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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

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Volume 33, Issue 4-5


Applying systemic functional linguistics in healthcare contexts

Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of English, AG401, Faculty of Humanities, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong, SAR China
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Published Online: 2013-08-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2013-0021


This paper is concerned with research on healthcare communication that draws on Halliday's systemic functional linguistics (SFL). Section 1 introduces Halliday's notion of appliable linguistics, with SFL as a particular manifestation. Section 2 deals with instances of healthcare communication in the form of medical consultations, and shows how they can be illuminated through SF text analysis. Section 3 relates medical consultations to institutions of healthcare along two dimensions, stratification and instantiation; and it suggests that institutions can be analyzed as aggregates of situation types. Section 4 considers the field of activity within healthcare contexts, suggesting how texts in situation types characterized by different fields complement one another. Section 5 adds tenor considerations in the form of the institutional healthcare roles across fields. Section 6 explores patient journeys through hospitals as sequences of situation types. Section 7 asks how risks and failures inherent in patient journeys can be interpreted, and then analyzed and addressed, in terms of the orders of systems in a hospital. Section 8 continues this systemic analysis, applying them to patients, and Section 9 extends the analysis to healthcare systems, as semo-technical systems. Section 10 shows how relationship-centered healthcare can be interpreted in terms of SFL.

Keywords: appliable linguistics; systemic functional linguistics; healthcare communication; institutional linguistics; medical discourse

About the article

Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen

Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen is Chair Professor and Head of the Department of English, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He has conducted systemic functional research since 1980, including computational modeling, descriptions of various languages, multilingual studies, multisemiotic studies, and healthcare communication. He is a founding member of the International Research Centre for Communication in Healthcare (ICCH) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and University of Technology Sydney. He is the (co-)author of seven books, the co-editor of three books, and of close to one hundred articles and chapters. Address for correspondence: Faculty of Humanities, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong, SAR China , .

Published Online: 2013-08-27

Published in Print: 2013-08-19

Citation Information: Text & Talk, Volume 33, Issue 4-5, Pages 437–466, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2013-0021.

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