[xmca] Instantiation Cline

From: bb (xmca-whoever@comcast.net)
Date: Mon Aug 28 2006 - 10:07:45 PDT

Attached is the jpg scan of the image from p 28 of the Systemic Grammar book. I really appreciate David K's attention to the concepts and some of these finer points in the theory -- this is just the kind of discusssion that really sharpens the meanings of the theory. My interpretations of Halliday seem to differ and this in part may be because I tried to read the early Halliday first, to get a sense of the development of the theoretical ideas. Learning how to mean and Language as social semiotic were the first two -- and this came after being repeatedly pointed in the direction of Halliday by posts snd writings of Wells and Lemke. I'll scan the relevant section of Gordon's chapter where he explains how activity theory (which I take to be primarily Engestrom's formulation) provides a powerful set of conceptual tools to expand the analysis of Halliday's concept of register.

I interpret the features in the cline of instantiation figure to be relationships between theoretical categories. Being purely theoretical, everything is ideal. Even text is ideal. It is not the actual text created in the situation -- for example, it is not the discourse as it unfolds, but it is the recorded, transcribed, analyzed, theorized text. In his verbal analysis paper, (a copy is on his web) Jay Lemke has written that as we record, transcribe, and examine a discussion it is transposed -- it becomes a different thing than the discussion itself. The latter is the use of language for communication, contextualized with the situation, but as we analyze it, it enters into a different activity, research, in which it becomes part of a different meaning making activity, contextualized differently with theory and other interpreted data. (Not surprisingly, I think Jay expresses it far better than I do, but I felt it was necessary to put it into my own words.) So cons!
y, I don't think there is a problem with the relationships in the figure -- these are all theoretical categories, and they must be distinguished from the things themselves.

As to the things themselves, it is also necessary to be clear what we mean by context of situation and the context of culture -- theoretically, what other categories constitute them? Here is where I think WE (The big we) have some basic disagreements, especially across theories. In the two books, Learning how to mean and Language as social semiotic, Halliday primarily emphasizes the social and discursive elements of the context of situation, but acknowledges far more. I'll quote Halliday (LTM, p. 125-126) because our discussion needs to address how he thinks of the 'context of situation':

3. Other components of the social semiotic
Meanwhile the meanings by which the child is surrounded are, as always, meanings in context. They relate to their environment, and are interpreted in relation to their environment—to the context of situation, in other words. The situation is the medium in which text lives and breathes. This, as we have seen, is the Malinowskian concept of ' context of situation' as made explicit and modified by Firth, who pointed out that it had to be seen not as an aggregate of concrete spatio-temporal goings-on, a sort of ornamental backdrop of sights and sounds, but as an abstract representation of the relevant environment of the text. In modern jargon, it is the ecology of the text. It is a characteristic of the adult language system that the text it engenders is not tied to the immediate scenario as its relevant environment. The context of situation of a text may be entirely remote from what is happening around the act of speaking or writing.

Consider a traditional story as it is told by a mother to her child at bedtime. Here the context of situation is on two levels. On the one hand there is the immediate environment, the interaction of mother and child under particular circumstances that are associated with intimacy and relaxation. On the other hand there is the fictive environment conjured by the text itself, the imaginary world of wolves and woodcutters in which the events described take place. It is only in very strictly pragmatic contexts, those of language in action as it has been called, where the text is simply an ancillary to some activity that the participants are engaged in, that the context of situation can be identified with the visible and tangible phenomena surrounding the text: and even here, these phenomena are likely to be endowed with social values.

For this reason we are interpreting the concept of 'situation' in still more abstract terms, as a semiotic structure deriving from the totality of meaning relations that constitutes the social system. This makes it possible to talk not so much about the particulars of this or that actual context of situation in which a given text is located but rather about the set of general features that characterizes a certain situation type. The way in which a generalized context of situation, or situation type, might be represented as a semiotic construct will be discussed in the next section.

The first two of the concepts to be brought into relation, therefore, are those of text and situation: text as semantic choice, and situation as the semiotic environment of text. The third to be added to these is the concept of register. The register is the semantic variety of which a text is an instance.

A register can be defined as a particular configuration of mean­ings that is associated with a particular situation type. In any social context, certain semantic resources are characteristically employed; certain sets of options are as it were 'at risk' in the given semiotic environment. These define the register. Considered in terms of the notion of meaning potential, the register is the range of meaning potential that is activated by the semiotic properties of the situation.


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