Functional Grammar – Introduction

Reflections on Introduction (chapter 1; pp. 1-11) from A New Grammar Companion by Beverly Derewianka

Chapter 1 in Derewianka’s book A New Grammar Companion – For Teachers (2015) introduces the book, its form and its chapters. The book can be used in several ways, but especially for those who are interested in either the meaning or the form of English grammar. The meaning behind grammar teaching focusses on the linguistic choices created for certain meanings. Grammar is reviewed as a resources; “(…) an array of possibilities from which we can choose” (p.1).

Functional grammar teaching is a…

  • sociological perspective*
  • language perspective, and a
  • pedagogical perspective

*Sociological perspective as learners can (and should be able to) use language to achieve a range of social purposes such as describing, explaining, arguing and recounting.

When using a functional perspective:

  • Language is a dynamic, complex system of resources for making meaning.
  • Language reflects the culture in which it has evolved. It is not a neutral medium, but expresses certain world views, values, beliefs and attitudes.
  • Our language choices change from situation to situation, depending on the social purpose for which language is being used, the subject matter, who is involved, and whether the language is spoken or written.
  • The emphasis in language study is on how people use authentic language in various contexts in real life to achieve their purposes.
  • The particular focus will be on the language needed for successful participation in school contexts.
  • A knowledge of grammar can help us to critically evaluate our own texts and those of others (eg identifying point of view; examining how language can be manipulated to achieve certain effects and position the reader in different ways; knowing how language can be used to construct various identities or a particular way of viewing the world).

(p.3)

What language does and what it is needed for:

  • For achieving different social purposes
  • For sharing ideas about their experience of the world
  • For making connections between these ideas
  • For interacting with others
  • And for constructing coherent texts in both spoken and written modes.

The language choices made are naturally influenced by the context. The context includes the purpose, field, tenor and mode. The figure beneath shows how a text is typically shaped (how, and why). The social purpose covers genre and characteristics thereof, thus the entire text and all it’s elements (read: context) is shaped by the social purpose of itself.  Building the field influence that linguistic choices one has to express and connect ideas (knowledge), thus if the teacher is asking a learner to deliver a certain type of text, the “field” is where scaffolding ought to be done (if need be) e.g., to equip the learner with a broadened vocabulary (p.6). The tenor concerns the actual roles presented and their relationships with each other e.g., occupation, titles, intimate vs. distant relations. Finally the mode of the context has to do with creating a coherent and cohesive text, which is different from fluent and spontaneous verbal language.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 16.37.47

The chapter also introduces the levels of language (and their relation to each other), divided into the following:

  • Text
  • Sentence
  • Clause
  • Group/phrase (as a group of words, what function does ‘this phrase’ have in the sentence?)
  • Word

Example of a story divided into the 5 levels of language: (p.11).

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Literature:

Derewianka, B. (2015): A New Grammar Companion – For Teachers. Reprint. PETAA

 

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