Re: [xmca] Beyond Alterity/Intersubjectivity

From: bb (
Date: Wed Aug 23 2006 - 19:06:38 PDT

I don't read the passage centered on p28 quite in the same way -- and following Halliday's reasoning, I don't think it is the ideal of culture that is material and social, but the instantiation of culture -- Hopi and Navaho being two instantiations. In this passage, in this book, Halliday and Matthiessen are more concenred with the grammatical dimensions of language (Introduction to functional grammar), so the focus is specifically narrowed and, hence, seems to suffer some distortion, especially if trying to relate this content to development -- of language and social relations, for example. Below, the authors make the claim "Most texts in adult life do not relate directly to the objects and events in their environment", and the "adult" must certainly be emphasized as texts produced and read by children in early stages of literacy can be quite different (picture books arguably provide their own environment). For reading Halliday on development of language and social relat!
 ions, I
 find his book "Learning how to mean" to be far better.

Anyway, text makes it's own context -- sentences in one section are read in cohesive relation to others, so it's important to understand instantiation through the whole passage, which I've scanned and appears below. This did not take but a minute. Images and tables don't appear, but at least there is a reasonable chunk of the whole.

When we say that language is stratified in this way, we mean that this is how we have to model language if we want to explain it. A language is a series of redundancies by which we link our ecosocial environment to nonrandom disturbances in the air (soundwaves). Each step is, of course, masterminded by the brain. The relationship among the strata — the process of linking one level of organization with another — is called realization.* Table 1(5) presents this model from the point of view of the speaker — it is hard to present it in a way that is neutral between speaking and listening. Figure 1-10 represents the stratal organization of language, and shows how the stratified linguistic system is 'embedded' in context (cf. Halliday, 1978; Halliday and Hasan, 1985; Martin, 1992).

1.3.4 Instantiation
When we want to explain how language is organized, and how its organization relates to the function it fulfills in human life, we often find it difficult to make things clear; and this is because we are trying to maintain two perspectives at once. One perspective is that of language as system; the other perspective is that of language as text.

The concept we need here is that of instantiation. The system of a language is 'instantiated' in the form of text. A text may be a trivial service encounter, like ordering coffee, or it may be a momentous event in human history, like Nelson Mandela's inaugural speech; in either case, and whatever its intrinsic value, it is an instance of an underlying system, and has no meaningful existence except as such. A text in English has no semiotic standing other than by reference to the system of English (which is why it has no meaning for you if you do not know the language).
The system is the underlying potential of a language: its potential as a meaning-making resource.** This does not mean that it exists as an independent phenomenon: there are not two separate objects, language as system and language as a set of texts. The relationship j between the two is analogous to that between the weather and the climate (cf. Halliday, 1992b). Climate and weather are not two different phenomena; rather, they are the same phenomenon seen from different standpoints of the observer. What we call 'climate' is weather seen from a greater depth of time — it is what is instantiated in the form of weather. The weather is the text: it is what goes on around us all the time, impacting on, and sometimes disturbing, our daily lives. The climate is the system, the potential that underlies these variable effects.

* With a primary semiotic system, like the infant protolanguage, consisting only of content and expression, we could still use the word 'express'. But with a higher order (multistratal) semiotic this is no longer appropriate; we could not really say that wording 'expresses' meaning. Hence the use of a distinct technical term.
** This use of 'system' is thus different from — although related to — its meaning as a technical term in the grammar (Section 1.3.2 above). The system in this general sense is equivalent to the totality of all the specific systems that would figure in a comprehensive network covering every stratum.

Why then do we refer to them as different things? We can see why, if we consider some recent arguments about global warming; the question is asked: is this a long-term weather pattern, or is it a blip in the climate? What this means is, can we explain global warming in terms of some general theory (in this case, of climatic change), or is it just a set of similar events? An analogous question about language would be if we took a corpus of, say, writings by political scientists and asked, are these just a set of similar texts, or do they represent a sub-system of the language? The climate is the theory of the weather. As such, it does have its own separate existence — but (like all theoretical entities) it exists on the semiotic plane. It is a virtual thing. Similarly with the system of language: this is language as a virtual thing; it is not the sum of all possible texts but a theoretical entity to which we can assign certain properties and which we can invest with conside!
 rable e
xplanatory power.

