Skip to content

Reconnecting paths

14 July 2015

Reconnecting Paths: Relational Network Theory and Systemic Functional Theory as Complementary Perspectives on Language

Presenter: Professor MAK Halliday

Presented at Connecting Paths: Halliday, Hasan and Lamb, conference, City University Hong Kong / Sun-Yat Sen University, November 2010

Despite the title of this session, this turned out to be not a discussion of where the linguistics (that is, plural, two ‘registers’ of functional linguistics) of Halliday and of Lamb intersected: Professor Halliday is confident that the two theories are complementary essentially because they agree on  what language is, what a theory is, that a theory must be based in data, and that a description in linguistics must be relational.

Rather, the recorded seminar presents Professor Halliday’s commentary on the conference papers presented to that point in the program. (The actual paper which was scheduled to have been presented is available in Halliday in the 21st century, vol. 11 of the Collected Works of MAK Halliday, ed. J. J. Webster, Bloomsbury, but it is not in Macq or ACU libraries, so I haven’t sighted a copy yet.)

In his lengthy prolegomenon (perhaps 45 minutes of his session), drawing on prompts and summaries from the other speakers (Hasan, Butt and Martin are mentioned), Professor Halliday re-defined important concepts in his view of language (language as a semiogenic system which is also a biological and physical system; trinocularity of SFL; particles, fields, waves and strings analogy; the grid of theory as a product of the purpose of the theory) and, following on from that last point, what he believed linguistics was: “a way of thinking about things, and intervening in them”.

Along the way there was I felt an unconsciously humorous twist to his argument on how linguistics should be taught to students. To quote him: linguistics is not the study of different linguistic theories: you shouldn’t be taken through the different schools of thought just to discredit them — “That’s a favourite trick of the Chomskyans”, he says (haha).

Another point where he differentiated his approach from others was one that he himself raised at this year’s symposium: that his general theory of language was designed to explore, not the usual questions of linguists, but those of all the other fields “where language is the essential source of energy”. At the 2015 symposium, he characterised these people as anyone interested in meaning. In this presentation, he again gives priority to meaning as one of the two realms of human experience (as he states in a 2005 paper:

There are two phenomenal realms that we as human beings inhabit: a world of matter, and a world of meaning. Both matter and meaning are involved in all the regions of our experience. Meaning relies on matter to make it accessible to a receiver; and matter relies on meaning to organize it.

[Halliday, M. (2007). On matter and meaning: the two realms of human experience. Linguistics And The Human Sciences, 1(1).]

This is what he means by an appliable linguistics.

Additional reading

Where does Bernstein discuss “how the inner world reveals itself” (see Hasan’s paper at this conference)

Continuing discourse on language, vols 1 & 2, eds C. Matthiessen, R. Hasan & J. J. Webster, Continuum (2005/2007)

Relevance to the study

Another joke was of practical help to my thinking, or at least to my anxiety:

Student (they’re always coming up and asking this): Is this feature semantic or lexico-grammatical?
Professor: Yes.

The issue of blurred boundaries, which was also dealt with from several aspects in this talk, is revisited in the ‘critical review’ page in this log.

DH2015 – Digital humanities

4 July 2015

Conference: DH2015 Global digital humanities: the annual conference of the alliance of digital humanities organizations

Held at the University of Western Sydney – South Parramatta, 29 June to 3 July 2015

This was the first time this international conference had been held in Australia, and I attended as someone nearly completely new to the area of digital humanities.

The conference was an excellent introduction to digital humanities. I had expected to see new things in corpus linguistics, but I did not: instead, however, I was able to experience striking presentations derived from many different data sources. In conversation with well-established digital humanities researchers, it was suggested that you couldn’t be doing digital humanities if you weren’t doing something ‘cool’ — which surely raises the bar high for new entrants and reduces the chance of methodological maturity?

Two themes came into accidental prominence during the conference:

  1. Indigenous digital humanities — designed as a feature in the program, the impact of Australian Indigenous culture was particularly strong on the international and particularly the North American attendees. An immersive 3D recreation of Indigenous life on the banks of the Parramatta River pre-European contact was presented by UWS researchers within the exhibition area, literally embodying the ‘utopian core’ at the heart of the digital humanities project, according to Jensen (2014).
  2. The inclusion or exclusion of women and speakers of languages other than English from the conference program and organisation. This started as a tweet (on why the keynotes and panels had been all male) and turned into a whole stream of conversation within the conference.

