Building scientific causality in English: An examination from a Systemic Functional Linguistic perspective

Dr. Jing Hao

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


Date: 19 March, 2018 (Monday)

Time: 1:00-2:15 p.m.

Venue: CPD 2.58, Jockey Club Tower



The ability to construe and to interpret cause-effect relations is critical to the task of knowledge building in science. It is essential to understanding investigative processes and to interpreting claims. However, in the language of science the linguistic construal of cause and effect can be far removed from that of its everyday, commonsense expression. This talk aims to discuss the ways in which cause-effect relations between scientific activities can be expressed through English from a linguistic perspective, informed specifically by systemic functional linguistic theory (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014; Martin, 1992). I report the findings of a study on knowledge building in undergraduate biology (Hao, forthcoming) by drawing on examples from five research articles, which are students’ key reading texts in a core undergraduate course.


The talk firstly makes a linguistic distinction between nominalisations which are used as technical terms across texts, and nominalisations which are used to package meanings in a specific text (Hao, in press). This distinction then leads to two important understandings of the language of science. First, causality can be expressed either overtly in step-by-step explanation, or covertly by being condensed in a technical term. Second, different meanings in the discourse can be expressed through the same grammatical forms which were previously known as ‘cause inside the clause’. By making visible the language resources of scientific causality, the paper provides important understanding of knowledge of language that can be applied to supporting students’ reading and writing of scientific texts.


About the speaker:

Dr Jing Hao is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She holds a doctoral degree in Linguistics from the University of Sydney. Her research has made a significant contribution to the development of ideational discourse semantics in Systemic Functional Linguistics. Her expertise and interests include knowledge building across different disciplinary areas, through different languages and different semiotic modes, and the application of linguistic understanding to literacy support in Higher Education. She has a forthcoming book Analysing Scientific Discourse from a Systemic Functional Linguistic Perspective (Routledge).


Category: Uncategorized Comments Off on Building scientific causality in English: An examination from a Systemic Functional Linguistic perspective

Comments are closed.

Back to top