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Challenging Boundaries in Linguistics

Systemic Functional Perspectives


Stella Neumann, Rebekah Wegener, Jennifer Fest, Paula Niemietz and Nicole Hützen

Linguistics, like any discipline, is full of boundaries. However, in nature, as Ruqaiya Hasan points out, there are no clear cut boundaries. The participants of the 42nd International Systemic Functional Congress held at RWTH Aachen University addressed and challenged the notion of boundaries in linguistics in many creative ways. Twenty-one of the papers presented at the congress are collated in this volume. The six sections cover topics that challenge theoretical notions and stances, and explore historical, interpersonal and lexicogrammatical boundaries as well as those between languages and in language development. The volume presents a state of the art overview of systemic functional linguistic theorising with extensions into other theoretical frameworks.

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Challenging boundaries and bending rules: An introduction


“The power gained from abstraction is to have to define data in such a manner that it does not include everything that may be going on, for in nature there are no clear cut, given boundaries.” (Hasan 1995, 187)

“In nature”, Hasan (1995) contends, “there are no clear cut, given boundaries”. And yet, for cognitive efficiency, if nothing else, we appear to need to reflect on existence as a series possessing boundaries. The same pressure to define the day by hours, minutes and seconds is reflected in our division of the flow of social processes into bounded contexts, but these boundaries are socially constructed and open to challenge.

Linguistics, like any discipline, is full of boundaries. We set boundaries, we live with boundaries, we push boundaries and we challenge and break boundaries. In theories which are organised around meaning, the boundaries that we work with are in most cases fuzzy. While most structural approaches can concentrate on language as an isolate, a meaning-based approach must go outside language and this, as Halliday (2003, 28) suggests, means working with fuzzy boundaries at all levels.

To challenge a boundary is not always to criticise it or tear it down. Challenging a boundary is a process of testing, and there are many boundaries that one might want to test or explore: we might, for instance, challenge boundaries of segments in sequences of language use, boundaries of categories when we are...

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