Monthly Archives: September 2015

PAB #4 “Peeling the Onion – A Textual Model of Critical Analysis.” Sally L. Humphrey and Dorothy Economou

Often as English teachers we give our students vague admonitions like “be specific,” “be descriptive,” and “analyze.” In “Peeling the Onion – A Textual Model of Critical Analysis,” the authors use systemic functional linguistics (SFL), especially register and genre theory, to explore the ways in which description, analysis, persuasion, and critique are patterned in the academic discourse of successful writers. The researchers look at two expert texts within the fields of Biology and Education. The authors argue that the relationships between description, analysis, persuasion, and critique can best be understood through The Onion Model (see fig. 1), “a layered model of academic writing development, which acknowledges that successful persuasive and critical writing depends on the accumulation of knowledge developed through both description and analysis” (Humphrey and Economou 37). Instead of a hierarchy, teachers can model description, analysis, persuasion, and critique as a spiral, where description and analysis serve as the basis for more complex skills.

 The Onion – A Textual Model of Critical Analysis

Figure 1 The Onion: A Textual Model of Critical Analysis


 Academic texts traditionally rely on two different types of description: entity-focused description and event-focused description. Entity-focused descriptions, realized in noun groups, describe persons, places, things, concepts, and “received” taxonomies, while event-focused descriptions recount events, usually in material processes (Humphrey and Economou 41). Description is the most basic form of analysis, the summarization of information, often occurring in the introduction to orient the reader to the established facts of an argument.


 ” What sets analysis apart from description in the Onion model is that, in analysis, information is not presented as the way things are in the field, but as the way the writer chooses to represent information in the field in order to address the concerns of their text.” (Humphrey and Economou 42)

Description is different than analysis in that established facts and “received” taxonomies are reorganized in creative and original ways. Analysis tends to flow over large bodies of text, such as with organizational headings, creating an original framework for a text (Humphrey and Economou 43). Analysis can be expressed through the creation of abstract entities, through nominalization, as well as by comparing and contrasting categories (Humphrey and Economou 43).


 In persuasion, the writer takes a specific stance on a position, using scholars for support. Humphrey and Economou explain persuasion generally “unfolds through three stages: thesis (or overall position); arguments; and reinforcement of thesis” (43). At the phase level, persuasion results from a claim backed by grounds. Interpersonal, appraisal resources are necessary for persuasion, making evaluations, expressing judgments, as well as establishing rapport with the reader, proving multiple perspectives have been taken into account.


 Critical analysis is the most advanced stance a writer can take. Critical analysis involves the challenging of established authorial opinions, convincing the reader of an alternative. A critical stance  involves pointing out an argument is flawed or limited in some way and is most often set forth in the introduction (Humphrey and Economou 47). Critical analysis uses appraisal resources, like persuasion, but also employs negative evaluations, such as so-and-so’s argument is flawed, overstated, limited, etc. (Humphrey and Economou 47).


The Onion Model describes the academic stances of description, analysis, persuasion, and critical analysis as a recursive spiral rather than a hierarchy. The model clearly illustrates that writers are dependent on basic forms of analysis before achieving the more complex levels of persuasion and critique.

Although this model was originally developed for English Language Learners, I believe all my students in first-year writing could benefit from it. I especially like the genre analysis of persuasion and critique, analyzing the linguistic and appraisal features that help express more sophisticated academic stances. Pointing out to students the linguistic features of description, analysis, persuasion, and critique can make tangible the techniques students need to achieve persuasive and critical writing. Research into genre and writing for academic purposes ties into my larger goals of exploring ways to make language instruction well-informed and clearer for all students.

Works Cited

Humphrey, Sally L., and Dorothy Economou. “Peeling the Onion – A Textual Model of Critical Analysis.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 17 (2015): 37-50. Web.

