Vanity Fea

Functional Parameters of Discourse

viernes, 13 de julio de 2012

Functional Parameters of Discourse

—a handout:

Systemic functional approach, derived from M.A.K. Halliday; here mostly based on Roger T. Bell, Translation and Translating (Harlow: Longman, 1991; 5.3, pp. 84-96).

The uses of language in discourse are differentiated by:

- addressee relationship (or tenor)
- medium (or mode)
- function (or domain)

All marked by (lexical, syntactic, etc.) features—just like users’ dialects are also marked by specific features.


“Any sender of messages has a relationship with his or her receiver(s) and this relationship is reflected intentionally or unintentionally in the form the messages are given. It is precisely this ‘tone’ in written and spoken texts which is signalled mainly, in English, through syntactic choices by the tenor of discourse. The tenor consists of a number of overlapping and interacting scales or levels: formality, politeness, impersonality, and accessibility. Each of these will be considered in turn.”

Care and attention given to the structuring of the message, reflecting degree of importance and “the extent in which (s)he considers it to be worthy of careful reading by the receiver” Markers: lexical, syntactic (left-branching, etc.),

“Politeness reflects the social distance in the addressee relationship between sender and receiver” 2 dimensions, horizontal (Intimacy or solidarity between speaker and hearer) and vertical (power relationships: status, seniority, authority). Consequences: on the modes of address, indirectness, etc.

“Impersonality is a measure of the extent to which the producer of a text —speaker or writer— avoids reference to him/herself or to the hearer/reader. Such avoidance is far commoner in written than in spoken texts and, within written texts, in those in which the message—the cognitive content—is felt to be of greater importance than the participants in the exchange.” (e.g. the greater impersonality of bureaucratic or legal writing).

“While formality reflects the attention the sender has given to the structuring of the text, accessibility shows the assumptions the sender has made about the knowledge he or she shares with the receiver; assumptions about the universe of discourse (…). The more the writer assumes is shared, the less needs to be made explicit in the surface structure of the text and the  more inaccessible the text becomes to the reader who lacks the assumed shared knowledge”
This is matter not only of words but of concepts (e.g. technical texts…).


Mode is concerned with features relative to the choice of channel which carries the signal. Features depend on the nature of the medium, not on the characteristics of the participants.

Channel limitation:
Single or multiple channels. (E.g.: Writing needs to be more explicit. Features which might be conveyed through tone or gesture in speech are often lexicalized).

A continuum from the purely unpremeditated and spontaneous utterance, to “the utterance which is the result of a long period of deliberation, preplanning and editing of successive versions.” Unplanned speech uses pauses, fillers, etc. Writing more fluent and more complex syntactically, lexically, etc.

Contiuum from monologue to dialogue, with varying degrees of feedback. Anticipated participation may become a feature of writing (Simulated interaction, derived from real interaction). Participation status ranges from ratified interactants to overhearing, eavesdropping, etc.

A matter of “the number of recipients intended for a particular text; the more addressees the less private” (overlapping with tenor).


“The domain of discourse is revealed by the choice of features of the code which indicate the role the text is playing in the activity of which it forms a part. (…) Dimensions of Domain: Function, Discipline, Genre (Move, Step)  Speech Act

Function: “Domain is intimately connected with function; in a narrow sense, the use of language to persuade, inform (or some other speech act) or, more broadly, in relation to some more general kind of meaning (e.g. an emotive function which stresses connotative meaning) or, in a very much broader sense, domain can refer to such macro-institutions of society as the family, friendship, education and so forth.”
E.g. models of the functions of language: cognitive-evaluative-affective, or Jakobson’s six function model based on the communicative process:
Context (or referent): referential
                                                                                                                Contact or channel:  Phatic

 Addresser:   Emotive or Expressive        ________         Message: poetic   ___________>    Addressee: Conative        

Code: Metalinguistic

Discipline: E.g. ESP, English for specific purposes; English for the humanities here.

Genre: E.g. academic lecture, academic essay, thesis, grant proposal

    Swales (Genre Analysis): Genres follow characteristic MOVES divided into STEPS

    In literature: 4 major genres (poetry, drama, prose and narrative fiction): historical forms, actually a work participates in a genre or uses generic conventions rather than belonging to a genre.

Speech act: Statement or constative utterance, instruction or order, promise, performative utterance, wordplay, joke, question, phatic repair, metalinguistic commentary… Cf. classifications of speech acts by Austin or Searle.   

Some references:
On politeness:
Brown, Penelope, and Stephen Levinson. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1978. 1987. 2nd ed. 1994.
On speech acts:
Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words. Ed. J. O. Urmson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962.
Searle, John R.  Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979. 1985.
On indirectness (and on cognitive linguistics)
Pinker, Steven. The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. New York: Viking, 2007. 

On media studies:
Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy. (New Accents). London: Routledge, 2002.
McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1962. 
He escrito un comentario de libro de McLuhan aquí: Por la Galaxia Gutenberg (The Surfer's Guide).

Sobre lingüística cognitiva, recomiendo a los estudiantes el libro de Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought. Aquí hay un extracto sobre lenguaje indirecto, en forma de animación:

Y una reseña del principio del mismo:
... y del final:

Un libro de análisis del discurso recomendable (ver también "bibliografía específica") es el de John Paul Gee,  Discourse Analysis. También el importante libro de Michel Foucault El orden del discurso. Si leéis francés, aquí hay algunas notas al respecto. Si no leéis francés... es una buena idea leer francés, para los filólogos españoles.


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