Pragmatics 24:2 (June 2014)


SPECIAL ISSUE: The interaction between context and grammar in Functional Discourse Grammar .

Edited by Núria Alturo, Evelien Keizer, and Lluís Payrató  


Núria ALTURO, Evelien KEIZER, and Lluís PAYRATÓ

The interaction between context and grammar in Functional Discourse Grammar: Introduction


Introduction to this special issue.



Grammar and context in Functional Discourse Grammar




This article presents a proposal for the organization of the Contextual Component in Functional Discourse Grammar. A guiding principle in this proposal is that, given the fact that Functional Discourse Grammar is a theory of grammar, the Contextual Component should provide the information that is necessary for a proper functioning of the grammar rather than aim at an exhaustive specification of all the information that plays a role in interpreting linguistic expressions. The Contextual Component contains situational and discursive information and is organized in different strata that correspond to the interpersonal, representational, morphosyntactic, and phonological levels of representation within the grammar. The contextual representations make use of the same formalizations as the corresponding linguistic representations, thus allowing for direct exchange of information between the Grammatical and the Contextual Components. Thus exchange of information is handled by an interface called the contextualizer. The article illustrates the functioning of this model by analyzing the role of contextual information with respect to three grammatical phenomena in three different languages: Unexpressed arguments in Turkish, English too, and answers to yes/no questions in European Portuguese.


Keywords : Context; Functional Discourse Grammar; Grammatical theory; Unexpressed arguments; yes/no questions



The Contextual Component within a dynamic implementation of the FDG model:

Structure and interaction




The central issue addressed in this paper concerns the design of an appropriate contextual framework to support a dynamic implementation of FDG. The first part of the paper is concerned with the internal structure of the contextual framework. A particular hierarchical structure for the analysis and description of context, articulated in Connolly (2007a) and termed the Extended Model of Context (EMC), is presented as the starting-point. Alternative frameworks are considered, but all are found to have shortcomings. However, the original version of the EMC has also received some criticism.  Consequently, a revised model of the EMC is proposed, in which the treatment of context is enhanced, and which is appropriate to a dynamic implementation of FDG.  The application of the revised EMC not only to the grammatical model, but also to a broader discourse model, is also discussed.  The next part of the paper is concerned with the interaction between the EMC and the FDG Grammatical and Conceptual Components. It is contended that all of the main types of context recognised within the EMC have a significant effect upon grammar.  However, the only way in which contextual factors may directly influence the production and interpretation of discourse is through their presence in the minds of the discourse-participants.  Consequently, the Conceptual Component plays a vital, mediating role in the handling of interactions between the EMC and the Grammatical Component. This point is particularly salient when considering a dynamic implementation, in which the flow of information around the model is of crucial importance.  It is contended that this flow is essentially cyclic in nature.


Keywords: Component; Context; Dynamic; Functional Discourse Grammar.



The Contextual Component in a dialogic FDG




Functional Discourse Grammar (FDG) has to date been explicitly oriented to modelling the grammar of the individual speaker, with the Contextual Component being seen as supportive. If FDG is re-interpreted as dialogic, the Contextual Component emerges as being shared by all interactants in the dialogue and as playing a central role in interaction. A dialogic FDG is proposed to provide a basis for understanding the role of interpersonal alignment in conversation as well as reflecting developments in psycholinguistics. It is applied to the analysis of eight extracts from a dialogue transcription in Eggins and Slade (2005).


Keywords : Functional Discourse Grammar; Dialogue; Priming; Contextual Component; Interpersonal alignment; Conversation.


Riccardo GIOMI

Grammar, context and the hearer: A proposal for an addressee-oriented model of Functional Discourse Grammar




This paper addresses two issues related to the overarching question of how to integrate Functional Discourse Grammar (FDG) into a wider theory of verbal interaction (Hengeveld and Mackenzie 2008: 1) . First, it proposes an addressee-oriented version of the Grammatical Component, presenting a firs t attempt to develop an FDG account of language comprehension; second, it aims to shed light on the interaction between the Grammatical and Contextual Components of FDG by exploring this crucial aspect of verbal communication from the perspective of the addressee.


Keywords: Functional Discourse Grammar; Language parsing; Context; Discourse; Inference.



Activation and the relation between context and grammar




Functional Discourse Grammar is characterized as the grammatical component of a wider theory of verbal interaction and is linked to two adjacent components: The Conceptual and the Contextual Components. One general property of these components is that they are not open-ended, but are said to contain only that extra-linguistic information which is relevant for the construction and interpretation of the immediate linguistic expression. In this contribution I explore the relation between context and grammar and I conclude that the FDG’s requirement that the Contextual Component should only contain those features which have a systematic impact on grammar is too strict. In particular, I claim that the Contextual Component is relevant in linguistic usage through speakers’ mental representation of its contents, which could be captured in the Conceptual Component. I further argue that the notions of ‘activation’ and ‘sharedness’ are relevant to understanding the motivation of two syntactic processes, subject raising and extraction from NPs, and should therefore find a place in the model even if they do not always lead to systematic effects. It is finally proposed that these pragmatic dimensions could find their way into the grammar by means of unmarked pragmatic configurations or content frames.


