Continuing Discourse on Language - A Functional Perspective, Volumes 1 and 2 - Ruqaiya Hasan†

Continuing Discourse on Language - A Functional Perspective, Volumes 1 and 2 - Ruqaiya Hasan†

20. The work of concepts: context and metafunction in the systemic functional model

Continuing Discourse on Language - A Functional Perspective, Volumes 1 and 2 - Ruqaiya Hasan†

David Butt [+-]
Macquarie University
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David Butt is associate Professor in linguistics at Macquarie University and for more than a decade has been the Director of the University Research Centre for Language in Social Life (CLSL: now a Research Network). This Centre has conducted projects across communities and institutions for which functional linguistics provided significant evidence about the management of change. Through the Centre, he has been actively engaged with professionals in medicine (surgery and psychiatry), counselling, care for people with disabilities, intelligent systems design and brain sciences, cultural analysis (literature, theatre, world Englishes), complexity theory and 'smart spaces', Vygotskian approaches to education and training, financial reporting, courtroom explanations and forensic evidence, media and journalism, and child language development (in the traditions of Trevarthen and Halliday). The Centre has also investigated the interrelations between linguistics, verbal art (especially poetry), philosophy and the arguments of natural sciences (viz biology; genetics; and physics). The Centre has actively promoted educational developments in various cultures beyond Australia - Singapore, India, and especially with Timor and in Indonesia. David has published extensively on verbal art and has conducted many research projects and classes on the subject.
Rebekah Kate Ardley Wegener
Macquarie University

Description

Context, when used as a technical term in human sciences, is neither transparent nor self-evident in its contribution to theory. The introduction of the notion, as a necessary level of semantic description, came out of the general movement 1890–1920 that placed the scientific study of human cultures alongside other sciences. The necessity of context became apparent to Malinowski and others, when such early anthropologists confronted the non-transferability of crucial meanings across cultures, despite the supposedly universal conditions under which human beings lived. The assumption of ‘simplicity’ amongst ‘savage races’ was also contested as the non-equivalences in translation drew researchers on into more delicate distinctions and connections within the community under investigation. Researchers need to judge the form and direction of current proposals on context in the light provided by theoretical notions drawn from complexity theory, fuzzy sets, probabilistic modelling, corpus linguistics, evolutionary theory and functionalism (when broadly and historically interpreted). We believe that the evidence of Malinowski’s own context (from Boltzmann to Russell; from Boas to Wittgenstein; from Darwin to Frazer) suggests that nothing of this list would have surprised or daunted him. His own assiduous habits of observation and note taking demonstrated his commitment to grounding theory in the ‘typicalactual’ of human activities. But, we argue, the concepts of Malinowski and of J. R. Firth only become powerful, abstract tools with Halliday’s theorisation of semiotic dimensions; with his distinction of use, function and metafunction; with his mapping of systems in relational networks; and with his elaboration of relations between text, context and register.

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Citation

Butt, David; Wegener, Rebekah. 20. The work of concepts: context and metafunction in the systemic functional model. Continuing Discourse on Language - A Functional Perspective, Volumes 1 and 2. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 590-618 Nov 2005. ISBN 9781845531140. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=25346. Date accessed: 06 Feb 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.25346. Nov 2005

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