Lexical Cohesion: A Detailed Approach
Compiled by Mohamed Zayed
Halliday and Hasan are two of the prominent linguists who wrote extensively on cohesion within their framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). Their approach to cohesion in DA focused on the non-syntactic relations that would make a certain text or a piece of discourse stand together as one unit. These relations were termed reference, ellipsis, substitution, conjunction as well as lexical cohesion. These elements—according to Halliday and Hasan—enable a text or a discourse to develop from a proposition or a clause to another. That is to say, one of the primary interests of the analytical tool of lexical cohesion is to study and investigate the significance of the multiple ties between words in a given discourse.
Hence, lexical cohesion refers to textual devices within a given discourse such as word repetition, the use of synonymy, the use of collocations, etc. According to Halliday, cohesion is a concept referring to surface-structure (textual) features of a certain utterance or a text which can link different or larger units of discourse.
Halliday and Hasan identify two types of lexical cohesion: reiteration and collocation.
Reiteration includes repetition, synonymy (‘meaning of X = meaning of Y,’ e.g., stop and cease), hyponymy (‘X is a kind of Y,’ e.g., a car is kind of vehicle), meronymy (‘X is a part of Y,’.e.g., a steering wheel is a part of car), and antonymy (‘meaning of X ≠ meaning of Y,’ e.g., hot and cold). Collocation, on the other hand, involves regularly co-occurring words in a given context (e.g., if the topic is about movies, then one might expect the text to contain words commonly associated with that topic like ‘actor,’ ‘star,’ ‘director,’ ‘producer,’ ‘script,’ ‘sound track,’ etc.). (Webster, 23)
Halliday further explains his lexical cohesion as follows:
While conjunction, reference and substitution and ellipsis are cohesive resources within the grammatical zone of lexicogrammar, lexical cohesion operates within the lexis and is achieved through the choice of lexical items. Two major motifs are established in this text. The first is fish (often presumed by mine, which means ‘my one’ — i.e. ‘my fish’) plus an evaluative term from the set beautifully, lovely, (cold,) sensational, alright, terrific — cold being interpretable as a negative evaluation in the local discourse environment. The lexical item fish is also related to salmon; and these combine in turn with terms for modes of preparation, viz. cook and smoke. The second motif is not as central to the conversation, but it still plays an important role in the creation of cohesion. It consists of pan plus a term for manipulating the pan, first grab and then wash. (Halliday, 535)
The most direct form of lexical cohesion is the repetition of a lexical item; for example, bear in:
Algy met a bear. The bear was bulgy. (Halliday, 571)
- · Halliday, M.A.K. 2004: An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Hodder Arnold.
- · Webster, Jonathan. 2015: Understanding Verbal Art, A Functional Linguistic Approach. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.