Dedicated to the memory of

Professor M.A.K. Halliday

Remembering Professor M.A.K. Halliday

My acquaintance with Prof Halliday dates back to the 80's when I was in Singapore and Prof Halliday was a frequent visitor (as external advisor along with John Sinclair) to the Department of English Language and Literature at NUS. I was his designated driver, assigned to meet him at the airport and drive him to the university. Unfortunately, my only familiarity with his work was his 1964 paper on the users and uses of language (what became the first chapter in Volume 10 of his collected works, entitled Language and Society). I don't think that I made a good first impression. Fortunately, however, he was too kind to hold it against me.

In fact, it was Prof Hasan's Linguistics, Language and Verbal Art, which later turned me on to Systemic Functional Linguistics, especially how her systemic-functional analysis could reveal so much about Les Murray’s Widower in the Country. So I decided to try and do my own analysis of the poetry of the Singaporean poet Edwin Thumboo. Applying a systemic-functional approach was like shining a flood-light on the text, revealing the richness and vitality of the poet’s meaning-making. I became a believer.

The opportunity in the late 90’s to begin working with Prof Halliday on his collected works was when my tutelage in SFL really began. Not just through reading his works, but actually having the opportunity to sit down with this great man and learn first-hand from the Master himself. Yes, I became a disciple. He was a patient teacher. He never gave you the impression that you had just asked a rather dumb question, though on reflection some of my questions must have made him wonder whether he had made the right choice of editor for his collected works.

What made Professor Halliday a great man was not just his intellect and his scholarship, but his humanity. The positive power and influence of his acts of meaning, both in word and deed, will live on to the extent that we whose lives he has touched keep his vision alive.

In an interview, Annabelle, David and I, did with Profs Halliday and Hasan, a few years back, Prof Halliday said this: 'I, of course, hope that linguistics will continue to throw light on language. I hope that it will, how shall I say it, maintain at least the basic principles that I have always tried to live with. Language as a basic human resource, as something that has, potentially, immense power, which is hidden, often, partly because people are genuinely not aware of how much they are, in fact, depending on it. I used to say this to students sometimes: here is a set of tasks, imagine how much more difficult would they be if you had no language with which to engage with them.'

I believe the spirit of Prof Halliday and the spirit of Prof Hasan live on. I look forward to when we meet again. Until then, I miss you both very much.