Monday, 4 May 2015

Misunderstanding Homophoric Reference And Context Of Culture

Martin (1992: 121-2):
As noted above, proper names regularly depend on information retrieved from the context of culture.  The definite article is commonly phoric in this way as well, presuming information available through membership in communities of any size.  Some typical examples are presented below, scaled with respect to the size of the community involved.

examples of reference to the context of culture (homophora)

[community]
[homophoric nominal group]


English speakers
the sun, the moon
nations
the president, the governor
states
the premier, the Department of Education
businesses
the managing director, the shareholders
offices
the secretary, the photocopier
families
the car, the baby, the cat

Technically, reference of this kind is referred to as homophora. It is used when interlocutors' membership in a particular community means that certain participants can be treated as inherently "given".

Blogger Comments:

[1] There are several confusions here.  Firstly, proper names are not reference items, since they do not present an item as identifiable; instead, they present an identity.  Here Martin again misconstrues textual reference as ideational denotation.  Secondly, the meaning denoted by a proper name is semantic, not contextual.  Thirdly, context of culture and text are at opposite poles of the cline of instantiation, the former being potential that is realised by language as potential, the latter being an instance of language that realises an instance of context: a context of situation.

[2] This misunderstands homophoric reference.  As the term makes plain, 'homophoric' means self-pointing; that is 'self-specifying; there is only one – or at least only one that makes sense in the context' (Halliday & Matthiessen 2014: 631).

[3] To be clear, the size of the community is irrelevant to any of the points being made.

[4] This confuses human collectives (actual language users) with context of culture (cultural potential realised by language potential).

[5] This confuses the reference item (the) with the grammatical domain in which it is located.

[6] This is misleading.  The referential function of the non-specific demonstrative (the) depends on how it it used in a text.  The reference of all of these examples may exophoric, including homophoric, but it may also be endophoric: anaphoric or cataphoric.    To be clear, only endophoric reference is cohesive.

Confusing Material Setting And Context Of Situation [updated]

Martin (1992: 121):
These orientations [situation vs community] can be systematised as follows.  Adapting Malinowski's terms, a distinction can be drawn between context of culture and context of situation.  Context of situation refers here to relevant information that can be perceived (seen, heard, felt, tasted, smelled), including text; context of culture embraces relevant information which cannot be perceived, but which can be assumed because of shared knowledge among interlocutors deriving from their membership in some definable community.

Blogger Comment:

[1] The relation between 'situation' and 'community' — even on Martin's understanding of these terms — is not the same relation as that between 'context of situation' and 'context of culture', as will be demonstrated below.

[2] Here Martin fails to inform the reader that Malinowski's terms had already been introduced into SFL theory by Halliday; see, for example, Halliday & Hasan (1985/9: 5-7).  In doing so, Martin thus falsely presents the work of others as his own.

In SFL theory, 'context' is the culture modelled as a semiotic system, whose expression plane includes language — a connotative semiotic in Hjelmslev's (1961) terms.  Language realises context; context is a higher level of symbolic abstraction than language.

The relation between 'context of culture' and 'context of situation' is instantiation, with the former constituting the 'system pole' of the cline of instantiation, and the latter constituting the 'instance pole'.  In other words, a 'situation' is a instance of 'culture' as potential, where both are conceived of as semiotic, not material.

[3] The material phenomena that can be perceived by interlocutors are features of the material setting.  Any such phenomena only feature in the semiotic context of situation if they figure as an instance of the culture that is realised by the (instance of) language of the interlocutors.

[4] This blurs an important distinction.  To be clear, the 'surrounding' text is the co-text, and so is language that realises context, not context itself.  On the other hand, instances of culture realised in any ancillary texts, as in a teaching situation, can feature in the semiotic context of situation.

[5] To be clear, the 'context of culture' is the cultural potential that can be realised in the meaning potential that is language.

__________


Importantly, 374 pages later in this work, these inconsistencies are further compounded when Martin (p495) reinterprets context of situation as register and context of culture as genre.  The absurdity of substituting two perspectives on functional varieties of language (register and genre) for opposite poles of the instantiation cline for context (situation and culture) can be made clear by substituting the later terms for the terms introduced above, yielding:
Register refers here to relevant information that can be perceived (seen, heard, felt, tasted, smelled), including text; genre embraces relevant information which cannot be perceived, but which can be assumed because of shared knowledge among interlocutors deriving from their membership in some definable community.