Hasan’s Two Orders of Meaning

Subject: Psychology
Type: Classification Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1569
Topics: Socialization, Identity, Linguistics

Ruqaiya Hasan has contributed immensely to literature, language, and art as a professor of linguistics. Hasan’s contribution particularly to verbal art has been immense in identifying important aspects of verbal art that cannot be seen through a simplistic view of language, literature, and art. Hasan upheld the view of Prague school linguistics especially the works of Jan Mukařovský by noting that this school has produced the most essential and clear view of the nature of verbal art and its linkage to language (Hasan, 2002). Hasan identifies two orders of meaning in which one order of meaning is related metaphorically to the second order of meaning. By means of symbolic articulation, a theme emerges from verbalization. This paper will evaluate the two orders of meaning identified by Hasan and explain his notions of verbalization, symbolic articulation, and theme. The paper will also discuss why Halliday prefers Mukařovský’s term “de-automatization” to Hasan’s use of the word “foregrounding”.

Hasan considers language to have a social semiotic as developed by Halliday. The type of connection in this is that language and social context have a strong linkage that saw Hasan’s work concerned with numerous problems in linguistics (Hasan, 1996). For instance, Hasan considers the link between language and social class, language and culture, and language and learning because all these have importance in works of literature and art. Hasan differentiates linguistic theories into two that include externalist and internalist theories. When referring to externalists, she focuses on the theories that assign language a subsidiary role in creating meaning (Rumsey, 1990). Here, language has no role in bringing existence to a thing that is to be expressed or understood. To her, language in the externalist theories, “language is reduced to a named device: it becomes a set of ‘names’ that label pre-existing things, properties, events, actions, and so on. It is a condition of naming that the phenomena should exist and be recognizable as having specific identities quite independent of the ‘names’ that the speakers of the language choose to give them” (Hassan, 1988, p. 135). However, she advises that linguists should not focus on externalist theories but on a linguistic model because this shows meaning as an artifact of language, and the linguistically created meanings are related to the world around people and inside the people (Hassan, 1988, p. 135). Looking at this one gets the idea of Hasan’s two orders of meaning as she develops them.

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Hasan’s studies of verbal art capture its linkage to language. Hasan (1985) states, “in the discussion of verbal art much opposition is presented as irreconcilables, with the implication that if literature is one it cannot be the other. I believe that it is simplistic to argue that if literature is aesthetic then it cannot be pragmatic, that truth and falsehood are decided once for all, that fiction is as different from fact as day from night.” From this statement, it is clear that Hasan does not look at literature and verbal art in a simplistic nature and acknowledges that verbal art could have different means where some meanings could be explicit while others could be hidden. When studying verbal art, one should be able to recognize the outside meaning and the deep meaning.

The aesthetic function should be a mode of using language properties and in this Hasan emphasizes Mukarovsky’s notion of foregrounding. The process of foregrounding essentially depends on contrast. This means that an aspect or feature taken from the language used in a text can only be foregrounded when against some pattern that can be used as a background. When referring to foregrounding, Hasan means the contrast with the norms/features/aspects of a text (Hasan, 1985). However, when considering the aspect of foregrounding in terms of contrast, it is important to understand that it cannot be self-evident. One has to specify the conditions where a certain pattern in language becomes significant in a manner that it can be considered foregrounded and can convey the deeper meaning in the text.

According to Hassan, a pattern becomes foregrounded only when it has consistency. Consistency has two aspects in terms of semantic drift and textual location. Semantic drift means the way through which a combination of features leads the reader to form a particular kind of meaning (Hassan, 1985, p.95). Textual location, on the other hand, refers to “some significant point in the organization of the text as a unity” (Hassan, 1985, p.96),

Using these, Hassan is able to describe the pattern of language as a symbolic articulation where the second-order semiosis comes about. This then describes the process of meaning were an order of meaning functions as a metaphor for the second order of meaning (Hasan, 1985). Hasan describes the second-order semiosis by stating that when patterning is used in a text, it becomes something that can be used in other textual environments. As such, in semiotic order, one can use similes, parallel order, alliteration, and metaphor among others to achieve embellishment (Miller & Turci, 2007). Hasan also recognizes the fact that patterning when used in writing styles of genres differs from time to time and is related to the audience’s knowledge at a particular time. What this means is that texts could have meanings other than what is being communicated at face value. 

Moreover, the manner in which an audience understands what is in a text depends on the knowledge of a particular aspect at the time or the knowledge of the audience itself. As such, an order of meaning can be seen as direct but it could be carrying a different meaning by acting as a metaphor for the second meaning. Using this analysis, Hassan points out that an audience should, make a systematic distinction such that “if the patterning of patterns is consistently utilized for a second-order semiosis resulting in metaphorisation, then the text in question is a literature text. If, however, such a role is not played by the patternings, then we have a literary text” (Hassan, 1985, p.101). As such, one should be keen when reading or analyzing a text to be able to discover the two orders of meaning and be able to differentiate between a literature text or a literary text. 

