Article 05: Using Halliday’s functional grammar to examine early years worded mathematics texts

5 Using Halliday’s functional grammar to examine early years worded mathematics texts
Keiran Abel & Beryl Exley
Queensland University of Technology
Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2008. pp. 227–241
There is an 'author version' of this article available as of March 24th, 2010, from:
The Department of Pre-School Education, Faculty of Education, Florina, University of Western Macedonia, cultural studies, semiotic structures and practices.

I'm working on a lot of Maths through English as a foreign language recently and so am collecting papers which discuss language and Maths. Will organize this page into headed sections as soon as I can get the time.

This is a significant article since it is written about mother tongue speakers of English learning Maths and the literacy issues which arise because of the aspects of language which appear in the Maths which aren't taught in the English curriculum.

The authors use very concrete examples with 6 Maths tasks which they analyze for language demands and then describe to what extent the language is covered in the English curriculum.

It's written in a very clear style and is straight to the point, which is 'Isn't it unfair to expect children to succeed in Maths if they haven't been taught the language they need to do the Maths?' This is my wording, not the authors'.

This article so impressed me that I got out and dusted off my copy of Functional English Grammar to follow up on the aspects of language which are described in the article. I think the 'system' used to describe and analyze language and then plot this against the language curriculum is very useful.

There isn't anything about how the language could be dealt with in the class, which would make a good follow up article though there is a broad reference to the need for 'scaffolding' in learning. This is what is particularly important for CLIL and bilingual education.

The bibliography is worth exploring further. Am now looking for Unsworth 1999.


'if students do not learn to differentiate between and work with the unique language attributes and structures of key learning area texts, then they will be disabled in their use of literacy across the curriculum in the future'. (from Unsworth 1997, page 231)

It is 'important that those who teach maths also explicitly prepare students with the essential skills necessary for carefully and appropriately dealing with the language demands of maths worded texts.' (page 237)

'Students require specific knowledge of () grammatical structures and their functions to successfully decode and make sense of this mathematical discourse.' (page 240)