Cohesion in systemic functional linguistics

A theoretical reflection

Authored by: Ben Clarke

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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This chapter is concerned with cohesion in systemic functional linguistics (SFL) specifically, but will have relevance for functional linguistics more generally. If a text is defined as a single semantic unit, cohesion is one of two properties of textuality; the other, coherence, can be defined simply as a text’s being consistent in logical terms. Comparably, cohesion may be defined as links of a linguistic sort between two or more items in a text, be the items in question words, phrases or bigger units still. One can talk of a number of different types of cohesion, or ‘cohesive device’; generally, these types are considered to consist of ‘reference’, ‘substitution’, ‘ellipsis’, ‘conjunction’, ‘repetition’, ‘collocation’ and a range of sense relations, such as ‘synonymy’, ‘antonymy’, etc. These are usually grouped into two main types: (a) grammatical cohesive devices (‘reference’, ‘substitution’, ‘ellipsis’ and ‘conjunction’), in which the two parts of the link embody a one-way, dependency relation; and (b) lexical cohesive devices (‘repetition’, ‘collocation’ and the sense relations), in which the two parts of the link embody a two-way, mutually defining relation. In the main, this chapter limits consideration of cohesion to the grammatical cohesive devices for a number of reasons, many of which will become clear at relevant points in the ensuing discussion; that said, the overriding argument of the chapter 1 is as relevant to those cohesive devices not discussed in its main body.

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