When Hassan addresses the issue of semiotic order, he followed but further extended the context that Michael Halliday started in the 1960s. Halliday proposed that a linguistic context should be considered as a semiotic construct that has three key aspects that include tenor, field, and mode (Halliday, McIntosh & Stevens, 2007 [1964]). According to Halliday, tenor refers to the nature of the social relations that speakers have with one another. Field refers to the nature of social action that the speakers engage in while mode refers to the social contact that has a role to play in terms of semiotic organization between social relation and social action. Halliday tried to relate the situational context to the wordings in the text (Halliday, McIntosh, and Strevens 1964, p.74). He also develops a functional perspective where he argues for a natural and non-arbitrary relation between the organization of language and the contextual structure (Norton & Christie, 1999). Hassan critiques the application of the tripartite nature of Halliday’s argument because she considered the application of the terms as if their meaning and place, in theory, were clear (Hassan, 2009). Instead, Hasan argued for a system network as a model of systematic description of the regularities that occur addressing the diverse social contexts.

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When considering creativity in language, unlike Hasan, Halliday explains his preference for Mukařovský’s term “de-automatization” to be because the issue under consideration is not about prominence but partial and lower-level systems related to control of semantics such that they become domains of choice. He considers creativity in language to be meaningful because it is purposeful. Creativity in meaning is based on innovativeness or certain techniques that help to achieve prominence something that Hasan refers to as foregrounding (Halliday, 1982, p.131; Webster, 2014).

However, Halliday and Hasan agree on cohesion, which refers to a property that differentiates linked texts from random sentence collections (Halliday & Hasan, 1976). The authors use the term reference in a different way from other linguists to refer to the relation between two elements in a text as opposed to the relationship between words and their extra-linguistic objects (Matthiessen, 1989). To them, reference is a relationship in meaning such that when used anaphorically, it results in a semantic relationship with another aspect in a preceding text. This helps one to carry out an interpretation and reach a conclusion as to whether something is identical with the referent or contrasts with it. The two agree that language, is not simply “a representation of reality; it is also a piece of interaction between speaker and listener” (Halliday & Hassan, 1987, p. 20). Therefore, readers, speakers, and listeners ought to pay attention to the two orders of meaning.

In conclusion, from the above discussion, it is clear how Hasan identifies two orders of meaning in which one order of meaning is related metaphorically to the second order of meaning. By means of symbolic articulation, a theme emerges from verbalization and this is seen in Hasan’s analysis of verbal art. Symbolic articulation and theme are important aspects in Hasan’s consideration of meaning and foreground also known as de-automation by Mukařovský and Halliday. From the analysis, Hasan and Halliday emphasize that language and meaning is beyond face value.

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  1. Halliday, M.A.K. (1982). Readings in Systemic Linguistics. New York: Batsford.
  2. Halliday, M.A.K. & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.
  3. Halliday, M.A.K. & Hasan, R. (1987). Reviewed Work(s): Language, Context, and Text: Aspects of Language in a Social-Semiotic Perspective. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 2 pp. 353-359
  4. Halliday, M. A. K., McIntosh, A., & Stevens, P. (2007 [1964]). The users and uses of language. In Webster, JJ (ed.) Language and Society. Vol. 10, Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday. London and New York: Continuum.
  5. Hasan, R. (1996). Ways of Saying, Ways of Meaning. Selected Papers of Ruqaiya Hasan. Edited by Carmel Cloran, David Butt, and Geoff Williams. Cassell.
  6. Hasan, R. (1985). Linguistics, language, and verbal art. Geelong: Deakin University Press.
  7. Hasan, R. (1988). Language in the processes of socialization: home and school. From Language and Socialisation: Home and School – Proceedings from the Working Conference on Language in Education, ed. L Gerot, J Oldenburg and T Van Leeuwen. School of English and Linguistics, Macquarie University. Reprinted in full in Semantic Variation: Meaning in Society and Sociolinguistics”. Vol. 2, Hasan Collected Papers. Ed. Jonathan Webster. London: Equinox.  
  8. Hasan, R. (2002). Ways of meaning, ways of learning: Code as an explanatory concept. British journal of sociology of education23(4), 537-548.
  9. Hasan, R. (2009). “On semantic variation”. In Hasan, R. Semantic Variation: Meaning in Society and in Sociolinguistics. London: Equinox. 
  10. Hasan, R. (2009). The Place of Context in a Systemic Functional Model. In M.A.K. Halliday and J.J. Webster, Continuum Companion to Systemic Functional Linguistics. London and New York: Continuum. 
  11. Matthiessen, C. (1989). Reviewed Work(s): Introduction to Functional Grammar by M. A. K. Halliday. Language, Vol. 65, No. 4. pp. 862-871
  12. Miller, D. R., & Turci, M. (Eds.). (2007). Language and Verbal Art Revisited: linguistic approaches to the study of literature. Indonesia: Equinox Publishing.
  13. Norton, B., & Christie, F. (1999). Genre Theory and ESL Teaching; Genre Theory and ESL Teaching: A Systemic Functional Perspective. Tesol Quarterly33(4), 759-763.
  14. Rumsey, A. (1990). Wording, meaning, and linguistic ideology. American anthropologist92(2), 346-361.
  15. Webster, J.J. (2014). Understanding Verbal Art: A Functional Linguistic Approach. New York: Springer.
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