PAB #3 “Genre-Based Pedagogies: A Social Response to Process” Ken Hyland

Genre Word Cloud

Hyland’s essay explores several critical issues surrounding process pedagogy and outlines ways in which genre-based pedagogies could support process approaches. Process pedagogy, in its broadest sense, has been the dominant approach to composition for decades. Indeed, questioning process pedagogy may ruffle some feathers, as it has become so ingrained in first-year composition. Additionally, several critiques of process pedagogy point to deep-seated economic and sociopolitical problems. My goal is not to dismiss process pedagogy by any means. Process pedagogy – the sequence of invention heuristics, pre-writing, peer reviews, revision, teacher feedback, the concern for voice, purpose, and audience – is about as integral to my teaching practices as breathing. In fact, my class is holding two peer workshops this week! These constructive criticisms have more to do with process pedagogy’s epistemology and the role of language in the classroom. Integrating process and genre-based approaches provides a powerful framework for explicitly teaching language and genres in a variety of social contexts, while meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners.

Process approaches are what Bizzell (1992) calls ‘inner-directed’ … But while this view directs us to acknowledge the cognitive dimensions of writing and to see the learner as an active processor of information, it neglects the actual processes of language use. Put simply, there is little systematic understanding of the ways language is used in particular domains. (Hyland 19)

My biggest point of contention with process pedagogy is epistemological. Process pedagogy situates language use within cognition, relegating language study to the ephemeral realm of the mind. Flower and Hayes defined the process of writing “as a set of distinctive thinking processes,” relying on think-aloud protocols of expert writers, yet do not go into much more detail (366). Placing language within cognition makes it virtually impossible to systematically study language, unless you are a cognitive scientist, which most English teachers and students are not. Genre pedagogy more appropriately places language within society and uses texts as the unit of study, analyzing how writers effectively achieve their purposes through language.

While well-intentioned, this is a procedure which principally advantages middle class L1 students who, immersed in the values of the cultural mainstream, share the teacher’s familiarity with key genres. (Hyland 19)

This is probably the most biting critique of process pedagogy. As an “invisible” pedagogy, students unfamiliar with middle class values of individualism and inner-directed reflection, will have difficulty meeting the implicit expectations and cultural values of their teacher. Delpit argues, “Teachers do students no service to suggest, even implicitly, that ‘product’ is not important. In this country students will be judged on their product regardless of the process they utilized to achieve it” (qtd. in Hyland 19). By focusing on process over product, yet still grading students’ papers by a demanding, often unstated criteria, students least familiar with academic discourse and Western cultural norms will not be evaluated as successful.

What is genre pedagogy?

Genre pedagogy is a “visible” pedagogy, which seeks to explain how writers achieve their purpose through language in various social contexts. Genre aims to familiarize all students with privileged forms of discourse. Instead of situating language study within cognition, genre pedagogy places language squarely within discourse communities. While teachers of process pedagogy often take a “hands-off” approach, teachers of genre pedagogy take an active role in students’ learning, often employing the teaching-learning cycle – deconstruction, joint negotiation, independent construction. Genre pedagogy breaks genres into stages, which are further divided into phases, so students are given clear instruction on how to produce genres at every stage of the writing process.

Doesn’t genre pedagogy encourage formulaic, cookie-cutter writing devoid of critical thought?

Genres such as greetings, business transactions, and research articles become highly codified over time. Genres are developed to achieve certain social purposes. Far from being a negative, teaching students genres apprentices them into the practices of privileged discourse communities. Genres allow for a tremendous amount of heterogeneity, play and creativity, within the homogeneity, not to say students won’t blindly follow generic formulas; it is always a possibility. To the question of whether genre pedagogy encourages critical thought, the questioning of conventions and ideology, Hyland makes the excellent point that students cannot produce critical analyses or experiment with genres until they can successfully write in the discourse community. It is that old adage: you must learn the rules before you can break them.

Works Cited

Flower, Linda, and John R. Hayes. “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing.” College Composition and Communication: 365-387. Print.

Hyland, Ken. “Genre-based Pedagogies: A Social Response to Process.” Journal of Second Language Writing 12.1 (2003): 17-29. Web.



Paper # 1 History of Systemic Functional Linguistics

A History of Systemic Functional Linguistics


Michael Alexender Kirkwood Halliday

Key terms: Systemic functional linguistics, social semiotics, genre pedagogy, multimodal discourse analysis

Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) was developed in the mid-twentieth century by the linguist Michael Halliday. Associated with the Prague School, and influenced by sociologists such as Malinowski and Bernstein, SFL is an extension of the work in systemics by Halliday’s mentor, J.R. Firth. SFL is a descriptive, functional grammar that has become central to many fields of research, including social semiotics, multimodality, critical discourse analysis (CDA), genre pedagogy, and natural language processing. Halliday explains SFL’s groundbreaking view of language: “A language is a resource for making meaning, and meaning resides in systemic patterns of choice” (Halliday and Matthiessen 23). SFL maps the paradigmatic dimensions of language, language as choice, using system networks.

