The notion of a multilingual meaning potential: A systemic exploration

Martin Christian Matthias I Matthiessen

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic researchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


In this chapter, I am concerned with the notion of a multilingual meaning potential-what a speaker, or a community of speakers, can mean in two or more languages. Building on Halliday’s notion of language as meaning potential, I will discuss the notion of a multilingual meaning potential, using a framework for the representation of multilingual system networks that a few of us developed starting a little over two decades ago in the context of research into multilingual text generation by computer. Here I will present and explore the multilingual meaning potential as part of the general theory of language. In terms of linguistic theory, developing an account of the multilingual meaning potential must be a top priority: for most of human history, multilingualism has been the unmarked condition, and monolingualism is a special outcome of certain modern nation states, so a general theory of language must embody multilingualism as part of its foundation. Thus, modelling the multilingual meaning potential of a multilingual speaker, and of a multilingual community, is of inherent interest as part of a general theory of language; and, in addition, there are a number of possible applications in a wide range of areas, including accounts of multilingualism, second language learning, code switching and mixing, translating and interpreting. I will begin by locating the notion of a meaning potential in an ordered typology of systems. I will then introduce the notion of a multilingual version of the meaning potential, and build up a possible model starting with fairly simple cases and moving towards greater complexity. In descriptive examples of the multilingual meaning potential, I will draw in a few different sets of languages; but these examples are merely illustrative sketches, not definitive descriptions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives from Systemic Functional Linguistics
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9781315299860
ISBN (Print)9781138237384
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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