Halliday, Systemic Functional Grammar and Descriptive Translation Studies

The total opposite of structural language theories (such as Saussure) are functional language theories. Here represented first and foremost by Michael Halliday. Halliday is the father of SFL, systemic functional linguistics, from which genre pedagogy (see for instance Pauline Gibbons) seeks its roots. SFL seeks to analyze language from both structure and words in order to establish three meta-functions namely ideational, interpersonal and the textual. I haven’t seen any interpreting research using SFL (absolutely not a guarantee that there isn’t any), but guts feeling says it should fit well. There are some translation research done with SFL as one analysis model though. Apparently the problem with SFL as tool (only as hearsay as I haven’t tested it) is that it is descriptive, but does not really lead you any further. A bit like DTS, Descriptive Translation Studies. DTS was founded by Gideon Toury and became a revolutionary change in direction in translation studies, which up until then was almost solely prescriptive.


I teach from a book by Jan Svennevig Språklig Samhandling and the post is only my interpretation of his book in particular and of systemic functional linguistics in general.

Tips for speakers

One of my research colleagues Anna-Riita Vuorikoski says that the responsibility for understanding a message does not only lie with the interpreter. It is a mutual responsibility between the speaker and the interpreter. Hence we need to educate our speakers as well. The blog Translating and Interpreting has a very good post on Tips for working with interpreters. I cannot say it better myself.

Transcribing anyone?

Almost anything you would like to study about interpreting needs to be transcribed. Your are studying the spoken word and if you would like to classify, analyze, maybe do some statistical calculations you need a written copy. Not much difference if you study the interpreting, a retrospection or make interviews. But transcription takes time, 1 minute of interpreting takes at least 10 minutes to transcribe and the more detailed you want to be the longer it takes. Now, I know interpreting researchers are not the only one’s here, we share this problem with speech and interaction researchers for example. But still!!! I am dreaming of money to hire somebody to transcribe and of corpora of interpreted texts being put in great databases, accessible through internet. Maybe I should start with written surveys instead, much easier to sort and no transcribing involved, doesn’t feel as exciting though. I guess I’ll just continue. I bless my typing teacher in high school, my fate would have been even worse had I not been a fairly fast touch typist (I didn’t get 97 % from the Botswana secretarial college though :))