SFL’s conception of language is unique within the field of linguistics; language is viewed from multiple levels of stratification: “phonology (systems of sounds/writing), lexicogrammar (systems of wording), discourse semantics (systems of meaning), and context (genre and register)” (Zappavigna 793). In SFL, wording and grammar are not separate; instead, grammatical meaning and lexical meaning are inseparable aspects of lexicogrammar. SFL is an alternative to Chomskyan linguistics, though both systems can work hand in hand. In “On Communicative Competence,” Hymes points out the somewhat unproductive divide between competence and performance in Chomsky’s traditional linguistic framework (55). SFL bridges this divide through the concept of instantiation, where the meaning potentials of one’s language are instantiated or realized through text production. A key concept of SFL is the metafunctions. Texts convey three kinds of meaning simultaneously: the ideational (experiential and logical representations), interpersonal (social relationships), and textual (information flow and arrangement).

Halliday taught at the University of Sydney in Australia from 1976 to 1987, where he influenced a generation of linguists. His influence has been felt among English, communications, and education departments around the world. Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar, published in 1985, was the first book to provide a systematic introduction to SFL, sparking interest in the field. In the following years, a host of other introductions to SFL were published, many by Halliday’s students and colleagues, including Bloor’s Functional Analysis of English, Eggins’s Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, and Working with Functional Grammar by Matthiessen, Martin, and Painter.

Soon linguists began to expand Halliday’s work in a number of directions. In The Language of Evaluation, J.R. Martin extends the interpersonal metafunction into a full-blown theory of appraisal analysis, studying how people express emotions, make judgments, and show appreciation (35). Martin and others have also been integral to the development of genre pedagogy, which aims to teach students the explicit linguistic features of academic genres as a matter of social justice, by giving disadvantaged students and English Language Learners access to privileged forms of discourse.

Halliday’s work is extremely influential to social semiotics and multimodality. Halliday’s 1978 collection of essays Language as Social Semiotic created the field. While traditional semiotics views the connection between signifier and signified as arbitrary, social semiotics views this relationship as socially motivated. Producers use the semiotic resources available to them within the culture to create texts (books, paintings, digital artwork, etc.). As an adaptable metalanguage, SFL can map various semiotic systems – visual texts, sound, architecture, etc. O’Toole’s Language of Displayed Art was the first book to apply metafunctional analysis to the visual arts. Kress and van Leeuwen expand on O’Toole’s research in Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design, creating a framework for the analysis of screen-based texts. Multimodal Discourse Analysis (MDA) and Systemic Functional Multimodal Discourse Analysis (SFMDA) are now thriving fields of research with notable scholars including Kress, van Leeuwen, O’Halloran, and Lemke.

Arguably, SFL made its way to English Studies in the States through the New London Group’s (NLG) 1996 essay “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” The NLG is an interdisciplinary group of influential researchers, several of whom (Fairclough and Kress), are well versed in SFL. While the NLG take a lot of ideas from SFL and social semiotics, they do not outline its full theory. Although the NLG’s essay is highly influential, especially within multimodal composition, I argue that the NLG’s most important recommendation, the need of a metalanguage for teachers and students to analyze texts, print and digital, has not been fully carried out in an educational context (77).

Although SFL is the dominant form of linguistics in Australia, as well as some other pockets of the world, at this point in time I believe SFL has a very tenuous or burgeoning relationship with English Studies in the United States. Multimodality, multimodal composition, new media, and digital rhetoric have become increasingly popular in English Studies, yet these disciplines appear separate from their original contexts within SFL and social semiotics. In education, however, genre pedagogy has begun to take some hold, primarily through the work of Mary Schleppegrell at the University of Michigan.

I find this to be an extraordinarily exciting time to be working in SFL, as SFL is being applied to new fields such as social media. SFL will continue to offer functional solutions for the systematic study of language. I believe we need to do a better job in the States to communicate with SFL researchers from around the world.       

