This book has been written primarily for undergraduate and graduate students of English as a foreign or second language. It is also addressed to teachers and lecturers, whether native or non-native speakers of English, and to others interested in applying a broadly functional approach to language teaching in higher education. It assumes an intermediate standard of knowledge and practical handling of the language and, from this point of departure, seeks to fulfil the following aims:
- to further students’ knowledge of English through exploration and analysis;
- to help students acquire an integrated vision of English, rather than concentrate on unrelated areas;
- to see a grammar as providing a means of understanding the relation of form to meaning, and meaning to use, in context;
- to provide a basic terminology which, within this framework, will enable students to make these relationships explicit;
- to stimulate the learners’ capacity to interact with others in English and to express themselves appropriately in everyday registers, both spoken and written.
While not pretending to be exhaustive, its wide coverage and functional approach have been found appropriate not only in first degree courses but also in postgraduate programmes and as a background resource for courses, publications and work on translation, stylistics, reading projects and discourse studies.
A FUNCTIONAL APPROACH TO GRAMMAR
A functional grammar is functional in various ways. In the first place, it does not consist of a set of rules governing all forms of grammatical structures and their relation to one another, with a concern that they are ‘well-formed’. Rather, a functional approach is geared towards meaning and aims to show how meanings are expressed in different forms according to speakers’ and writers’ communicative goals. This view is based, following Michael Halliday, on the assumption that all languages fulfil two higher-level functions (metafunctions) in our lives. One is to express our interpretation of the world as we experience it (sometimes called the ‘ideational’ or the ‘representational’ function); the other is to interact with others in order to bring about changes in the environment (the ‘interpersonal’ function). How we put together or ‘organise’ what we say or write in such a way that the ‘message’ is coherent and relevant to the situation represents a third (the ‘textual’ meta-function), and this, too, is given its place in a functional grammar.
Second, the regular patterns of different kinds that can be distinguished in language reflect the uses which a language serves. For instance, the clause types known as ‘declarative’, ‘interrogative’ and ‘imperative’ serve the purposes of expressing a multitude of types of social behaviour, such as making statements, asking questions and giving orders. In this area the pragmatic concepts of speech acts, politeness, relevance and inference are brought in to explain how speakers use and interpret linguistic forms and sequences in English within cultural settings.
In describing the more detailed mechanisms of English, the notion of ‘function’ is used to describe syntactic categories such as Subjects and Objects, semantic roles such as Agent and informational categories such as Theme and Rheme, Given and New. We shall see, for instance that in English the Agent, that is, the semantic role indicating the one who instigates or carries out an action, typically conflates with the Subject: ‘Tom’ in Tom spent all the money; furthermore, the grammatical Subject in a clause tends to occur initially in English, thus occupying the same position as Theme as well as Agent. Subject, Agent, Theme is not a rigid choice, however: the elements can be moved around, as shown in 1.3.2. A functional approach also will point out the formal differences, but the principal aim will be to explain how different variations of form affect meanings, and how speakers and writers use meanings and forms to interact in social settings.
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