in this genre may be missing out on an important gateway into the culture.
  3. Workplace value – Similar to the point above is that the importance of ‘casual conversation’ in the work place is often overlooked. ‘Casual conversation’ in workplace settings serves to “establish shared ways of seeing the world” (Eggins & Slade, 1997: 297) and also function to establish interpersonal relations. For example “during a business meeting, participants may align themselves as superior and subordinate” (Walsh, 2007). Many business English students in Japan, however, will enter the classroom and open the textbook with barely a ‘hello’.
  4. Diagnostics – As Mike Guest, a professor at Miyazaki university, points out, conversation in the classroom can serve as a useful diagnostic tool. I start all my lessons with a guided task to establish (both for myself and for the students) what the students are able to or not able to do. ‘How was your weekend’, however, functions as a valuable long-term diagnostic tool. The teacher is able to see over an extended period of time what progress has been made and what mistakes recur within a repeated task. Which brings me to the next point.
  5. Task-repetition – While the conversation may function as a useful diagnostic tool for the teacher it may also prove valuable to the student to guage their own progress in a regularly occuring familiar context. The value also of task repetition has recently gained prominence (Lynch & Maclean, 2000).


Eggins, S., Slade, D., 1997, Analysing Casual Conversation, Equinox

Walsh, I.P., 2007, “Small Talk Is ‘Big Talk’ in Clinical Discourse: Appreciating the Value of Conversation in SLP Clinical Interactions”, Topics in Language Disorders, vol 27-1, p24

Lynch, T., & Maclean, J., 2000, “Exploring the benefits of task repetition and recycling for classroom language learning”, Language Teaching Research July 2000, Vol. 4-3, p221


Genre of cooking classes

Further to my last post on recipes, I’d also highly recommend an interesting read on similar differences between American and Japanese cooking classes in:

Mayes, P., 2003, Language, Social Structure, and Culture: A Genre Analysis of Cooking Classes in Japan and America, John Benjamins

As she states: “…in the Japanese classes, the teacher was expert and the students were relative novices [and] would focus on task-oriented content and on giving precise procedural instructions. On the other hand, though the American teachers might be considered experts relative to the students, there was less focus on this professional relationship and more on creating a friendly relationship” (pp. 14-15). The Japanese classes were serious and focussed on ‘following the rules’ whereas the American classes were characterised by a relaxed individualism and creating original recipes.

I have noticed, however, a slight shift in Japanese cooking classes that I’ve noticed on TV. Traditionally, cooking in Japan was a female domain (ALL of the Japanese participants in the study above were women while the Americans were a roughly equal mix of men and women). Recently, more cooking shows featuring male celebrity non-professional hosts. These are decidedly more slap-dash affairs and often don’t even feature measurements at all (and lots of salt in one case). I do wonder if this in some way reflects on-going social changes occurring in Japan due to the ways in which economic pressures over the last twenty years have affected the traditional (conservative) boundaries between male and female domains and also those between older generations (full-time stable ‘job-for-life’) and younger ones (part-time non-stable careers).



Activity: tenor, language choice and procedures

Here is an slightly different take on teaching the genre of procedures. The lesson was on giving ‘how-to’ instructions, for example ‘how to buy a ticket at train station’ or ‘how to make cup noodles’. Usually I would just teach the features of this genre, i.e. imperative Mood, temporal conjunctions, but this time, taking a cue from an interesting paper by Kawashima¹ on Japanese and English women’s magazines, we focused instead on tenor relations. Within register, tenor operates along three dimensions: power, contact and affect. We focused mainly on the first of these.

Power refers mainly to ideas of authority, status and expertise. These, however, are also influenced by the culture within which they operate which conditions the settings that are most appropriate for that context. This, in turn, influences the language choices from the lexico-grammar. Kawashima points out that, while women’s magazines in Japan and Australia ostensibly operate under the same genre, the differences in tenor greatly affect the language choices. The language used in Cleo in Australia stems from an tension between expert-novice power relations on the one hand yet close contact and familiarity on the other. Japanese magazines on the other hand stem more from the assumption of ‘distant’ relations situating the reader as outsider.

