Article in:Functions of Language: Online-First Articles
Context of situation and the role of language
‘Role’ is typically defined according to the part and/or function that something or someone contributes to a situation. This two-fold perspective is also inherent in discussions of the role of language: the ‘amount’ of language that is involved in a situation and the ‘function’ of language in a situation, with both perspectives relating to the non-linguistic systems that may be involved in the conduct of the situation relative to language. It is the latter of these perspectives, however, that has typically received most attention in discourse analysis, with the former (the ‘amount’) being left implicit and unproblematised. This paper considers the role of language from various discourse analytical perspectives before critically examining the concept within Systemic Functional Linguistics. Using system networks as the representational and analytical platform, the paper redefines ‘role of language’ in contextual Mode as comprised of two sub-systems: degree of involvement and type of involvement. degree of involvement accounts for the compositional contribution that language makes in a situation; type of involvement accounts for the way in which language may function in a situation. Using an illustrative dataset, the paper also demonstrates the effectiveness of the systemic approach in accounting for overlapping and differing contextual configurations by showing how features within the role of language configure and how these in turn configure with options in the Field system-network of action. These configurations are essentially hypotheses that can be more comprehensively tested through empirical research.
Published online: 07 April 2021
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