Revisiting the role of embedding in Systemic Functional Linguistics
Construing depth in “big texts”
Keywords:genre, macrogenre, embedded genre, complexing, embedding, student business reports
This paper is concerned with exploring the role of embedded genres in expanding the meaning potential of long texts, focusing especially on complex tertiary assignments. A significant body of work has evolved in Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) on modelling “big texts” as macrogenres since Martin (1994: 29) posed the question how texts “get bigger than a page”. However, based on detailed genre analyses of high-scoring undergraduate business country reports, this paper illustrates that not all big texts are macrogenres made up of elemental genre complexes. Analogising from clause grammar, it will show that these texts unfold through multiple layers of embedded genres in their generic stages. By revisiting current understandings of the occurrence of embedded genres as “a relatively rare phenomenon” (Martin 2012: 002), this paper argues that their role has not been sufficiently considered for understanding lengthy university assignments. By complementing and extending existing research on the analysis and representation of lengthy university assignments, this research provides the missing link in the theoretical conceptualisation of the “nature of big texts” (Martin 1994; 1995) in SFL.