Works Cited

Halliday, Michael, and Christian M.I. Matthiessen.  Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Hymes, Dell. “On Communicative Competence.” Sociolinguistics: Selected Readings. Eds. J.B. Pride and J. Holmes. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972. 53-73. Web.

New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review 66.1 (1996): 60-93. Web.

Zappavigna, Michele. “Ambient Affiliation: A Linguistic Perspective on Twitter.” New Media & Society 13.5 (2011): 788-806. Web.

PAB #2 “Systemic Functional Linguistics and a Theory of Language in Education” Frances Christie

Christie, Frances. “Systemic Functional Linguistics and a Theory of Language in Education.”

Christie examines how systemic functional linguistics (SFL), specifically the theories of academic register and genre, can be applied to the teaching of language in educational contexts. In SFL, there is no “clearcut distinction between theoretical and applied interests” (13). Instead, the relationship between theory and application can be seen as a “dialogue between theoretical questions and applied questions” (13). SFL is often used to solve specific problems, such as developing an inventory of the most common genres in which students write, as well as the linguistic and sociocultural features which make up genres.

3 Types of Language Teaching

Halliday, McIntosh, and Stevens identified three types of language instruction:

  • Prescriptive– Rules-based. Teaching students the “preferred” academic conventions.
  • Descriptive– The description of one’s native language, including informal language, dialects, etc.
  • Productive– Extending students’ capacity to make meaning with their language.


Register: Field, Tenor, and Mode

Field Tenor Mode

Fig. 1 A Multi-Functional View of Register and Genre

Halliday hypothesized that a register is a variety of language in use consisting of three variables – field, tenor, and mode.

  • Field– The activity language is being used to talk about.
  • Tenor– The social relationships between participants in a text.
  • Mode– The medium or mode of communication.


During the 70s and 80s, Halliday refined the theory of register to explain “the relationship of linguistic choices to the register variables,” which he termed the three metafunctions, the theory that all language enacts three different kinds of meaning:

  • Experiential– The experiences represented in language.
  • Interpersonal- The relationships between reader and text, as well as the social relationship between participants in a text.
  • Textual– The organization and arrangement of a text.


As depicted in fig. 1, the variables of register correspond to the three metafunctions. Field relates to the experiential metafunction, tenor relates to the interpersonal metafunction, and mode relates to the textual metafunction.

Register and Genre: Context of Situation and Context of Culture

J.R. Martin and other researchers extended Halliday’s theory of register into a full-blown theory of genre, while documenting text types students were required to write in Australian schools. Taking Malinowski’s theories of context of situation and context of culture, Martin was able to distinguish between register, the context of a specific situation, and genre, the context of culture. Martin “argued firstly that any text involved a set of linguistic choices with respect to field, tenor, and mode, and that these were a condition of the context of situation, and secondly, that the text was in turn an instance of a particular genre, where the genre choice was a condition of the context of culture” (23). The big distinction here is that Martin found text types could share the same variable of field, tenor, and mode, “yet nonetheless produce different genres” (23). Register is shaped by the contextual variables present in a given situation, while genre is shaped by the broader social resources of an entire culture.

Putting It All Together: Register and Genre in English Studies

Wow, that was a lot of theory! So what can register and genre do for English Studies?

  • One, as English Studies becomes more concerned with discourse and situating language within social context, register and genre provide functional and systematic ways for modeling social context on two levels: the instance (or immediate situation) and the culture.
  • The theory of register has the potential to bridge the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and Writing in the Disciplines (WID) divide, as all disciplines use an academic register, valuing different variations of field, tenor, and mode. For instance, looking at “voice,” science favors third person, while creative writing may favor first person. If students were taught the concept of register, they would most likely have little difficulty navigating different configurations of academic register.
  • Although there has been somewhat extensive cataloging of the most popular genres students write in K-12 education, primarily in Australia, colleges in the U.S. could benefit from an investigation into genre types. The Genre Project by The University of North Carolina Writing Program has been doing notable research into the most prevalent genres in first-year composition. The inforgraphic below (see fig. 2) shows the research essay is the most popular genre in fyc, followed by narrative and descriptive essays.



