Reading Malinowski and Firth

Hello everyone,

I have now posted a page title ‘Reading Firth’.

I have collated various papers, and produced a talk (uploaded in two parts) based on various extracts from his writings. Firth is not so easy to read, but his ideas are so important for linguistics, in particular for Hallidayan linguistics. I hope some of you might go and post on the forum page – an introduction, a question or some views on the ideas of Firth and Malinowski.

On Friday, we will start with Malinowski – what are his key ideas, and in what ways have they influence Firth and Halliday? Then we want to understand how the conception of context changes in the theory of Firth. We also want to get a sense of the main ideas of Firth. Come ready to talk these questions over.

Would anyone like to volunteer some of their data to use for a discussion of text-context relations?

Best wishes


Getting started

Hello everyone!. Thanks for registering. There are about 40 of you, and I am expecting at least some of you will be silent members of this little community. If you would like to introduce yourself, please visit the forum page:

Living language forum

I have put an introductory note about myself there. I am keen to hear from those of you who want to be visible  and participate online in discussions pertaining to our course content.

If you are attending the face to face sessions, can you let me know by email? We start this Friday at 2pm, at Room 202 in the Transient Building at the University of Sydney.

We are beginning with the work of Malinowski, and I’ve put together the following page:

Reading Malinowski

He really is fantastic to read and understand.

At the face to face sessions, come prepared to talk about the ideas and your own research. I will begin by briefly summarizing the key ideas of Malinowski, but since you can watch the videos online and read the articles. I am keen that we spend the time together in dialogue.

I am still trying to work out how to get ‘student blogs’ set up on edublogs, for those of you who would like to blog during the course. I would strongly recommend it as a way of deepening your understanding, and sorting out your own views on key matters of how language makes meaning.

Warm wishes




Update: room, time, starting date

Hi everyone,

Thanks to all who have subscribed to the blog. I know some of you want only to follow this course at a distance – no problem and you are most welcome. For those who want to participate actively, I am keen to set up ‘student’ blogs – so you can write up responses to discussion, readings, problems in your own work, etc.

Please let me know if you want a blog – I hope those who are blogging will also read each other’s blogs and help create an online community. The more you are able to discuss and debate the ideas, the more we will all get out of this experience.

The first face to face meeting will be August 9th, at Sydney University in the Transient Building, room 204, from 2pm to 3.45 (I know some of you at least will go on to attend the 4pm-5.30pm linguistics talk that is held regularly in the linguistics department at Sydney University). My course will run over 12 weeks, with a pause for the mid-semester break. As flagged, there will not be face to face sessions every week – but I’m still working on the outline, and will let you know as soon as I have a draft.

So, thanks again for your interest, and I’ll be in touch with more details on course content as soon as I can.

Warm wishes



Living language

The notion of “context” has been central to the architecture of Halliday’s account of, as he puts it, “how language works”. A notion of context is present in Halliday’s earliest accounts of what grammar is, and  the way in which its description should be approached. At the same time, the relations of situation and culture are central to his conception of language as an open dynamic system, as a “vast, open-ended system of meaning potential, constantly renewing itself in interaction with its ecosocial environment” (Halliday 2003). Hasan argues that in such a conception of language, context cannot be an “a-theoretical appendage which functions as a dis­ambiguator of ambiguous sentences” (Hasan 2009). Instead, in SFL context (of situation and culture) is a concept crucial at every vantage point in the theory, to the dimensions of realization and instantion, to metafunction, and to Halliday’s conception of the strata in language. Since Halliday’s linguistics has had its focus on meaning, it should be noted that context is central to his conception of a “functional semantics” (e.g. 1984[2002]).

Drawing on Halliday’s foundation, Hasan has, more than any other linguist in the SFL tradition, explored, probed and interrogated the conception of context in the systemic functional model. Her writings on the matter are considerable (Volume 4 of her Collected Papers is dedicated to the SFL conception of context). Hasan’s probings of the concept can best be summarized as arguments in response to her deceptively simple question:

“given that speaking is done with reference to the contexts of social living, what if anything does this signify for the relations of language and culture?” (Hasan 1999).

The focus in this course is understand, as clearly as possible, the conception of context in the Halliday/Hasan tradition – how it emerged, the key influences, the assumptions entailed in it, and its implications for applications of SFL to many and varied contexts of study.