English for Academic purposes (EAP) teaching and research have come up. These are the systematic functional linguistics (SFL) approaches in Australia and other parts of the world (for example Lee, 2010; Hood, 2006; Woodward-Kron, 2009) and Academic Literacy approaches in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world (for example Lillis & Scott, 2008; Turner, 2004; Thesen & Pletzen, 2006). Despite the two approaches drawing from sociocultural and ethnographic traditions, they tend to have a focus on various facets of EAP. As a language theory, SFL has used linguistic analysis for the establishment of nature of discourses and avenues of getting students participate in the discourses. The pedagogy and research have focused on language systems, language being used and texts. Most academic research literatures have focused on investigating ethnographic leanings and critiquing the predominant institutional and academic practices. The methods in use have focused on finding practices, identities of students and the conflicts that university students experience in writing (Coffin & Donohue, 2012).
Several theories and concepts have been put forward to critique, assess or support the instruction of English for purposes of academics (e.g. critical theory, composition theory and Swalesean concepts of discourse community and genre). We will discuss a couple approaches that have been becoming popular over the past ten years and that are applicant to first language as well as second language scenarios. One is Academic Literacy and the second is System Functional Linguistics (SFL). While Academic Literacy concentrates on practices on context, the other, SFL, concentrates on texts in context. Their varied focus has generated moving debates. I seek to keep the debate going in this article. To achieve this, attention will be drawn to the offerings of the two approaches and then evaluate the potential that they have towards bettering the EAP field, both as a single approach and collaboratively (Coffin & Donohue, 2012).
To develop a language is to develop membership into a cultural community or group (Painter, 1991, p.44). This means that longitudinal studies as perceived in SFL as a process do unfold in certain social settings and contexts. The longitudinal study of any first language (L1) is key to a child developing as a member of the society. It is also noted that even in the learning of a second language (L2), the societal contexts and settings as well as the contextual activities do influence the kind of language the person develops. Also key to this framework is variability. This is because language does vary with someone’s status in society, gender, the religion they belong to among other social factors. Language also varies with the its varied usage in social settings and contexts (to mean registers) since linguistic resources that various people develop are different. Therefore, the learning of a language is social both in what gets learned but also how the language is learned (Derewianka, 1995). Since SFL objectively defines language and addresses how people learn it in linguistic and social terms, it avails to researchers’ tools, constructs and insights to study capacities of advanced L2s. Since it avails its specific apparatus for analysis, SFL permits operationalization and explanation of basic relationship between use of language and context. According to SFL, advanced abilities in the use of language are developed over a long duration of time. At the peak of language development, the person refines the various arena of use of language. Here, the various principles of SFL will be discussed. We will highlight SFL relevance in the study of L2 capacities. We will then discuss how SFL theory factors in change, putting forth some specific periods of the development of language as well as the signs used to associate them. I shall also present a short review of L1 and L2 development studies by SLF framework.
Systemic Functional Linguistics and Academic Literacy – Definitions, Differences and Alignments
SFL mainly discusses the relationship that exists between spoken language, text and the context the language is used. It has a wide scope and seeks to help us understand how humans draw meaning from language and semiotics and also the relationship that exists between society and language. Halliday (2007) says that it is designed as a tool and guide, a way to respond to the language issues in various contexts such as professional, societal and academic contexts. The academic field is just but one of the fields in which it has found application. Academic Literacy are more scope focused, especially in their evolution to respond to literacy issues in systems of higher education and how academic writing of students appear to derail higher education opportunities as based upon diversity and inclusion (Lillis, 2003, p.192). According to Lillis and Scott (2008) among the Academic Literacy goals, is one key goal to problematize articulation and definition of apparent ‘problems’ in writing of students. This positions Academic Literacy as a key field of study. Just as Scot and Lillis posit, it does takes a stance on the inequalities in the society. Text forms the basic unit of SFL analysis. Academic Literacy, on the other hand, has literacy practices as the primary and basic objects. Text, in SFL, is used to refer to the making units, some small -like a clause – and some so large. In both cases, texts can be used in the analysis of linguistics with varying levels of risk.
Most importantly, analysis of text in SFL analyzes linguistic resources considering the cultural, ideological and social meanings attached to them. The framework, in its design, explicitly details how context and text are related. This means that text cannot be analyzed on its own without considering the context of its usage. As Scott and Lillis put it, student writings focus more on text than they do on practice and thus problem identification in their work is textual and this leads to them coming up with solutions that are also very textual. They consider this to be a big problem. On the other hand, Academic Literacy, factor in various academic writing aspects far broader than the scope presented by student works, and also as an area of concentration, it does challenge conventions, norms and policies in institutions, especially those that relate to power and identity. SFL actually does have the potential to take on such academic writing angles but its primary aim has not been this. Notably, while Scott and Lillis do put into question academic writing research which predominantly has more focus on texts than it does on practices, they appreciate that text indeed cannot be dismissed in the Academic Literacy approach. Also, as SFL defines it, text seems to be basically a social phenomenon under the Academic Literacy approach. Inconsistency, though, comes into how these approaches treat the various dimensions of context, writing and ideology and how they relate to each other (Coffin & Donohue, 2012).
How can text-based descriptions contribute to our understanding of disciplinary meaning making?
By use of register and genre, most research in SFL has concentrated on laying out the way language operates in contexts specific to academics. In this writing, genre shall refer to the categorization of academic texts with their purposes and register shall show how choices that are lexico-grammatical and context are related. The three main contexts that shape language in SFL are the field (or topic under discussion), tenor (relationship of people involved) and lastly mode (how the text is spoken or written). Register and genre research has made us understand various aspects of meaning making in various disciplines.
Generally, what these studies have focused on is meaning making which characterizes professional accounts of that discipline (for instance, as portrayed in textbooks) or on the meanings made by academically successful students. This argument is a solid basis for development of materials and plans to intervene since it shows the place of language where institutional power is involved (Coffin & Donohue, 2012).
How Can SFL language analysis combined with sociology of knowledge analysis to contribute to our understanding of disciplinary meaning making?
Recently, SFL research in meaning making in various disciplines is drawing on methods and theories from sociology so as to explore things of concern in disciplinary as well as interdisciplinary knowledge making plus the related processes of learning. Christie and Matton (2011), for instance, have brushed aside arguments that traditional disciplines as they apply their procedures which are highly specialized and the presence of elitism in thought processes exclude experiences of the majority in the society (Christie & Maton, 2011, p.3).
Language and Learning in SFL theory
SFL has four constructs key to understanding language and its learning. These are social action, culture, semiotics and meaning (Achugar & Colombi, n.d).
Language is part of culture: Language is made up of culture and also language has a place in the transformation of culture. While choices of language are driven by the context, language does drive context as well. Since meaning is context derived, language usage is heavily dependent on the context being referred to. The focus is usually on specific ethnic demographics.