RE: Thinking in a foreign language

From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane (
Date: Thu May 08 2003 - 16:07:10 PDT

Hi Gordon.

To me the concepts of genre and register were always confusing for some
reason. Not in Bakhtin, but in Halliday and Hasan.
Can you give some examples to enlighten the definitions you were discussing?
I feel that there is something important there, but I cannot grasp it.

-----Original Message-----
From: Gordon Wells []
Sent: Thursday, May 08, 2003 10:41 AM
Subject: RE: Thinking in a foreign language

Phil, you wrote:
>This is a very interesting point which I would like to spend some
>time tossing around. I am currently working through how Bakhtin's
>speech genres might or might not resonate with the concept of
>register in the systemics model of language.

I too have thought about this. Bakhtin uses only the term genre,
whereas systemic functional linguists distinguish between the two
theoretical categories of register and genere. What makes the issue
still more complicated is that there is a longstanding disagreement
between Ruqaiya Hasan and Jim Martin about the relationship of these
two categories. Roughly speaking, Hasan treats genre as subordinate
to register while Martin makes genre the superordinate category: i.e.
genre interfaces with the social world of non-linguistic activity and
is, in rurn, realized through choices among registers.
Interestingly, Halliday only uses the term register, which he first
introduced in the 1960s. (A good book for Halliday and Hasan's views
is their joint publication, Language, Context and Text, Oxford
University Press, 1989.)

Where there is only one term in the system, as with both Bakhtin and
Halliday, it seems pretty clear that they are somewhat equivalent in
their scope. But when, as with both Hasan and Martin, there are two,
the relationship between Bakhtin and SFL becomes really complicated.

Personally, I have found it useful to use the two terms somewhat
differently. With Halliday, I see register as describing the
linguistic categories, lexical and grammatical that are primed by the
social/situation activity (or as indicating how the speaker construes
the situation). In this sense, register is a synoptic category.
Genre I see as more dynamic in the sense that it describes the
structuring of the text in its production in the situation in order
to "do something" through words. Of course, both register and genre
are in play in all linguistic interaction.

I'd be inteerested in your and others' reactions.


Gordon Wells
UC Santa Cruz.

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