Halliday on complexity (1992)

Sometimes you just feel lucky : I was reading the famous article by Charles J. Fillmore, “Corpus linguistics” or “Computer-aided armchair linguistics”, in the proceedings of a Nobel symposium which took place in 1991 (it is known for the introducing descriptions of the armchair and of the corpus linguist who don’t have anything to say to each other) as I decided to read the following article. The title did not seem promising to me, but still, it was written by Halliday :

M.A.K. Halliday, Language as system and language as instance: The corpus as a theoretical construct, pp. 61-77.

The author gives a few insights on the questions which one could ask to a given text to find a language model. One of the points has to do with “text dynamics”. Here is how Halliday defines it :

« It is a form of dynamic in which there is (or seems to be) an increase in complexity over time: namely, the tendency for complexity to increase in the course of the text. » (p. 69)

In fact, Halliday develops a very interesting idea from the textual dimension of complexity, also named the “unfolding of the text” (p. 69), its “individuation” or the ...

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On Text Linguistics

Talking about text complexity in my last post, I did not realize how important it is to take the framework of text linguistics into account. This branch of linguistics is well-known in Germany but is not really meant as a topic by itself elsewhere. Most of the time, no one makes a distinction between text linguistics and discourse analysis, although the background is not necessarily the same.

I saw a presentation by Jean-Michel Adam last week, who describes himself as the “last of the Mohicans” to use this framework in French research. He drew a comprehensive picture of its origin and its developments which I am going to try and sum up.

This field started to become popular in the ‘70s with books by Eugenio Coseriu, Harald Weinrich (in Germany), Frantisek Danek (and the Functional Sentence Perspective Framework) or MAK Halliday who was a lot more read in English-speaking countries. Text linguistics is not a grammatical description of language, nor is it bound to a particular language. It is a science of the texts, a theory which comes on top of several levels such as semantics or structure analysis. It enables to distinguish several classes of texts at a global ...

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