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Module QXL-2250:
Functions of Discourse

Module Facts

Run by School of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Prof Thora Tenbrink

Overall aims and purpose

Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) was developed originally by M.A.K. Halliday for English, and applied with continuing success across the world for understanding linguistic structure, analysing discourse, enhancing language education, investigating child language development, identifying genre features, and more. SFG provides a useful tool for understanding, on the one hand, the network of options that the linguistic system provides to speakers of English (at any level of proficiency), and on the other hand the functions for which language is used in discourse. Main functions comprise ideational (field), interpersonal (tenor), and textual (mode) aspects, all of which are represented through specific lexicogrammatical features that can be identified through a close analysis of discourse.

In this module students will learn to use these tools for the analysis of language in context, addressing the structural features of sentences within larger instances of discourse. SFG based analysis enables identifying how particular worldviews are represented in text, how discourse reveals the relation between speaker and addressee, and how textual structures reflect genre distinctions.

Course content

In the first part of this module we will focus on the theory of Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) so as to grasp its basic mechanisms, and identify the main lexicogrammatical structures that are available to speakers of English. The second part will be dedicated to issues around discourse and context. We will look at theories and findings based on SFG, and analyse instances of discourse, exploiting theory to gain insights about the meaning and significance of specific linguistic choices for the discourse area they appear in. Along with theory and analysis, we will consider implications for English language education. Whilst lectures will provide the theoretical and conceptual foundations of SFG and SFG based discourse analysis, the workshops will be used for discussion and exercises as appropriate for each week's topic.

The following topics will be covered:

  1. Introduction: SFG and its purposes
  2. SFG theory: The notion of ‘clause’ and its functions
  3. SFG theory: Clause as exchange – the interpersonal function
  4. SFG theory: Clause as representation – the ideational function
  5. SFG theory: Clause as message – the textual function
  6. SFG theory: Above and below the clause
  7. SFG theory: Around the clause – cohesion and discourse
  8. Interpreting discourse: Approaches and findings using SFG tools
  9. Working with discourse: Appraisal
  10. Working with discourse: Conjunction
  11. Interpreting discourse at different levels of proficiency

Assessment Criteria


The answers must be focussed and structured.
The answers must show a better-than-average standard of knowledge and understanding of SFG tools and principles.
The linguistic analyses given in the assessments must be adequate to the task area, systematic, and well-motivated.
The answers must show evidence of background study including primary sources.


The answers must be highly focused and well-structured.
The answers must show knowledge and understanding in SFG methodology and theory, beyond the basic textbooks.
The answers must show original interpretation, new links between analysis issues, and/or a new approach to a problem.
The answers must show evidence of extensive background study using primary sources.


The answers need to be relevant to the tasks given.
The answers must show basic understanding of Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) tools and principles.
The student must show evidence of being able to apply the tools and principles to the analysis of language and linguistic examples and/or data.
The answers must show evidence of some background study.

Learning outcomes

  1. Students will understand the basic mechanisms and purposes of Systemic Functional Grammar.

  2. Students will be able to relate theory and analysis towards the interpretation of discourse for research purposes.

  3. Students will have a good understanding of the network of options that a language provides.

  4. Students will be able to use Systemic Functional Grammar tools to analyse instances of discourse.

  5. Students will have a basic understanding of the implications of specific linguistic choices in different genres and areas of discourse.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
EXAM Exercise Task 1 25
EXAM Exercise Task 2 25
ESSAY Main Exercise 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study

Directed Reading - students are given required reading each week (of about 2 hours) on the topic of that week's lecture.

Private study

In their own time, students will be expected to do further reading, go through materials covered in class and do further research on the topics, and prepare assignments.


Weekly one-hour workshops (10 over the 11 weeks)


Weekly two-hour lectures (for 11 weeks)


Students are encouraged to see the lecturer on a one-to-one basis during published office hours (or by appointment) to discuss issues with the module content, seek clarification on topics and discussions, and discuss feedback on assessments and class exercises.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • Writing & scholarly conventions - students will be able to present data, argumentation, findings and references in written form in keeping with the conventions current in language science and English language studies.
  • Oral presentation skills & scholarly conventions - students will be able to present data, argumentation, findings and references in oral form in keeping with the conventions current in language science and English language studies.
  • Analysis & interpretation skills - students will be able to analyse, interpret data accurately, and draw appropriate conclusions based on the application of appropriate analytic and theoretical frameworks available in linguistics and English language studies.
  • Evaluation & reflection - students will be able to critically evaluate a particular position, viewpoint or argument in relation to a specific area of investigation. They will be able to reflect on the efficacy of a particular approach, practice or performance, and moderate these as a consequence in order to achieve specific goals.
  • Fluency, confidence and proficiency in the use of English -students will demonstrate their ability and proficiency to use and understand and instruct others in English in a range of academic and classroom contexts.
  • Effective communication - students will develop the ability to communicate effectively, appropriately and confidently, in a range of contexts, to different audience types, and making use of a range of supporting materials
  • Learning to learn - students will learn to reflect, modify and improve their learning strategies
  • Awareness of and appreciation for linguistic and cultural differences - students will develop an awareness of and an appreciation for the range and nature of linguistic and cultural diversity
  • Personal organisation - students will develop the ability to undertake self-directed study and learning with appropriate time-management
  • Information technology - students will develop the ability to use computing and IT skills in order to find, store, interpret and present information, to produce a range of electronic documents and use software confidently
  • Proficiency in the use of English in reading, writing, speaking and/or listening - students will demonstrate proficiency in their ability to use and understand English in a range of different contexts and via different media.
  • Understanding of the nature and organization of language - students will demonstrate familiarity with observations and findings relating to various aspects of linguistic phenomena and organization.
  • Knowledge of the nature of language origins, change and use - students will demonstrate familiarity with phenomena and findings relating to the nature of language origins, the way language changes, and factors involved in and affecting language use.


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: