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Halliday And Hasans Cohesion In English English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2142 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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A relatively neglected aspect of the linguistic system is its resources for text construction, the range of meanings that are specifically associated with relating what being said. The principal component of these resources is that of cohesion. Through the last four decades, studies have been conducted by linguists to explain and examine cohesive features. The major work that influenced these studies is the one conducted by Halliday and Hasan (1976) on their book Cohesion in English. This paper attempts to explore Cohesion in English’s content, highlight its influence on English language teaching, and investigate its impact on developing further works on cohesion.

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The concept of cohesion, according to Halliday and Hasan (1976), is a semantic one. It deals with the relations of meaning within any text. It occurs where the interpretation of some element in the discourse is dependent on that of another and, thus, a relation of cohesion is set up. The one presupposes the other, and cannot be effectively decoded except by recourse to it. The two elements, the presupposing and the presupposed, are integrated into a text. As an example to illustrate the concept of cohesion, the old piece of schoolboy humour time flies, gives no indication of not being a complete text and in fact it usually is, and the humour lies in the misinterpretation that is required if there is a following sentence is to be satisfied.

Halliday and Hasan’s interpretation of cohesion is further elaborated by approaching the notion of a cohesive tie. This is a term that is thought to be needed to refer to an occurrence of a pair of cohesively linked items. It is argued that the concept of a tie makes it possible to analyse any text in terms of its cohesive characteristics and gives a systemic account of its patterns of texture. In English, there are two ways by which cohesive ties are created: lexical and grammatical cohesion (Halliday and Hasan, 1976) and each of these ties has been explained and examined thoroughly by applied linguists in attempt to provide effective way of mastering these ties by English language learners.

Lexical cohesion is simply interpreted by Halliday and Hasan (1976:274) as “the cohesive effect achieved by the selection of vocabulary”. It involves meaningful connections in text that are created through the use of lexical items and that do not intrinsically involve grammatical cohesive ties (Bloor, 2004). The two main categories linked with lexical cohesion are collocation and reiteration. Collocation covers two or more words which can be said to go together in the sense of frequency of occurrence (Bloor, 2004). Learner’s recognition of collocational ties depends in large measures on the amount of his or her reading or listening. The teacher should therefore, encourage learners to read more and provide a motivational environment in which learners are exposed to lexical collocations. Of the category of lexical reiteration, educators locate difficulty for students of forming a mental picture of the meaning of general nouns, and the fact that they cohere not with a single word but with a wider stretch of meaning. Many researchers have investigated the importance of teaching lexical cohesion in the language classroom. McGee (2008), for example, suggests that collocation errors are pervasive in student attempts to vary their lexis. As much as possible collocation knowledge must be developed alongside reiteration skill development. Collocation dictionaries or corpus data can be used by teachers to help give students the most typical or strongest collocates of important words. Cox, Shanahan, and Sulzby (1990: 60) argue that exposure to ‘contrived’ texts has a negative effect on the development of a learner’s use of lexical cohesive ties in writing. They advise teachers not to over-simplify texts for their students as they believe that edited texts are not rich in their lexical cohesive ties.

Grammatical cohesion, on the other hand, refers to the structural content, and it is categorised into four main cohesive ties: reference, substitution, ellipsis and conjunction. Reference is considered as a cohesive tie “when two or more expressions in the text refer to the same person, thing or idea” (Bloor, 2004:93). In relation to the main types of reference, Halliday and Hasan (1976) contrast between exophora and endophora, and suggest that exophoric reference is situational and the endophoric reference is textual. Though both exophoric and endophoric reference embody an instruction to retrieve from elsewhere the information necessary for interpreting a text, exophoric reference must be made to the context of situation whereas endophoric reference is realised by the position of the expressions in the text. Depending on these positions, one can speak of ‘anaphoric’ and ‘cataphoric’ reference. If an expression refers to a preceding expression/utterance, it is a case of anaphoric reference. Cataphoric reference refers to the following utterances or their parts (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 , (Cited in Halliday and Hasan, 1976:33)

Substitution, in contrary to the reference, is a relation in syntax rather than meaning. It is a grammatical relation used to avoid unnecessary and intrusive repetition of a lexical item by drawing on the grammatical recourses of the language to replace the item (Bloor, 2004). For example, in the conversation, “Which ice-cream would you like?” – “I would like the pink one” , the word “one” is used instead of repeating “ice-cream”. There are three types of substitution in English: nominal (one, ones, the same), verbal (do/did) and clausal (so, not) substitution.

Ellipsis is another kind of substitution but in this case a lexical item is ‘substituted by zero’. That is to say, rather being substituted in order to avoid unnecessary and intrusive repetition, an item is left unsaid. For example, the word Dormouse is elided after two:

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.

