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The Language Dynamic

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Language is both a socially distributed system, unknowable to any one individual, and an individually embodied biological system. As such it is subject to recursive biological and societal pressures which enable it to function and change. The Language Dynamic identifies a number of mechanisms that enable the meaning potential of language from the phoneme through grammar and discourse and onto ideological systems. These core mechanisms are: (i) articulation and stratality, by which meaningful units combine in context to form higher-order meanings which are greater than the sum of their parts; (ii) redundancy, as the mutually re-enforcing yet unstable relation between strata which allows for creativity and change; (iii) prospection, as the means by which speakers effectively and automatically recycle the syntagmatic patterns that emerge from language as a contextualised system. In providing an integrated account of the interconnections between these core mechanisms, the book allow us to conceptualise the dynamics of language change and growth as at once a motivated and agentless process.

The book, which underpins functional theories of language with concepts from biological and cultural evolution, social semiotics and systems theory, will be relevant to all who are interested in how and why we can mean and what it means for us as humans to be semiotic agents.

Published: Nov 10, 2023

Section Chapter Authors
Chapter 1
The Language Dynamic: Recursive Processes from Morpheme to Ideology Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Chapter 2
Embodiment Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Chapter 3
A Systemic and Stratal Account of Language and Society, as Told by Three T-shirts, a Urinal and a Karaoke Machine. Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Chapter 4
Stratification, Redundancy, the Mechanism of Change Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Chapter 5
Prospection: The Emergence of Target States and Common Ground in Speech Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Chapter 6
Emergent Creativity Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Chapter 7
Outline of a Socio-Biosemiotic Theory of Language Dynamics Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Appendix A Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Appendix B Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
End Matter
References Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett
Index Gerard O'Grady, Tom Bartlett


This hugely original book remaps the territory for the study of language generally, and systemic functional linguistics in particular, as we enter the mid-21st century. O’Grady and Bartlett cover vast swathes of research, juxtaposing approaches that are normally kept separate by disciplinary and sectarian boundaries. No cow is sacred for them, yet neither do they indulge in iconoclasm for its own sake. They are unafraid to rethink the subject from the ground up, taking in its most complex and abstract dimensions and aiming to extract the key principles underlying them. And they possess the rare ability to get those dimensions across to readers in clear and engaging language. Halliday’s dream of a social semiotic is here realised on a solid empirical footing. A true tour de force.
John E. Joseph, Professor of Applied Linguistics, School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh

The Language Dynamic is a significant contribution not only to systemic-functional linguistics, but to the language sciences more broadly. Authors Gerard O'Grady and Tom Bartlett articulate a series of compelling arguments to demonstrate the irreducibility of 'language' to abstract form. They show how languaging involves the co-articulation of multi-scalar dynamics that range from and integrate the neural, the bodily, and the socio-cultural scales. Both the extensive and elegant empirical analyses and the carefully argued theoretical re-working of key constructs such as articulation, criteriality, stratification, system, meta-redundancy, and others provide readers with important new analytical and theoretical tools for re-thinking many core constructs of SFL in the light of recent advances in the developing dialogue between the biological, cognitive, ecological, linguistic, and social sciences. The book is a major contribution to this dialogue. Highly recommended.
Paul J. Thibault, professor emeritus, linguistics & communication sciences, University of Agder, Kristiansand.

O'Grady and Bartlett's insightful and inclusive synthesis is just what the current clogged-up discipline of Linguistics needs as a basis for the next stage of Theory. I love the way their key concept, "dynamic" so elegantly extends the scope of Linguistics into a well-motivated three-way interdisciplinarity, in which so many problematic dyads (language and society, body and mind, grammar and discourse, biology and language, future and past)come together as intrinsically related strands of language and life.
Bob Hodge, Author of Social Semiotics for a Complex World (2017).