Form and function in groups

Authored by: Edward McDonald

The Routledge Handbook of Systemic Functional Linguistics

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415748407
eBook ISBN: 9781315413891
Adobe ISBN: 9781315413884


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The concept of group in systemic functional linguistics (SFL) is more complex than its equivalents in other theories of grammar or syntax for a number of reasons.

It is not an autonomous structural notion, but rather is understood as the realisation of systemic features – that is, the syntagmatic combinations recognised in the group, as in other grammatical units, are the realisation of paradigmatic options.

In standard ranked constituency versions of SFL (for example Halliday 1994 [1985]), the group takes its place on the rank scale whereby units of different ranks play different kinds of functional role and exhibit different kinds of structural patterning.

By means of this notion of rank scale, the group takes an intermediate position: linked by one trajectory to the structure of the clause, in that each group realises a particular function in the clause structure, and by another trajectory to classes of word, in that words are classified according as they play functions in the structure of the group.

The group incorporates two principles of structure: univariate, in which a single kind of functional relationship is seen as multiplied recursively, for example modification involving a Head and one or more Modifiers; and multivariate, in which a number of different functional roles can be recognised, for example Deictic^Numerator^Thing, with all groups able to be analysed in both ways.

In many languages, group rank accommodates two distinct kinds of structure: the group proper, which is the expansion of a central word and contains a Head plus Modifiers and/or Qualifiers; and the phrase, which is the contraction of a clause and mimics the Process–Participant structure.

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