For the lesson, we took as a text first a very simple recipe for making baked fish. Before we looked at the text, however, we discussed the tenor choices that might be assumed for a ‘recipe’ text and how they might differ between English and Japanese. We then looked at how these are expressed in the lexico-grammatical choices in the text. The difference is quite clear. English uses directly congruent Imperative forms to express the commands (bake) whereas Japanese uses grammatical metaphor to express the commands as Statements (焼くyaku – ‘(you) will bake’). The effect of this is to make the English recipe sound more of a collaborative effort whereas the Japanese recipe implicitly assumes that only the reader will be making the recipe with the writer in the position of outside expert imparting information.

The students found this approach interesting and led to a lot of classroom discussion of other situations where this tenor positioning may affect language choices in other ‘how-to’ situations which was impressive considering it’s an Elementary-level class.

1. Kawashima, K (2005) “Interpersonal Relationships in Japanese and Australian Women’s Magazines: A Case Study”, Proceedings of the 2004 Conference of the Australian Linguistics Society



Here’s a XKCD strip:


It’s often said that you can’t ‘teach conversation’ yet I think this is only partly true. Of course it’s not possible to teach how to have a conversation, that comes naturally and unfolds as the situation and participants interact, but it’s also the case that quite a lot of ‘conversation’ is a socially-enacted activity with certain expectations of which learners must become aware.

For more see: McCarthy, M., 1991, Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, CUP



Activity: Jobs – have to/get to and appraisal

For Elementary and pre-Intermediate students, ‘jobs’ are often used to introduce various grammatical structures, especially, to compare ‘have to’ (A police officer has to arrest people) with ‘must’ (A police officer must be brave). This comparison, to me, doesn’t seem to make sense as the two language items belong to two separate systems (one is verbal expansion and the other is modality). A better comparison it seems to me, and one that is not often highlighted, is that between ‘have to’ and ‘get to’ and a way to introduce the concept of appraisal in a simple way.

Materials: a set of ‘jobs’ cards (about 10 cards – I’ve found that the cards from Let’s Go 3 work well) and some A4 paper.

Stage 1: Group

First, go through the ‘jobs’ cards and ask “What’s this?”/”What’s he/she doing?”-type questions. At the same time, on a piece of paper, write down any vocabulary that students don’t know, concentrating in particular on collocations. This is the list we made:

do an experiment (scientist)
put flowers in a vase (florist)
deliver packages (postal worker)
a briefcase (businesswoman)
a stethoscope (doctor)
a cash register (shop clerk)
a drill (dentist)
take/make an appointment (secretary)
an assembly line (factory workers)

This list forms a mini classroom corpus.

Stage 2: content plane – lexico-grammar

In Stage 1, the language used was mostly relational processes (He is a researcher). Here, we can expand this into a clause including experiential Process + Circumstance:

He is working + as a researcher
He is working + in a lab
He is working + with equipment
He is working + on an experiment
He is working + at Sony

This can be done for each card, incorporating the language items from the classroom corpus if appropriate.

Next, a game can be played using the langauge items from the classroom corpus – lay the cards on the table and ask “Who…?”-questions (Who is doing an experiment?). The first student to answer gets the card.

Stage 3 – content plane – semantics

Thus far, we have been merely describing the jobs but we may also wish to add some of our own opinion about the jobs. First, on an A4 piece of paper, draw two faces as such:

Then, discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of each job for you personally (She gets to be creative, he has to stand up all day).

Stage 4 – content plane – textual semantics

Once we have discussed all the jobs cards, have the students choose their dream job, which may or may not be from the jobs listed. After some preparation time to look up any vocabulary they might need, the students justify to the class why their dream job is best. This might take the form of a discussion genre:

  1. Introduction: State the dream job
  2. Statement: Describe the job in general terms
  3. Arguments for: Give the advantages of the job
  4. Arguments against: Give possible disadvantages of the job
  5. Concluding statement: Give the best reason for deciding on this job.