Relevance to the study

(I will describe the Pelagios workshop in a separate post. )

The third keynote, The Robot Apocalypse, was highly relevant to the study: presented by Genevieve Bell, of Intel, it looked at events in the history of machines and their depicted relationships with humanity.

Tools which may be of use in the study include Heurist.

An interesting corpus of French text messages could also be a good data source: it is unannotated.


Jensen, K. E. (2014). Linguistics and the digital humanities: (computational) corpus linguistics. MedieKultur, 57, 115–134.

Linking humanities data geospatially with Pelagios and Recogito

30 June 2015

I undertook a pre-conference workshop with Leif Isaksen and Mia Ridge in using the linked open data site Pelagios and annotating it with Recogito.

We learned how geospatial data can be developed from humanities sources, such as from old maps or from text in open source literature. The result is a ‘bottomless’ maps, always open for additional annotations, revisions and extensions.

An example of a research question thrown up by the use of this data might be – “Why are Rome, Athens and Constantinople always mentioned in texts together?”

Additional reading

Space and time, Leif Isaksen:

Relevance to the study

The key insight from Isaksen is in the treatment of ‘place’: place is not necessarily a location, or a name.

The thickest data is in the ancient world: but I thought it might be possible to search the site for mentions and locations of robots in ancient Greece.

Fugitive texts

25 June 2015

Fugitive Texts: Replication, Attribution, and Bibliography in the Digitized Archive

Presenter: Ryan Cordell, NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks at Northeastern University

part of the Literary Studies Seminar series, ANU

Cover Photo

Dr Cordell works on the Viral Texts project, which uses “robust data mining tools to discover reprinted content across large-scale archives of nineteenth-century newspapers and magazines“. He was in Australia for the DH2015 conference and before this talk had just met with the Trove team.

Relevance to the study

The tracing of a fugitive poem across the recycling network of nineteenth century newspaper editors all across the USA was presented in a helpful format that could be useful for indicating the spread and history of the ‘me fecit’ term.

Battles and books

12 June 2015

Interrogating the In-between: Humanities & Languages Postgraduate Research Conference 2015, University of New South Wales

This one-day conference provided the opportunity for students from a number of universities to present to and provide feedback on their individual research topics.

[More detailed account of the presentation: Battles and books]

battleThe title of my presentation was Battles and books, and I attempted, for the largely non-linguist audience, to examine:

  • Are there patterns in the history of linguistics?
  • Do your ideas about language affect what you do with it?

Initially, I situated my interest as a worker in higher education, and indicated that in later research I would seek to link a history of personification to an examination of how abstract terms are used within the management and structure of a university.


Battles and books, slide 12

For this presentation, I looked at one strand of this question: the contest between ideas of what language is and how language should be studied at university.

I discussed examples from points in intellectual history where abstractions of linguistic concepts were depicted as being in battle, looking in more detail at d’Andely’s Battle of the seven liberal arts (c. 1250). To bring this history into a local and more immediate context, I extended the discussion to the ‘reading wars’, their genesis in 1980s California, and the ‘phonics’/’whole word’ debate still sporadically conducted via Australian newspapers.

I concluded by commenting on the practical and policy importance of ideas about language held by non-specialist employees of a contemporary university, given the topical political pressures on evaluating English language proficiency.

Relevance to the study

The benefits of developing this presentation to my research were:

  1. the opportunity to present the possible argument of my PhD proposal to a general audience
  2. the opportunity for feedback. The student audience followed the historical outline, but it was the staff who were attending the conference and mentoring us who expressed interest in the proposed research into the ideas about language found in university management and institutional advertising.

