Hasan and the ‘contextual configuration’
Hasan’s explorations of context have considerably developed the theoretical clarity of the concept with a Hallidayan framework. Some of these explorations include the relations of context to ontogenesis, context and multimodality, the conditions under which context largely determines text compared with those where the context can be negotiation ‘in medias res’, context and ‘decontextualization’, etc.
Hasan argues that:
“Context as a theoretical category is crucial to any coherent account of … [language’s] phylogenetic and ontogenetic development as well as language change, including both synchronic and diachronic change” (Hasan 2009: 167).
and that it origins as a theoretical category lie in:
“its contribution to a principled study of PAROLE. Contra Saussure, when examined with reference to its context, parole provides irrefutable evidence of its orderliness” (Hasan 2009: 167).
Hasan coined the term contextual configuration (e.g. Hasan 1985), a reminder that field, tenor and mode interpenetrate. The contextual configuration is “like a chemical solution, where each factor affects the meaning of the others” (Hasan 1995: 231), and “everything in discourse – its structure, its texture, its principles of consistency and variation – is beholden to the relevant contextual configuration” (Hasan 2004: 25). On the basis of these claims, the conception of context carries considerable explanatory responsibility in a linguistics oriented to the study of “how we use language for living” (Firth).
This week I want to look back to Hasan’s work from the 70s and early 80s, summarized in chapters in Language, Context and Text (Halliday and Hasan, 1985). In chapters 4 and 5 of this book, Hasan explores the two vectors of unity in text: structure and texture. Both, she argues
“can be traced back to the role of meaning in realizing the elements of textual structure, which occur not by force of some immanent ‘rule’; nor are they imposed by an authority external to the practising members of community; they occur only by way of language performing some specific function in the relevant activity, and so constitute a record of social practice”. (Hasan, 2004: 23/4)
This chapter sets out Hasan’s notion of “generic structure potential” – a statement of the possible generic structures that are the expression of a given “contextual configuration”. Analysis of GSP is based on stating, for a register:
1. What elements must occur;
2. What elements can occur;
3. Where must they occur;
4. Where can they occur;
5. How often can they occur.
Hasan argues that “Texture, like structure, can be shown to be ultimately related to the context of situation” (Hasan 1985: 70). The principles of texture within a text are the expression of more delicate aspects of the contextual configuration (Hasan 2004), and gives us a basis for exploring intra-registerial variation. Analysis of texture is extremely revealing – but very time-intensive. Chapter 5 of Halliday and Hasan 1985 is an important, but difficult chapter to read. It compares two texts, to consider how they vary in their texture, and in their degrees of coherence.
Hasan explains some basic principles for the analysis of cohesion and coherence (‘cohesive harmony’), which include:
- Three types of cohesive links: co-reference, co-classification, co-extension
- Location of sources for the interpretation of implicit cohesive devices: endophoric v exophoric ties
- Principles of lexical relations: synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy, meronymy, repetition
- Principles of chain formation: identity and similarity chains
- Principles of chain interaction
- Hasan, R. (1985b). Part B. In Halliday and Hasan 1985/89. Halliday, M.A.K. and Hasan, Ruqaiya. 1985/89. Language, context, and text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective. Oxford/Geelong: OUP/Deakin University Press.
- Hasan, R. (1995/in press). The Conception of Context in Text. In P. H. Fries & M. Gregory (Eds.), Discourse in Society: Systemic Functional Perspectives, Meaning and Choice in Language: Studies for Michael Halliday (pp. 183-283). Norwood, New Jersey.: Ablex. To be reprinted in Context in the System and Process of Language: Volume 4 of the Collected Works of Ruqaiya Hasan. London: Equinox.
- Hasan, R. (1999/in press). Speaking with reference to context. In M. Ghadessy (Ed.), Text and Context in Functional Linguistics: Systemic Perspectives (pp. 219-328). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. To be reprinted in Context in the System and Process of Language: Volume 4 of the Collected Works of Ruqaiya Hasan. London: Equinox.
- Hasan, R. (2001/in press). Wherefore context?: the place of context in the system and process of language. In S. Ren, W Gutherie, & I. W. R. Fong (eds.), Grammar and Discourse: Proceedings of the International Conference on Discourse Analysis. Macau: University of Macau. To be reprinted in Context in the System and Process of Language: Volume 4 of the Collected Works of Ruqaiya Hasan. London: Equinox.
- Hasan, R. (2004). Analysing Discursive Variation. In L. Young & C. Harrison (Eds.), Systemic functional linguistics and critical discourse analysis: studies in social change (pp. 15-52). London and New York: Continuum.