Complementarity between lexis and grammar: a systemic functional perspective
Grammatical models and theories arising around the middle of the 20th century have largely detached and abstracted themselves from the actual performances of language, following the Chomskyan practice. Such a practice advocates language competence as comprising a “lexicon” and a set of “generative rules.” Traditional studies of language, too, conceive of language as working through a “vocabulary” and a “grammar.” In contrast to these linguistic conceptions, Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) prioritizes meaning (semantics/discourse semantics) as the starting and focal point of analysis. Meaning is realized by lexicogrammar, which incorporates both lexis and grammar, and the two form a relation of complementarity. Meaning can be realized and linguistic analysis can be carried out through either the lexical or the grammatical gateway. Therefore, SFL can better serve the job of analyzing the functioning of language, including Chinese (Cheng, 1993: 165).