Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Need For An Explicit Theory Of Systemic Functional Syntax

Fawcett (2010: 104-5):
The practical demonstration of this fact (as I take it to be) is that this aspect of a systemic functional theory of syntax is needed in two important areas of application. The first is that of specifying what a computer needs to know, in order to analyse a string of incoming words into the syntactic structure that relates them.The second area of application is the analysis of texts by humans. It is not surprising that broadly the same set of concepts is required in both cases, and this is why a book that is written to help people to analyse texts invariably makes at least some use of a theory of instances. Indeed, this is precisely why we find Halliday making such frequent but informal use of the concepts of 'class of unit' and 'element of structure' in IFG …
The fact that computer models of systemic functional grammars cannot simply be turned into natural language understanding machines by reversing them underlines this book's main argument, i.e., the argument that there is a need for an explic[i]t theory of systemic functional syntax. It provides evidence from this important sub-field of computational linguistics research that we can place alongside the less explicit evidence from the needs of the text analyst. In other words, it is a clear demonstration of the need for the sort of theory of 'instances of syntax' that is to be presented in Part 2 of this book.

Blogger Comments:

[1] To be clear, Fawcett's argument is that an explicit theory of systemic functional syntax is needed because it is needed for computational applications.

[2] To be clear, as IFG demonstrates, grammatical structures can be analysed by humans without resort to a theory of syntax.

[3] To be clear, in Fawcett's model (Figure 4), selection expressions (meaning) and structures (form) are misunderstood as instances, as previously explained.

[4] This is misleading. To be clear, in SFL Theory, formal units are modelled as a rank scale of clause, group/phrase, word and morpheme, each of which serves as the entry condition to systems that specify structures at that rank. This is why IFG, which outlines the structures at the ranks of clause and group, is organised in terms of the rank scale. The notion of 'class of unit' is most relevant at the rank of group, because different classes of group — nominal, verbal, etc. — have different elements of structure.

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