Functional discourse grammar

Functional discourse grammar

Functional Discourse Grammar is a grammar theory that explains how linguistic utterances are shaped, based on the goals and knowledge of natural language users. In doing so, it contrasts with Chomskyan transformational grammar. Functional Discourse Grammar has been developed as a successor to Functional Grammar, attempting be more psychologically and pragmatically adequate than Functional Grammar [Hengeveld, K. and Lachlan Mackenzie, J. (2008). "Functional Discourse Grammar", Oxford: Oxford University Press.] .

Principles of Functional Discourse Grammar

There are a number of principles that guide the analysis of natural language utterances according to Functional Discourse Grammar.

The first is that Functional Discourse Grammar explains the phonology, morphosyntax, pragmatics and semantics in one linguistic theory. According to Functional Discourse Grammar, linguistic utterances are built up top-down. That means that first the pragmatic aspects of the utterance are decided upon, then the semantic aspects, then the morphosyntactic aspects, and finally the phonological aspects.

The greatest unit of analysis in Functional Discourse Grammar is the discourse move, not the sentence or the clause. This is a principle that sets Functional Discourse Grammar apart from many other linguistic theories, including its predecessor Functional Grammar.

According to Functional Discourse Grammar, four components are involved in building up an utterance: the conceptual component, which is where the communicative intention that drives the utterance construction arises; the grammatical component, where the utterance is formulated and encoded according to the communicative intention; the contextual component, which contains all elements that can be referred to in the history of the discourse or in the environment; and the output component, which finally realizes the utterance as sound, writing or signing.

The grammatical component consists of four levels: the interpersonal level, which accounts for the pragmatics; the representational level, which accounts for the semantics; the morphosyntactic level, which accounts for the syntax and morphology; and the phonological level, which accounts for the phonology of the utterance.


As an example, we will analyze the utterance "I can't find the red pan. It is not in its usual place" according to Functional Discourse Grammar at the interpersonal level.

At the interpersonal level, this utterance is one discourse move, which consists of two discourse acts, one corresponding to "I can't find the red pan" and another corresponding to "It is not in its usual place".
* The first discourse act consists of:
** A declarative illocutionary force
** A speaker, denoted by the word "I"
** An addressee
** A communicated content, which consists of:
*** A referential subact corresponding to "I"
*** An ascriptive subact corresponding to "find", which has the function Focus
*** A referential subact corresponding to "the red pan", which contains two ascriptive subacts corresponding to "red" and "pan", and which has the function Topic
* The second discourse act consists of:
** A declarative illocutionary force
** A speaker
** An addressee
** A communicated content, which consists of:
*** A referential subact corresponding to "it", which has the function Topic
*** An ascriptive subact corresponding to "in its usual place", which has the function Focus
**** Within this subact there is a referential subact corresponding to "its usual place", which consists of:
***** A referential subact corresponding to "its"
***** An ascriptive subact corresponding to "usual"
***** An ascriptive subact corresponding to "place"

Similar analysis, decomposing the utterance into progressively smaller units, is possible at the other levels of the grammatical component.


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