Fig. 2 Genres in FYC

  • As regards to educational theory, SFL fosters three key pedagogical characteristics: learning language, learning through language, and learning about language (18). Additionally, this approach raises teachers’ meta-awareness of language within their disciplines.
  • I have tried to incorporate genre-based approaches in my teaching by providing sample writing of the target genre, talking explicitly about the linguistic features of genres, and utilizing the teaching-learning cycle – deconstruction, joint construction, independent construction.

PAB #1 “Ideas About Language” Michael Halliday

Halliday, M.A.K. “Ideas About Language.” On Language and Linguistics. Ed. Jonathan J. Webster. London: Continuum, 2003. Print.

“Much of our adult folk linguistics is no more than misremembered classroom grammar (or was, in the days when there still was classroom grammar); it may be wrong, but it is certainly not naive” (20).


I chose this epigraph to begin this post to stir up questions surrounding what we mean by “grammar.” For most, grammar is the collective folk linguistics, the rules we remember, or misremember, from elementary school. Viewing language as a resource for meaning making, instead of a set of rules, opens up grammar’s rhetorical possibilities.

In “Ideas About Language,” Halliday surveys the history of linguistics, a period spanning several millennia, with particular emphasis on the origins and development of systemic functional linguistics (SFL), which Halliday situates within the rhetorical tradition. SFL is a functional grammar concerned with analyzing language within social context. SFL has a variety of theoretical and practical applications and is used in social semiotics, genre pedagogy, critical discourse analysis (CDA), multimodal discourse analysis, and natural language processing (NLP).

Language as Rule vs. Language as Resource

Halliday explores the ontogenesis, or biological development of the individual, to trace “what is it that people naturally know about language” (20). Halliday asks, “What does a child know about language before his insights are contaminated by theories of the parts of speech,” which children learn once they go to school (20). The crux of Halliday’s argument is that children initially see language as a resource, a way to enact meaning, structure experience, a way to fulfill one’s needs and desires, until children go to school and are taught to see language as a set of rules: “language will be superseded by the folk linguistics of the classroom, with its categories and classes, its rules and regulations, its do’s and, above all, its don’ts” (22).

The Rhetorical Origins of SFL: Ethnographic vs Philosophical Traditions

Though it may be an overly broad generalization, Halliday assigns the two views of language – language as resource and language as rule – to two different schools of linguistic tradition, the ethnographic and philosophical schools. Halliday traces the origins of the ethnographic movement, which SFL is a part, back to the Sophists, who were concerned “with the nature of argumentation, and hence with the structure of discourse,” as opposed to “truth” with a capital T (23). The philosophical tradition, represented by Chomsky’s formal grammar, goes back to Aristotle and is concerned with logic and absolute truth. Halliday’s descriptive, ethnographic approach stresses linguistic variety understood in social context, while the Chomskyan approach looks for universals in language (27). The Chomskyan, universalist approach has been criticized for being “ethnocentric” by “judg[ing] all languages as peculiar versions of English,” as well as relying too heavily on formalized rules based on an idealized version of “perfect” English (27). Yet, Chomskyan linguistics is still the dominant form of linguistics within English Studies.


What I find most exciting about Halliday’s work are the potential applications for SFL within rhetoric, composition, and new media. Halliday argues that SFL is “the functional grammar of rhetoric” and then goes on to situate a functional grammatical approach in the rhetorical tradition. SFL shows untapped potential as a rhetorical language within English Studies, which sometimes suffers from a lack of shared metalanguage and systemization of methods, and tends to look at texts in isolation instead of social context. In English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s), McComiskey notes the importance of social context as “crucial to a full and productive understanding of English studies that has the potential for relevance outside of academia” (44).

Additionally, while multimodal composition has focused on student production of multimodal texts, a less explored and perhaps more pertinent topic is how students will analyze, interpret, and write about multimodal texts, which SFL, as a metalanguage and framework, helps facilitate.

I have done a preliminary study on how students can use SFL as a metalanguage to analyze and write about multimodal texts in a first-year writing course, using Kress and van Leeuwen’s sociosemiotic framework from Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. This semester, while teaching multimodal visual analysis in a unit on research and argumentation examining advertising and consumerism, I hope to make more explicit connections between SFL as a metalanguage for visual analysis and SFL as a language to analyze traditional texts and understand genres.

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