Nervous aesthetics

4 June 2015

Literary criticism, cognitive science, and sensory perception in works by Woolf, Kerouac and Nabokov

Presenter: Michael Bartlett, PhD candidate

Venue: Milgate Room, ANU

part of the SLLL Literary Studies seminar

Cover Photo

In his pre-submission seminar, Michael Bartlett used three literary case studies to examine the value or otherwise of cognitive poetics and neuroaesthetics as two approaches in the critical toolkit. These case studies were:

  • Kerouac, On the road + music
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway + Impressionism
  • Nabokov, Lolita + crossmodality

From these studies he identified mechanisms where brain functions are definitely implicated in critical responses.

  • Nabokov’s synaesthesia provides an extreme case of the working of cross-modality as the base for metaphors like ‘sharp’ cheese. Bartlett noted V. S. Ramanchandran’s work on ‘hypernormativity’ (superstimulus) and synaesthesia.
  • Woolf’s method of representing moments in time, of converting story to novel (Banfield, 2003), is “more Pisarro than Monet”, and can be aligned with the tools used by Harvard neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone to research how artworks are perceived by highly interconnected modules in the brain’s anatomy.
  • Kerouac’s enjambement was clearly related to prosodic features in language and to the tension set up in jazz, where the audience anticipates and waits for the violations and resolutions in the music.

[Banfield, A. (2003). Time Passes: Virginia Woolf, Post-Impressionism, and Cambridge Time. Poetics Today 24(3), 471-516. Duke University Press.

Ramachandran, V. S. & Hubbard, E. M. (2005) Synesthesia: What does it tell us about the emergence of qualia, metaphor, abstract thought, and language? In 23 Problems in Systems Neuroscience, edited by T. S. Sejnowski & L. Van Hemmen. Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press, pp. 432-473.]

Additional reading

The foundation work on how literary effects can be translated by linguistics or cognitive science was from proponents Peter Stockwell (dealing with linguistics and conceptual metaphor) and (initially) Reuven Tsur (chiefly concerned with poetry).

Relevance to the study

The prepress paper by Lisa Zunshine on Honglou meng (Story of the Stone) from a cognitive viewpoint impressed me greatly, and I needed to find out more of her tradition of the critical reader as a mediator between author and effect, criticism and cognitive science.
[Zunshine, L. (2015). From the Social to the Literary: Approaching Cao Xueqin’s The Story of the Stone (Honglou meng 紅樓夢 ) from a Cognitive Perspective. In The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies (pp. 1–33).]

Holocaust as a global language

2 June 2015

Holocaust memory as a global language: the case of Indigenous Australian suffering

Researcher: Dr Nina Fischer, University of Konstanz

visitor at Humanities Research Centre, ANU

Cover Photo

Fischer first presented evidence of the importance of the Jewish holocaust in Australia, for example the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Museum; Sydney’s memorial to Gay and Lesbian victims of the Holocaust; the Australian Curriculum’s inclusion of an examination of the Holocaust.

The holocaust has taken on a cosmopolitan turn, a trope of ‘moral certainty’ that unites Europe and other parts of the world. Levi and Sznaider cite it as helping to ‘facilitate the formation of transnational memory culture’, perhaps providing the basis for discussions in global multidirectional human rights. (Dr Fischer says she is not so optimistic about the humanities’ role in improving civic life.)

Her question during her stay in Australia was how does holocaust memory provide language and imagery (such as the metonymic horror of the Auschwitz gate) for talking about indigenous suffering in Australia? And does the importance of this imagery encourage its use as a language in other contexts?

Dr Fischer traced the first reference to Indigenous history as a holocaust to 1976 (where whites take on the position of Hitler youth). In a more recent (2007) example, Anthony Mundine called for the Apology with these words: “John Howard has got to admit he is wrong – just as the Germans did after Hitler”. The opposition also employs the reference, as in the contra-example Get over historical indigenous wrongs. Holocaust is also a notable part of Justice Michael Kirby’s (2012) Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration.

[Fischer’s forthcoming publication: Memory work: the second generation ]

Does knowing about other suffering cause us to remember and care more?

Relevance to the study

In a peripheral way, the potential for the term ‘holocaust’ to move from power to platitude – Tony Abbott’s comment that Labor had proposed a ‘holocaust of Defence jobs’ – is comparable to the weakening that I can trace in maker’s marks (‘X made me’ evolving into a highly compressed abbreviation).


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.