Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Problems With The Non-Argument For Register As Context

Martin (1992: 501-2):
Before beginning however, it is important to note that English Text extends the use of the term register as defined by Halliday.  Halliday uses the term simply to refer to language as context's expression plane — the linguistic meanings (entailing their expressions) at risk in a given situation type.  English Text extends the notion to cover in addition part of context's content plane; register is used in other words to refer to the semiotic system constituted by the contextual variables field, tenor and mode.  As outlined above, in the model of context developed here, register is the name of the metafunctionally organised connotative semiotic between language and genre.  This means that instead of characterising context of situation as potential and register as (context's) actual, English Text treats register as a semiotic system in its own right, involving notions of both system and process.

potential (system)
actual (process)
Halliday (1978)
context of situation :
register ::
English Text
register :

Blogger Comments:

[1] No argument is offered that identifies any problems with Halliday's model of register, or as to why Martin's model is to be preferred.  The new model is merely announced, as if a new consumer good.

[2] Martin previously used the term 'meanings at risk' in conjunction with modal responsibility, which in SFL theory, is the meaning of Subject, an interpersonal function of the clause.  Here Martin uses the term to misrepresent Halliday's notion of register, the subpotential of language (all metafunctions) that realises a situation type.  That is, the use of the term is both inconsistent within Martin's own model, and a misconstrual of Halliday's model.

[3] This claim is both inconsistent with what follows, and a misunderstanding of the principle of stratification.  It is inconsistent with what follows because register is simply equated with Halliday's context.  It is inconsistent with stratification because it construes register as both language and context.

[4] This confuses context with language and stratification with instantiation.  To equate register with context is to construe it as more abstract than language (stratification) instead of as a subpotential of language (instantiation) — a major category error that makes the model untenable.

[5] This confuses stratification with instantiation.  Situation type is related to register by realisation, whereas the relation of potential to actual is the relation between system and instance (text).

[6] The implication here is that Halliday's model does not treat register as a semiotic system in its own right.  To be clear, in SFL theory, each register is a semiotic system that realises a situation type.

[7] This misunderstands the meaning of system and process in SFL theory.  The term 'system' is itself shorthand for system–&–process.  Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 507):
As we conceive of it, the term “semiotic” is framed within a linear taxonomy of “physical – biological – social – semiotic”; and the term “system” is a shortened form of “system–&–process”, there being no single word that encapsulates both the synoptic and dynamic perspectives (we have referred to the term “climatic system” with the same observation on how it is to be understood).
[8] Here the false dichotymy of system/process (see [7]) is misconstrued as two levels of symbolic abstraction.  Note that, previously, Martin has interpreted process as (dynamic) structure

[9] This misconstrues the relation between language–as–system and language–as–register (instantiation) as:
  • register is realised by language, and
  • register as potential, and language as instance.
These are inconsistent with each other, and the second reverses the relation between language and register on the cline of instantiation, relocating register from the midway point to the system pole, and language from the system pole to the instance pole.

  1. No argument is offered to support the model; 
  2. the model is inconsistent with itself across several dimensions; 
  3. the model is inconsistent with a sound knowledge of the architecture of SFL theory.