Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tom Bartlett On Material Processes

Michael O'Donnell wrote at 00:07 on 31/10/14 to sysfling:
Tom: my hand hit the cat" which I use in class as the prototypical material process but which surely needs at the very least an animate (and probably sensate) Actor??? 
Mick: And in "the shit hit the fan", are you implying sensateness of the Actor?

And Tom Bartlett replied at 00:11 on 31/10/14 to sysfling:
No, Mick, that's why I contrasted "I hit the cat" with "my hand hit the cat"! 
The first does not mean "came into contact with" but something more animate/sensate; the second one does mean come into contact with, as with the shit hitting the fan.  
It's "I hit the cat" that I use as prototypically material but which would fail the animation test.

Blogger Comments:

 [1] Bartlett's claim is that the material process in I hit the cat does not mean came into contact with.  This claim can be tested by a dictionary definition of 'hit':
hit. verb. bring one's hand or a tool or weapon into contact with (someone or something) quickly and forcefully.
"Marius hit him in the mouth"
[2] Bartlett's claim is that the process in I hit the cat means "something more animate/sensate" (rather than 'came into contact').  While both participants in the clause are animate beings, the process is as material as they get, and material clauses are not restricted to participants endowed with consciousness (Halliday & Matthiessen 1999: 135).

It may be that Bartlett is here attempting to apply the traditional intransitive distinction of action/event to transitive clauses.  This is the distinction between an intentional act by an animate (typically human) being (John ran) and the unintentional action or inanimate event (John fell; rain fell) (Halliday & Matthiessen 1999: 148).

[3] Despite saying in a previous post (quoted by O'Donnell) that he uses the clause my hand hit the cat to exemplify "the prototypical material process", here Bartlett says it is actually the clause I hit the cat that he uses for this purpose.  He also says this clause "would fail the animation test" despite claiming that it "does not mean 'came into contact with' but something more animate/sensate".

Even if Bartlett had written the alternate clause in the final paragraph, the argument would still amount to nonsense, relying as it does on the untenable — to put it mildly — claim that the process 'hit' in I hit the cat does not mean came into contact with.

No comments: