Functional Approaches to Linguistics

  • Margie Berns
Part of the Topics in Language and Linguistics book series (TLLI)


Functional approaches to linguistics have contributed considerably to an understanding of the relationship between contexts of language use and the communicative competence of speakers in those contexts. Insights into this relationship are well-represented by two linguistic traditions: the Prague School and the British tradition. As a representative of a functional approach, each is concerned with language as a tool which performs many tasks and with analysis in terms of the uses, or functions, that language serves. Each tradition has been particularly influential in the work of Michael Halliday, whose systemic-functional theory reflects a convergence of both approaches.1 The Prague and British traditions can be distinguished from one another by the extent to which each explores the functional resources of a language and by the particular linguistic problems each focuses upon. The compatibility of their goals and aims and the complementary results of the efforts of scholars working within these traditions have led to a greater appreciation of the nature of language, of “why it is as it is.” This chapter is a look at the goals and outcomes of the Prague School and the British tradition and their convergence into Halliday’s functional approach. As such it provides an historical and theoretical perspective on the significance of functional approaches for a variety of theoretical and applied sociolinguistic and pedagogical issues taken up in subsequent chapters.


Language Development Language Teaching Functional Approach Language System Semantic System 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margie Berns
    • 1
  1. 1.Purdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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