System and text are thus related through instantiation. Like the relationship between climate and weather, the relationship between system and text is a cline — the cline of instantiation (Figure 1-11). System and text define the two poles of the cline — that of the overall potential and that of a particular instance. Between these two poles there are intermediate patterns. These patterns can be viewed either from the system pole as sub-systems, or from the instance pole, as instance types. If we start at the instance pole, we can study a single text, and then look for other texts that are like it according to certain criteria. When we study this sample of texts, we can identify patterns that they all share, and describe these in terms of a text type. By identifying a text type, we are moving along the cline of instantiation away from the text pole towards the system pole. The criteria we use when we compare the texts in our sample could, in principle, come from any of t!
 he stra
ta of language — as long as they are systematic and explicit. However, research has shown that texts vary systematically according to contextual values: texts vary according to :he nature of the contexts they are used in. Thus recipes, weather forecasts, stock market reports, rental agreements, e-mail messages, inaugural speeches, service encounters in the local deli, news bulletins, media interviews, tutorial sessions, walking tours in a guide book, gossip during a tea break, advertisements, bedtime stories and all the other innumerable text types we meet in life are all ways of using language in different contexts. Looked at from the system pole of the cline of instantiation, they can be interpreted as registers. A register is a functional variety of language (Halliday, 1978) — the patterns of instantiation of the overall system associated with a given type of context (a situation type).* These patterns of instantiation show up quantitatively as adjustments in the syst!
 emic pr
obabilities of language; a register can be represented as a particular setting of systemic probabilities. For example, the future tense is very much more likely to occur in weather forecasts than it is in stories (for examples of quantitative profiles of registers, see Matthiessen, 2002b, in press a).

*Here, the term 'register' thus refers to a functional variety of language. It has also been used in a related, but different way, to refer to the contextual values associated with such a functional variety (see Martin, 1992; cf. Matthiessen, 1993).

If we now come back to the question of stratification, we can perhaps see more clearly what it means to say that the semantic stratum is language interfacing with the non-linguistic (prototypically material) world. Most texts in adult life do not relate directly to the objects and events in their environment. Mandela's text was highly abstract, and even when he talked about the soil of this beautiful country and the jacaranda trees of Pretoria, it is very unlikely that he could actually see them at the time. They were not a part of the setting in that instance. Nevertheless, the meanings that are realized by these wordings, and the meanings realized by an extraordinary human disaster and humanity's belief in justice are, ultimately, construals of human experience; and when we now read or listen to that text we are understanding it as just that. Interfacing with the ecosocial environment is a property of language as system; it is also, crucially, a feature of those instances !
 which small children come to master the system; but it is not something that is re-enacted in every text. Experience is remembered, imagined, abstracted, metaphorized and mythologized — the text has the power to create its own environment; but it has this power because of the way they system has evolved, by making meaning out of the environment as it was given.

As grammarians we have to be able to shift our perspective, observing now from the system standpoint and now from that of the text; and we have to be aware at which point we are standing at any time. This issue has been strongly foregrounded by the appearance of the computerized corpus. A corpus is a large collection of instances — of spoken and written texts; the corpuses now available contain enough data to give significantly new insights into the grammar of English, provided the data can be processed and interpreted. But the corpus does not write the grammar for you, any more than the data from experiments in the behaviour of light wrote Newton's Opticks for him; it has to be theorized. Writing a description of a grammar entails constant shunting between the perspective of the system and the perspective of the instance. We have tried in this edition to take account of the new balance that has arisen as a result of data becoming accessible to grammarians in sufficient qu!
for the first time in the two and a half millennia history of the subject.

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