Vale M.A.K. Halliday

Obituary for Michael Halliday from ASFLA

M.A.K. Halliday, born 13 April 1925, died 15 April 2018

It is with great sadness that we heard the news of Michael Halliday’s death in April 2018. He is, and will remain, one of the great linguists the world has known and he has left behind a huge legacy. For so many of us in the systemic functional linguistic community, he has been our inspiring guide and a continual source of wisdom about language and how it works to make meaning within and across all aspects of life.

His influence on linguistics through his systemic functional model of language has been extensive and revolutionary. There are now scholars and researchers across an ever-increasing range of languages from all parts of the world who have drawn on his theory to address issues in a number of areas including educational linguistics, child language development, stylistics, computational linguistics, forensic linguistics and medical discourse to name a few. His work, steeped as it is in the social, provided the basis for shifting away from nativist descriptions of language. In downplaying the difference between the theoretical and applied domains, even saying that his approach ‘leant towards the applied rather than the pure’, he has inspired so many of us to take up his belief that linguistics ‘cannot be other than an ideologically committed form of social action.’

We remember Michael for his prodigious intellect. He had the most extraordinary, analytical mind and could see things that we could only come to understand through reading his many books and articles, through his dazzling and captivating presentations at conferences, through his university lectures, and if we were lucky enough, through conversations with him. We can only now reflect with a sense of wonder and appreciation of the brilliant, insightful mind of a genius who provided us with deep insights into language and who had the capacity to make this so clear to us. These were his great gifts.

We also remember a wholly decent and wonderful human being, who modelled for us a way of being in the world. He was a gentle man, who carried no hubris, who showed that we could argue with passion and great intensity but do so with compassion and respect. He not only inspired us with his unyielding energy and will to improve the human condition, but demonstrated by his own actions how to go about that with dignity and civility. We remember the respect and curiosity he accorded all of us, whenever we engaged with him in conversation.

He meant so much to so many of us it is difficult to put in words our immense gratitude for all that he has given us. We can only try to express our deep appreciation for a life well lived, a life that made such a difference to so many other lives and whose great legacy will continue to frame how we think about language and its role in shaping the human condition.

We express our deepest sympathy to his family, friends and colleagues. We are thankful for a life lived fully and are comforted in the knowledge that his work will continue to inspire people all around the world.

Brian Dare, ASFLA President, on behalf of the ASFLA Committee


Our tributes page displays many of the tributes to Michael that were shared among the various SFL networks.

Further tributes published in academic journals include:

Erich Steiner (2018) ‘Obituary: A tribute to M.A.K. Halliday’, Lingua 216: 1-9.

Kristin Davidse (2018) ‘A tribute to M.A.K. Halliday (1925-2018)’, Functions of Language, 25(2): 205-228.

You can read more obituaries that have been published by the wider community at the following links:

Linguist who changed the way languages are taught: Sydney Morning Herald

Condolence message from SPELT Pakistan

M.A.K. Halliday RIP: BAAL

Obituary for Michael Halliday: University of Sydney

Vale Michael ‘M.A.K’ Halliday: PETAA

Michael Halliday, Linguist: Yorkshire Post, UK

Many people have also been posting tributes on social media. Penny Wheeler has put together a ‘Moments’ view of many of the social media tributes to Michael. You can view these on Twitter via the link below.