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LinC 2010

24 September 2010

A look back at the first LinC Summer School and Workshop

September 14-16 2010.

After a year of planning, it was amazing to see so many people attend. We had well over 80 registered participants, who came from all over the world. It was great to see people from Romania, Lithuania, Turkey, Tunisia and so many other places. Our special guest lecturers were Professor Michael Halliday, Professor Ruqaiya Hasan and Professor Sydney Lamb. In addition, we also had lectures and workshops given by Mick O’Donnell, Geoff Thompson, Robin Fawcett, Gordon Tucker, Paul Tench, Tom Bartlett, Gerard O’Grady and me.

Probably the most exciting part of the summer school was having Michael Halliday give an introductory lecture and workshop. His lecture was titled ‘On explanation in systemic functional theory’. He explored language as a resource for making meaning and he stressed the ‘enabling’ relationship between value and token, rather than a relationship of cause and effect. Since I have never had the pleasure of hearing him speak, it was a real treat. It was really nice to hear him explain his now famous analogy for language (as system) and text (as instance) using the concepts of climate and weather to explain the distinction. He also talked about the two main questions we might have when analysing text. The first is “why does the text mean what it does?” and the second is “why is the text valued as it is?”. To answer the first, he said that the text “means what the linguist says it means” by relating to the system and exploring how the text comes to mean what it does. So understanding the system is key in resolving the first question. He also suggested that there is not much point in trying to answer the second question without having first answered the first question. I was really pleased to hear him say we need more grammarians!

LinC Summer School photo

Sydney Lamb gave a talk on neuro-cognitive linguistics and the links between how the brain works and Systemic Functional Linguistics. As you might expect, the brain is an amazingly complex thing but it is so interesting to try to see how language works within this very complex neurological system. From the very early days of SFL, Halliday always paid tribute to Syd Lamb for his work on stratification networks and how it influenced the development of SFL. At the same time, Lamb has always credited Michael Halliday for how Halliday’s work on system network influenced the development of his stratificational theory of language. This was the first time they were lecturing together in many many years and it was fascinating to see how their approaches are coming together again after all this time. Perhaps our little summer school will have a similar historical value to the now famous Georgetown Roundtable where they met in 1964. Well, maybe or maybe not but it’s a nice thought!

Ruqaiya Hasan gave a lecture entitled ‘Conceptualising context of situation in relation to literature’ which considered context of situation in relation to literature. As I have been less familiar with her work, I was very impressed with her approach to context and how easily she could explain rather complex concepts. I liked how she described the material setting as a kind of dormant force which can impinge on what is going on at any time. I had never thought of literature in the way she approached it. I especially enjoyed her discussion of the ‘virtual speaker’ and ‘virtual reader’, which, as she pointed out very well, poses a challenge to context.

The rest of the summer school was something of a bee hive. Everyone was very busy and at breaks there always seemed to be so much to do and so many people to talk to! We ran parallel sessions for the advanced courses and at the same time, offered a very basic introductory course for people with little or no experience of SFL. In the advanced programme, we held sessions on the UAM CorpusTool – always very popular and rightly so since it is such an excellent analysis tool and project management system. There were also some detailed sessions dealing specifically with areas of the grammar such as conjunctives and transitivity. We’ve now got a web page which includes photos and links to handouts and lectures. Hopefully this will be a good resource for everyone.

It really was a privilege to get to spend time with so many renowed linguists. The summer school was more than that though, it was a very friendly and open-minded event that allowed everyone to talk to everyone very freely. Many strong connections and lasting friendships were formed. Now that we’ve finished the 1st ever LinC summer school, we can begin to look forward to the next one in 2012!