Verbal Art and Systemic Functional Linguistics - Donna R. Miller

Verbal Art and Systemic Functional Linguistics - Donna R. Miller

Educational Stylistics: SFL/SSS+ and Guiding to Language-in-Literature Literacy

Verbal Art and Systemic Functional Linguistics - Donna R. Miller

Donna R. Miller [+-]
University of Bologna
Donna R. Miller is Alma Mater Professor at the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures of the University of Bologna (in retirement since July 2019). Her corpus-assisted investigations have regularly explored the grammar of evaluation in institutional text types and verbal art, this last being the central focus of her recent work, in a Hasanian perspective.


As is well-known, Hasan was a scholar for (nearly) all seasons. As is also widely known, she produced much valuable work on education and literacy in general, and on verbal art pedagogy and literacy in particular. Educational stylistics is the topic of chapter 4, focussing on the teaching of the language in literature –with the tools of SFL/SSS+. An overarching concern of the chapter, however, is how to guide students to better reflect on meaning-making in English, thus also improving their overall language awareness, and, for learners, their language acquisition. The chapter is divided into two distinct parts. Part I begins with briefly discussing teacher take-up of SFL concepts, metalanguage, and pedagogy, whether applied to verbal art teaching, or not. In speaking of the reasons for endorsing Hasan’s SSS model in chapter 2, the first to be mentioned is its being rooted in Hallidayan grammar and its study, grammatics. Here the educational significance of that grammatics emerges – as a meaning-focused metalanguage crucial to instructed language development. The chapter then moves into Hasan’s ways of thinking about her own ‘timeless journey’ in the company of verbal art (2011a), her ideas concerning how one should engage with literature (1985[1989], 2007), and her powerful theory of reflection literacy (1996c[2011b]). It then moves on to selectively surveying systemic functional educational stylistics studies. Again, the work referenced is largely based on Hallidayan stylistics but some is also specifically grounded in Hasan’s SSS. Part II presents a case study, a recount of the shared experience of guiding students towards ‘special’ register awareness in an undergraduate EFL curriculum in Bologna, Italy. The global pedagogical background is filled in before zooming in on the analytical activities of one 2017 and one 2018 verbal art workshop in the 3rd year, in which students were guided to wield fine-tuned SSS+ in one poem in search of what gives us “language that is artistic and art that is linguistic” (Hasan, personal communication, 15 April, 2014). Recounted are our teaching practices and their rationale, but also our attempts at monitoring them, with the scrutinizing of empirical quantitative and qualitative evidence of students’ perceptions of those practices, gathered through questionnaires. Also described is the action research that followed the emergence from these of perplexingly incongruous data, as well as the further steps consequently taken. The chapter on the whole thus takes on the generalized criticism of what is often seen as a too heavy reliance on intuition in teaching stylistics (notably Hall 2014, Fogal 2015), by examining ways to defuse two significant sources of such peril: (1) an ingrained largely intuitive method of literature reading on the part of the students, and, (2) a merely intuitive manner of assessing the effectiveness of one’s own pedagogic practices.

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Miller, Donna R. Educational Stylistics: SFL/SSS+ and Guiding to Language-in-Literature Literacy. Verbal Art and Systemic Functional Linguistics. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 55-85 Oct 2021. ISBN 9781781795347. Date accessed: 24 Jul 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.30888. Oct 2021

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