Friday, 9 May 2014

David Rose On What Counts As Grammar And What Counts As Discourse Semantics

At 09:33 on 9/5/14, Margaret Berry asked David Rose on sys-func:
how do you decide what counts as grammar and what counts as discourse semantics?

To which David Rose replied at 09:37:
What a great question! And what counts as discourse semantics or register?
and later at 12:50:
Technically, entry conditions for grammatical systems must be a grammatical rank.

Blogger Comments:

[1] It's an obvious and fundamental question, and one that should yield a ready answer, since it would have formed the basis of theorising discourse semantics as a stratum of language; yet Rose gives the impression, through his initial exclamation and ultimate inability to answer the question, of never having considered it before.

Since Martin (1992) proposes discourse semantics as a stratum above lexicogrammar on the content plane, and strata represent levels of symbolic abstraction, "what counts as discourse semantics" is linguistic content that is more symbolically abstract than "what counts as lexicogrammar".  Because the relation between strata is one of realisation, "what counts as discourse semantics" is realised by "what counts as lexicogrammar", and "what counts as lexicogrammar" realises "what counts as discourse semantics".

This means that the systems of each stratum have to be accounted for with respect to those of the other.  This includes specifying congruent lexicogrammatical realisations of discourse semantic features and distinguishing them from metaphorical realisations.

It also means that relations between grammatical units, such as clauses, need to be first specified at that level of abstraction, that is: lexicogrammar, and such relations then be related to the discourse semantic features they realise.  It is not sufficient to model the relations between clauses only at the level discourse semantics.

[2] What counts as discourse semantics or register only becomes problematic when register, a functional variety of language, is misconstrued as a stratum of context above semantics (Martin 1992), and thus, misconstrued as being more symbolically abstract than semantics (as argued elsewhere on this site).  The problem is further compounded by misconstruing context as language — Martin's register and genre — instead of as a semiotic system that is realised in language (as argued elsewhere on this site).  One potential pitfall of this latter misconstrual is that discourse analysts, in dealing with texts, run the risk of confusing field and tenor, the ideational and interpersonal dimensions of the situational context, with the ideational and interpersonal meanings of the text itself.  This confusion is one source of Rose's difficulty of distinguishing "what counts as discourse semantics" from "what counts as register".

[3] This raises the issue of entry conditions for discourse semantic systems.  It is a theoretical requirement that the entry conditions for all systems be specified.