On the notion of abstraction in systemic functional linguistics

Jamie Williams, Noah Russell, Derek Irwin

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review


This article provides an in-depth analysis of the theoretical dimensions of stratification, instantiation, and delicacy within Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). It does so by examining the nature of the concept of ‘abstraction’ with respect to these terms. The claim is that, although the same term is used in each case, the precise meaning of abstraction differs depending on the theoretical focus. This conclusion is reached by examining three related, but distinct, factors: (1) omission of detail, (2) generalisation, and (3) decontextualisation. By using these criteria, this article develops a typology of abstraction types for SFL. The conclusion reached is that, although the dimensions of delicacy and instantiation can be described using the criteria above, the explicit ordering behind the dimension of stratification cannot. The paper concludes by examining a proposal that attempts to account for the explicit ordering between strata in terms of supervenience. We argue that this attempt fails to accurate describe inter-stratal relations in the theory. Therefore, the basis of this ordering is in need of further investigation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalFunctional Linguistics
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2017


  • Abstraction
  • Systemic functional architecture
  • Stratification
  • Instantiation
  • Delicacy


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