Secular communion: The carrot and the stick

Prof Jim Martin, University of Sydney

In this presentation I'll present a review of selected aspects of SFL research on the language of administration and make some suggestions for further developments. Initial work concentrated on mapping key genres (of guidance, compliance and surveillance in Iedema's 1995 terms) and the de/personalising affordances of interpersonal resources (the discourse semantics of mood and modality in particular). Iedema (e.g. 2003) extended this work by introducing a multimodal perspective on resemiotisation in an extended planning process. And Szenes (e.g. in press) brings appraisal analysis into the picture through her studies of the re/couplings of attitude and ideation in business decision-making. This turn raises some general questions about the management of feeling in administrative discourse which I'll approach from the complementary perspectives of iconisation and technicalisation (Martin 1993, 2010, 2017) – for example the iconisation of attitude as values (the administrator's carrot if you will) and the technicalisation of judgement as regulations and of appreciation as measurable outcomes (the adminstrator's sticks).

Uncomfortable as the carrots and the sticks can make us all feel, especially in a culture underpinned and undermined by a deep grammar of irreverence, we can't  live together without them (as our vaccination and quarantine fiascos attest). What kind of respectful renovations might a social semiotic perspective contribute to a better managed world?


Iedema, R. 1995. The language of administration (Write it Right Literacy in Industry Research Project - Stage 3). Sydney: Metropolitan East Disadvantaged Schools Program.

Iedema, R. 2003. Multimodality, resemiotisation: Extending the analysis of discourse as multi-Semiotic Practice. Visual Communication 2(1). 29-57.

Martin, J.R. 1993. Technology, bureaucracy and schooling: discursive resources and control. Cultural Dynamics 6.1. 84-130.

Martin, J.R. 2010. Semantic variation: modelling system, text and affiliation in social semiosis. M. Bednarek & J.R. Martin [Eds.] New Discourse on Language: functional perspectives on multimodality, identity and affiliation. London: Continuum. 1-34.

Martin, J.R. 2017. Revisiting field: specialized knowledge in secondary school science and humanities discourse. Onomázein 2017(1). (Special Issue on Systemic Functional Linguistics and Legitimation Code Theory on Education and Knowledge edited by J.R. Martin, K. Maton, B. Quiroz & M. Vidal). 111-148. [reprinted in Accessing Academic Discourse: Systemic Functional Linguistics and Legitimation Code Theory. (Eds. J.R. Martin, K. Maton & Y.J. Doran). London: Routledge. 2020. 114-147]

Szenes, E. in press. The linguistic construction of business decisions: a systemic-functional perspective. Language, Context and Text 3(2).