Saturday, September 1, 2012

ISFC 39 - Boldly Going

I was fortunate enough to attend ISFC 39, hosted by UTS. The 39th International Systemic Functional Congress was held at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), 16-20 July, 2012. The plenary talks were bold, innovative and inspiring, and none were presented by the SFL 'old guard;' the organisers were brave enough to give the opportunity to 'The Next Generation' of SFL researchers. The event was also attended by the 'legends' of the discipline: Halliday, Hasan and Martin amongst others. I met lots of very nice people that had previously been just names in books, such as David Rose, Mary Macken-Horarik, Terry Royce, Geoff Williams and Alison Moore (no relation!). I was introduced, formally, to Legitimation Code Theory, an update of Bernstein's code theory, by Karl Maton, dazzled, furiously, by Chris Cleirigh's rough ride over semiotics, biology and evolution, and inspired, sublimely, by Shooshi Dreyfus' linguistic analysis of her severely disabled son's communication patterns. The programme was packed with interesting talks full of insight. I learned about the grammaticalisation of movement, the pedagogic cycle that inspires the reading-to-learn programme and its application in new second language contexts, and the importance of the concept of recontextualisation, to name just a few. Finally, there were so many new publications by authors present at the conference that an extra date had to be added to launch all of the books (thanks to Pauline Jones' great organisational skills).

I was also lucky enough to attend two very different pre-congress institutes (courses related to SFL matters). The first was a 'traditional' tutorial-style hands-on attempt by Jim Martin to help the rest of us construct our own system networks. He advocates a 'gently does it' approach, limiting grammatical features and only bringing in new ones when you can account for all of the others. The second was a much freer discussion-based course on the concept and use of Register in SFL, led by Annabelle Lukin (yes, she of the Vimeo SFL group fame - the same). She kindly shared all that she could on a dedicated website and made it clear that we were there together not to find answers but to start asking the right questions. Thanks to Annabelle and ISFC39 I have a much better understanding of David Butt and the work that he and his colleagues have achieved.

Please download the ISFC39 Proceedings, carefully edited by John Knox. (My paper is also available on the site.) It is packed full of fascinating insights on a range of SFL topics covering a variety of modalities and languages. As soon as there are any videos of the plenary talks made available I will add a new post.

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