The Emergence of Distinctive Features (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory)


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A number of scholars, notably Michael Halliday, Christian Matthiessen and Jim Martin have helped produce a number of descriptions through PhD supervision. Following the multilingual tradition established by J.


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These studies became some of the earliest systemic studies on the description of languages other than English. Some of these PhD theses continue to produce a number of books on systemic functional grammar.

Current Issues in Linguistic Theory | John Benjamins

In , Continuum now part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc launched a book series on systemic functional grammars and has since published descriptions of several languages, notably Caffarel ; Li ; Teruya ; and Lavid et al. Other book length contributions include Andersen et al.


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  7. As noted by Caffarel et al. Comprehensive descriptions, as mentioned earlier, are crucial for application in discourse and text analysis and critical contexts such as language education. One important consideration in language typology is a representative sample of languages. This is important since the goal of typology is to make descriptive and theoretical generalisations about language. Representativeness in language typology can be conceived of in three aspects: 1 the sample size should be large enough to allow generalisations about language i. Each of these three aspects will be addressed in relation to the linguistic coverage of studies in our database.

    In all, 38 languages are covered by studies that describe individual languages. Although these figures cannot be used to judge the relative comprehensiveness of the descriptions of the languages, they indicate that some languages are more productive or more engaged by researchers than others. Out of the 38 languages, those with comprehensive descriptions are only 12 We define comprehensive description as a book length or PhD thesis length account of grammatical systems of at least the three metafunctions of language, ideational either experiential or logical, or both , interpersonal and textual.

    Given that there are about languages spoken in the world today Lewis et al. The need to expand the description base of linguistic science is, however, not limited to SFL. It has been noted in the literature that many of the worlds languages are either undescribed or have not been sufficiently described to warrant inclusion in samples for language comparison and typology see Caffarel et al.

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    Current Issues in Linguistic Theory

    Comprehensive language description, particularly from a functional linguistic perspective of the kind pursued by systemic linguists, is crucial for application in linguistic revitalisation. The inadequacy of formal syntax and documentary linguistics in revitalising critically endangered languages has been lamented Austin Languages spoken in the Americas and the Middle East are the least. It is obvious that a lot more research and collaboration are needed in order to approach anything close to areal representativeness in SFL description.

    Strictly speaking, none of the regions is adequately represented. Akerejola , studies on African and American languages cover small aspects of the languages rather than being comprehensive descriptions see Atoyebi for a non-SFL reference grammar of Oko. Given that one third of the worlds languages about 2, are spoken in Africa, many languages in this region need to be represented cf. Heine and Nurse ; Lewis et al. The need for areal representativeness calls for an increased collaboration between systemic typologists and areal specialists or native speaker linguists around the world, including those working outside SFL.

    The distribution of the 38 languages across language families yields 17 phyla see Fig. Most language families are represented by only one language. The exceptions are Germanic i. German, Danish, Swedish and Dutch , Romance i. French and Spanish and languages of the Niger-Congo phylum i. Nonetheless, the figures show that there has been a growing effort among systemicists in describing languages other than English in the quest for typological generalisations about language. Recent years have seen a number of studies in typological generalisations, which is a natural follow up on the descriptive work in previous decades.

    It will be useful to discuss notable studies in this area in more detail. It spans pages and makes reference to at least languages, as well as a passing reference to about 27 language families. It is a classic contribution to the science of language, developing on Greenberg b and research in functional language typology ever since. It also includes interesting discussion on aspects of Akan lexicogrammar, presented for the first time.

    Following this, Teruya et al. Teruya et al. It also provides a good example of how the view from individual languages and that from the typology pole can be balanced in language description. Wang and Xu provides a complementary account by focusing on the experiential metafunction. Specifically, they give a cross-linguistic account of existential and relational clauses possessive and circumstantial types.

    While acknowledging that Michael Halliday's IFG is meant to be a description of English, Wang and Xu problematises the universal applicability of dividing clauses that construe location into two different process types, relational and existential. Based on their cross-linguistic data examples are given from about 21 languages , they argue for a universal classification of existential clauses as a sub-type of relational processes.

    Linguistic Typology

    We interpret their account as highlighting the competing interest in describing individual languages in their own right and describing languages as a manifestation of the one human semiotic system called language. For future research similar to Wang and Xu , therefore, it may be useful to investigate how languages divide up the different domains of experience in their grammar; for instance, how is location grammaticalized and divided up differently across languages?

    Finally, Teich exemplifies an interface between linguistic description and application. Her presentation of linguistic data in most parts is, however, more illustrative than descriptive and the general goal is to construct a theoretical framework for multilingual studies. From this latter perspective, it predates theoretical discussion in Matthiessen et al.

    Together, these typology-oriented studies complement the description of individual languages and contribute to the typological power of SFL theory.

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    In the next section, we will examine some methods and procedures adopted in systemic language description and typology and proposals that have been made thereof. We proceed to first discuss general issues on research design and then examine data sources Section 6.

    For convenience, the discussion in this section will give a summary of methodological issues identified in the literature rather than a profile of the studies based on particular methods and approaches. In addition to theory, one crucial resource is descriptive generalisations of languages in typological studies. Here, the researcher deploys attested cross-linguistic tendencies in language as a guide to the analysis and interpretation of the language or languages under description.

    It also means that any descriptive statements made for a particular language must be typologically valid; that is, it should make sense in terms of what is known about human languages as attested by typological investigations. Related to typological guidance is the technique of transfer comparison cf. Here, the analyst may identify model descriptions that serve as a window into the new language.

    This is often a feasible strategy to manage the enormity of work involved in language description. As descriptions of many more languages continue to emerge, it is best to work with models from a number of languages in order to avoid the possibility of imposing the categories of one language upon another, a recurrent albeit unfortunate tendency among linguists, even in contemporary times. Apart from descriptive models in the SFL tradition, it is also important to consult descriptions from non-SFL perspectives. These may include earlier descriptions or sketches of the language under consideration, genetically and areal related languages and languages from other regions and families.

    This approach maximises the reliability of the description. The fourth criterion on the analysis of registerially informed sample of texts leads us to the next section. Source: Matthiessen c: 6, — slightly modified by integrating definitions on p. Some studies have also focused on particular registers. Patpong a , for instance, focused on folktales recreating: narrating in her study of Thai lexicogrammar. These contributions, however, do not explicitly deploy this text typology. The difference between a corpus and a text archive is not a sharp one; but the general principle is that a corpus represents a systematic sample of text according to clearly established criteria whereas a text archive is assembled in a more opportunistic fashion ….

    Apart from naturally occurring texts, however, other sources of data comprise elicited examples from native speakers i. These are normally used as supporting resources to the analysis of discourse data. As mentioned earlier, the analysis of text instances is the fundamental or basic activity in the study of language. In language description, this means shunting between instance and system on the instantiation dimension of language.

    The objective of analysing discourse data is to find general patterns and systems and test these patterns on texts in new contexts.

    One tool that has proved very useful in generalising features and their realisations is the system network. The system network is a local map or a drawing board that allows the analyst to move between text and system i. Martin , presents a very illuminating guidance on how to draw and evaluate system networks. Generally, however, descriptions in our dataset almost do not include quantitative analysis. This absence of quantitative profiles is unsurprising given the enormity of work involved for the kind of description SFL theory demands.

    The Emergence of Distinctive Features (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory)
    The Emergence of Distinctive Features (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory)
    The Emergence of Distinctive Features (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory)
    The Emergence of Distinctive Features (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory)
    The Emergence of Distinctive Features (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory)
    The Emergence of Distinctive Features (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory)
    The Emergence of Distinctive Features (Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory)

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