Halliday and Hasan (1976) lists three types of ellipsis: nominal, the omission of head nouns in a nominal group; verbal, an ellipsis within the verbal group; and clausal, the omission of a clause. The notion of ellipsis has influenced English language teachers to draw on learners’ short-term memory and help them recognise when ellipsis has occurred in a certain text.

The fourth and final type of cohesive ties is that of conjunction. It refers broadly to the combining of any two textual elements into a potentially coherent complex semantic unit (Thompson, 2004). Though the ‘conjunctive’ elements (for example, then, for this reason, on the other hand) are used to describe the relationship between clauses and sections in the text, Halliday and Hasan (1976:226) suggest that they are not principally devices for reaching out into the preceding (or following) text, but they “express certain meanings which presuppose the presence of other components in the discourse”. They argue that in describing conjunction a cohesive device, the attention should not be on the semantic relations between the clauses linked by the conjuncts, rather on the conjunctive devices themselves and the function they have of relating to each other linguistic elements. Educational experts, however, attempt to refer to the notion of conjunction in accordance with what suits the English language learner to better achieve the mastery of this cohesive device.

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Zamil (1983), for example, suggests that rather than the typical textbook approach of presenting lists of conjuncts categorized according to meaning, it would be more effective to begin by classifying linking devices according to their grammatical functions. In other words, coordinating conjunctions (e.g. ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘but’), subordinating conjunctions (e.g. ‘because’, ‘although’, ‘if’), and conjunctive adverbs (e.g. ‘on the other hand’, ‘nevertheless’) should all be introduced separately. In this way, students could learn how each type of marker works within the sentence and between sentences.

Applied linguists have devoted many studies on how learners perceive and produce cohesive structures, and Halliday and Hasan’s work on cohesion triggers investigations on learner’s difficulties in recognising cohesive ties in both first and second language learning. Garrod and Sanford (1977b), for example, in experiments with adult L1 subjects, show that the time taken to read a sentence containing the second half of a lexically-conjoined tie is largely determined by the semantic distance between the two halves of the tie. In other words, all other content remaining constant, a pair of sentences containing a superordinate/subordinate lexical tie will take longer to read than a pair containing lexical tie involving repetition. Chapman and stokes’ (1980) research on the mastery of cohesive ties by L1 British children gives evidence that those children who are beginning to read fluently have the ability to perceive the cohesive factors and are thus able to integrate the text semantically, for they are constructing a meaningful whole as they read.

In L2 situation, Cohen (1979) investigated university students’ reading of English texts in four complementary studies and all four of the studies revealed that learners were not picking up the conjunctive words signalling cohesion, not even the more basic ones like however and thus. Further, Pierce (1975) and Ewer (1980) both comment on the difficulties posed by the conjuncts and discourse markers, and advise that much more attention should be given to this category of tie in teaching reading.

The work of Halliday and Hasan (1976) still provides the fullest account of cohesive ties in English (Bloor, 2004). However, there are several scholars who have developed Halliday and Hasan’s account to investigate deeply into the area. Hoey (1983, 1991), for example, investigates how cohesive features combine to organise long stretches of text. He approaches cohesion as related to some patterns of rhetorical organisation. A special attention on his work is given on cohesive chains and the significance of repetition. His contributions include ideas on the role of the sentence, which he suggests may be a part grammatical, part textual phenomenon, a view that is compatible with much on literature on the topic (Bloor, 2004).

Another example to the influence of Halliday and Hasan’s Cohesion in English, is the work by Mann and Thompson (1992) which gathers different analyses by twelve different linguists of the same text. It incorporates distinct views in approaching discourse and may vary the classifications of text analysis. A further investigation of Halliday and Hasan’s (1976) work is conducted by Halliday and Matthiessen (1999) who bring broader theoretical perspective the area of language cohesion. Their work sheds light on many factors that lack of space has forced us to neglect.

Apart from praise and influential impact cohesion in English has gained, one might note that it is not without its critics. Doyle (1982) ,for example, points out that Halliday and Hasan limit themselves to a discussion of meaning as it appears in surface structure; questions of coherence, of the relationships among propositions in the textual world created by the writer and recreated by the reader, remain unexamined. He argues that the very restrictions which Halliday and Hasan themselves placed upon their study beg questions and forestall observations which seem ultimately more interesting to the study of coherence than the taxonomy which results. In their decision to restrict their study to surface evidence of cohesion beyond the sentence, Halliday and Hasan restrict the relationships which their descriptive system may show.

To sum up, Halliday and Hasan’s (1976) work on cohesion appears to set out a framework for the analysis and coding of cohesion and, therefore, offers a new dimension for language educators to approach language semantics and structure in the language classroom. Applied linguists and language teachers have been influenced by Cohesion in English on designing grammar lessons and language tasks that address lexical and grammatical cohesive ties.


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