Keywords : Functional Discourse Grammar; Activation; Givenness; Context.



The discourse motivation for split-ergative alignment in Dutch nominalisations (and elsewhere)




Dutch nominalisations of the type het eten van vlees (‘the eating of meat’) have ergative alignment. The alignment is functionally motivated, in that it is a natural consequence of the flow of discourse. The functional account that is put forward here draws on the notion of Preferred Argument Structure (Du Bois 1987) and on the distinction between foregrounded and backgrounded discourse (Hopper & Thompson 1980). Support for this account comes from other domains of ergativity in Dutch, such as causativised predicates and participial constructions and from the observation that the alignment in Dutch nominalisations is in fact split-ergative. The present study adduces corpus evidence to corroborate the claims. In the last section, the analysis is cast in a Functional Discourse Grammar model (Hengeveld & Mackenzie 2008), including its hitherto underdescribed Contextual Component.


Keywords : Nominalisation; Ergativity; Split-ergativity; Alignment; Dutch; Functional Discourse Grammar.


Gareth O’ NEILL

Humming, whistling, singing, and yelling in Pirahã. Context and channels of communication in FDG




This paper addresses the systematic influence of contextual factors on the form of linguistic utterances for the different speech channels of communication in Pirahã within the framework of Functional Discourse Grammar (FDG). It is shown that context plays an important role in the choice of a particular speech channel and the associated phonological or phonetic alteration of the underlying linguistic form. A representational system for the description of contextual factors which interact with the grammar and the influence of these contextual factors upon the grammar in Pirahã is then proposed within and elaborating upon the model of FDG. The implications of the speech channels in Pirahã for FDG and for linguistic theory in general are lastly examined.


Keywords : Channels of Communication; Context and Grammar; Humming; Whistling; Singing, Yelling; Functional Discourse Grammar; Pirahã.



Recontextualisation, resemiotisation and their analysis in terms of an FDG-based framework




“Recontextualisation” is the process whereby content that has been given expression in one context (the “source” context) is subsequently reused in a different context (the “destination” context). It is often accompanied by “resemiotisation”, the process whereby content is lifted from one text (the “antecedent” text, situated in the source context) and recast in a modified form during the production of a subsequent text (the “derivative” text, situated in the destination context). The aim of the present paper is to evaluate the adequacy of FDG, incorporating an extended model of context (EMC), as a basis for the analysis of the process of recontextualisation and of the accompanying resemiotisation. The study is based on the analysis of a corpus of texts consisting of one antecedent and six derivative texts, all drawn from the field of science communication.  The texts are subjected to a contextual analysis in terms of the categories afforded by an analytical framework based on the EMC. From these contextual analyses, the differences between the source context and each of the six destination contexts are identified.  These differences encapsulate the changes that constitute the essence of recontextualisation. In addition, each of the texts is analysed in terms of a three-tier framework based as far as possible on FDG. The resulting analyses are then compared, in order to identify the changes that constitute the essence of resemiotisation. Finally, the relationship between the recontextualisation and resemiotisation is discussed. From the point of view of evaluating the linguistic models employed, it transpires that the categories offered by the EMC appear to be viable as units for the analysis of recontextualisation. As for the analysis of resemiotisation, it turns out that a theoretical foundation for a substantial part of this, though not all, can be supplied by current FDG.


Keywords: Context; Functional Discourse Grammar; Recontextualisation; Resemiotisation; Science Communication; Science Popularisation.


Evelien KEIZER

Context and cognition in Functional Discourse Grammar: What, where and why?


This paper discusses a recurring problem in the development and application of models of grammar: That of deciding which linguistically relevant contextual information forms part of (i.e. enters) the grammar, and which contextual information interacts with the grammar without being part of it. More specifically it considers the active-passive alternation in English within the framework of Functional Discourse Grammar. First, the possible factors recorded in the literature as determining the choice between an active and a passive construction are discussed. On the basis of an in-depth discussion of authentic examples it is concluded that the major determinant triggering the use of one of the two variants is not a single factor, but rather the composite notion of Speaker’s perspective, a systematically encoded cognitive notion covering a number of communicatively relevant (pragmatic and semantic) factors. Subsequently, it is argued that since the Speaker’s choice of perspective is the result of a cognitive process it is plausible to assume that this process takes place at a preverbal level, i.e. within the Conceptual Component. Since, however, in choosing the perspective the Speaker clearly draws on contextual information, stored in the Contextual Component, it can be concluded that information from the Contextual Component enters the Grammatical Component through the Conceptual Component), thereby indirectly influencing the choice of a particular grammatical construction.


Keywords: Active-passive alternation; Context; Cognition; Perspective; Functional Discourse Grammar.