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Pre-congress Institute: Appliable Discourse Analysis

12 - 16 July 2010

37th International Systemic Functional Congress

University of British Columbia

Vancouver, BC

Note: Receipts for this institute will be emailed to participants before the end of July.


Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen & Kazuhiro Teruya

The PolySystemic Research Group, Faculty of Humanities, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Course Description

In this course, we will present the comprehensive approach to discourse analysis developed within SFL, illustrating the approach from a range of different languages that are currently in focus in the SF community. At the same time, we will use discourse analysis to illuminate (1) the "architecture" of systemic functional theory, (2) the use and development of systemic functional descriptions, and (3) the engagement with a wide range of contexts of application. In a sense, the course will use discourse analysis as a gateway into more advanced SFL, but the emphasis will be on empowering participants - tooling and resourcing them so that they can undertake discourse analysis more effectively and get better results.

The discourse analysis presented and discussed will be appliable discourse analysis: this is a special case of Halliday's (e.g. 2007) notion of appliable linguistics - an approach to the study of language that is grounded in data and empowered by theory that is in constant dialogue with application. Appliable discourse analysis means that it is an approach to analysis that has the potential to be applied in a wide range of contexts of research and application.

In order to be maximally appliable, discourse analysis must have a number of properties:

  • It must reference a comprehensive description of the language-in-culture that is in focus. This means that as many "regions" of language-in-culture must have been described so that the analysis of texts-in-situations can be done systematically - either in terms of all systems described or in terms of an informed selection of a subset of systems.
  • It must be reasonably explicit so that analysts can easily relate manual analysis to automated analysis, treating these as two complementary forms of analysis. This means that relations between strata, axes and ranks should be spelt out by means of realization statements.
  • It must be both multilingually and multisemiotically oriented. It must be able to deal with different languages, either one by one or in combination (as in translation and comparative studies), and it must be able to deal with different semiotic systems, again either one by one or in combination.
  • It must provide an account of the context in which we undertake discourse analysis so that it is possible to relate features of this context to the nature of the analysis undertaken and to reason about analytical choices.

Since our aim is to explore the notion of comprehensive discourse analysis, we will present analyses from different strata of language-in-context:

  • Contextual analysis, in terms of systems of field, tenor and mode, and of the situational (or "generic") structures that realize selections from these systems.
  • Semantic analysis, in terms of logical, experiential, interpersonal and textual systems (including analysis based on RST, "Rhetorical Structure Theory").
  • Lexicogrammatical analysis, in terms of logical, experiential, interpersonal and textual systems.
  • Phonological analysis, with emphasis on prosodic systems.

At the same time, we will develop an account of the nature of institutions, the relationship between institutions and situations types and between situations and persons. Many current projects involving discourse analysis have an institutional focus. We will draw on a number of varied projects to illustrate applications of appliable discourse analysis, including:

  • Research into healthcare institutions.
  • Research into education institutions.
  • Research into work place institutions.
  • Research into the family as an institution.
  • Research into linguistic systems.

In the course, we will cover a number of central methodological considerations that arise in appliable discourse analysis:

  • The sampling of texts for analysis, including the design of corpora.
  • The complementarity of high-level manual analysis of small samples of text and low-level automated analysis of large samples of text.
  • The complementarity of different "strands" of analysis - in terms of metafunction, stratification, and axis, and the selection of particular strands whenever comprehensive analysis proves impossible.
  • The complementarity of compositional analysis and logogentic analysis.
  • The interpretation of the results of analysis, including the use of "visualization".


Please edit this page and introduce yourself here with a brief bio, institutional affiliation, and any relevant links.



Halliday, M.A.K. 2007. "Applied linguistics as an evolving theme." In Language and Education. Volume 9. Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday, edited by Jonathan J. Webster. London: Continuum. 1-19.