Academic literacies and systemic functional linguistics: how do they relate?

Coffin, Caroline and Donohue, James P. (2012). Academic literacies and systemic functional linguistics: how do they relate? Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 11(1) pp. 64–75.



Two approaches have arisen in response to the challenges of teaching English for Academic Purposes in university in recent years: systemic functional linguistics (SFL) in Australia and elsewhere (e.g. Hood, 2006; Woodward-Kron, 2009; Lee, 2010) and Academic Literacies in the UK and elsewhere (e.g. Lillis and Scott, 2008; Thesen and Pletzen, 2006; Turner, 2004). Although these approaches both draw from similar ethnographic and sociocultural traditions, they have sometimes emphasised contrasting aspects of EAP. SFL has employed linguistic analysis to establish the nature of disciplinary discourses and ways of encouraging students to engage in these discourses; research and pedagogy have concentrated on texts, language in use and the language system. Academic Literacies has maintained a strong commitment to ethnographic investigation and to critiquing dominant academic and institutional practices; methods have concentrated on identifying practices, student identities, and conflicts that individual language users experience in university writing.

This article compares and contrasts the two approaches by reviewing their two literatures, uncovering key questions that characterise each, and illuminating similarities and difference in epistemology and methodology. The article concludes by recognising high levels of complementarity between the two approaches and their mutual potential to enhance our understanding and practice of the teaching of EAP through dialogue and collaboration around text oriented and practices oriented EAP.

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