Structural-functional theory of language

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Structural-functional(ist) is a term for classifying linguistic theories that was coined to describe a particular branch of functionalist theories of language. Structural-functional theories reject mentalism, the autonomy of syntax and, to differing extents, the autonomy of grammar, claiming instead that linguistic structure is shaped through its use as a tool in verbal interaction. Unlike more radical functionalist approaches, like Emergent Grammar, they share a strong emphasis on structural analysis with the generative paradigm. Role and Reference Grammar, Systemic Functional Grammar and Functional Grammar are among its chief representatives.


The term was apparently coined by Van Valin (1993:1), and taken up and discussed in great detail by Butler (2004).

  • "RRG may be labelled a "structural-functionalist theory of grammar"; this is intended to situate it on a continuum of perspectives ranging from extreme formalist at one end to radical functionalist at the other." (Van Valin 1993:1)


  • Butler, Christopher S. 2004. Structure and function. A guide to three major structural-functional theories. Part 1: Approaches to the simplex clause. Studies in language companion series 63. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Van Valin Jr., Robert D. 1993. "A synopsis of Role and Reference Grammar." In: Robert D. Van Valin, Jr. (ed.) Advances in Role and Reference Grammar. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1-164.