Friday, 12 February 2016

David Rose Following Jim Martin In Confusing Description With Theory

Responding to a post by Annabelle Lukin, David Rose wrote to sys-func and sysfling on 11 February 2016 at 07:24:
Great point 
The theory is SFL 
Appraisal is an SFL description, alongside other discourse semantic systems 
The description of appraisal filled a void that is not accounted for in grammar, so lots of people have adopted it without recognising other discourse semantic systems, hence ‘appraisal theory’
We don’t talk about ‘transitivity theory’. Many imagine that transitivity is sufficient to account for experiential meaning, that tabulating process types describes what a text means. They can't see the void.

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Given Martin's dichotomy of theory versus description*, the systems of appraisal are not description; they are part of SFL linguistic theory.  Description is what theory affords. Theory provides the potential for describing (construing) phenomena — in its terms.  

The distinction can be understood in terms of instantiation.  Just as texts are linguistic instances of linguistic potential, descriptions of language are metalinguistic instances of metalinguistic potential.  Linguistic theories like appraisal are metalinguistic potential: the potential for 'languaging' about language, texts about texts.

Moreover, it is the system networks that constitute the (metalinguistic) hypotheses, generated by the theoretical assumptions, to be tested against data descriptions (metalinguistic instances).  See Butt (2000) on the system network as a form of argumentation.

In any case, the term 'appraisal theory' originates from Martin and White (2005: xi, 6, 29) — in which publication can also be found the term 'register and genre theory' (p24).

And, interestingly, although Martin does not regard appraisal theory as a theory, he does regard editorials as theoretical texts.  Martin (1992: 518):
Genre-structured texts are divided into those which review field-structured texts (e.g. movie reviews), and so are partially determined by their activity sequences, and theoretical texts which are not organised around a sequence of events in any respect (e.g. editorials).

[2] In SFL theory, linguistic content is viewed from two perspectives: two levels of symbolic abstraction.  The higher level is meaning (semantics), the lower level is wording (lexicogrammar).  In the absence of grammatical metaphor, the two perspectives are in agreement (congruent).  This stratification means that systems of linguistic content can be viewed from either perspective.  Halliday (2008: 49) provides the view of appraisal from the perspective of lexicogrammar:
Some interpersonal meanings are highly generalised, like the enactment of dialogic rôles (speech function) … .  With options in the way something is evaluated (“I approve / I disapprove”), or contended (“I agree / I disagree”), the borderline between grammar and lexis is shaded over; systems of appraisal, as described by Martin & White (2005), represent more delicate (more highly differentiated) options within the general region of evaluation.
On the appraisal system of attitude, Halliday (2008: 179) writes:
This is a grammatical system that is realised by a selection of lexical items. Each such item is uniquely identified as a set of intersecting grammatical features; eg complicated is
appraisal: attitude: appreciation: composition: ( complexity : complex /  polarity: negative …)
as well as other general grammatical features (e.g. as distinct from confusing, which is “effective”, as in it confuses mecomplicated is “descriptive”).  Note that I am interpreting the feature "undesirable" (the "snarl" member of the "purr/snarl" opposition) as negative in the environment of the interpersonal.
But it is important to understand that it is the lexicogrammar that makes the type of semantics that language has possible — as demonstrated by the limitations of semiotic systems without stratified content.  As Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 512) put it, it is the grammar that construes 'semantic space': 
In all these metafunctions, the language does not take over and reproduce some readymade semantic space. There is no such space until the grammar comes along to construe it.
[3] This is misleading.  See the two Halliday (2008) quotes above in [2] or at The Thought Occurs.

[4] Reasons for 'adopting' appraisal theory include the facts that it is very easy to use with very little linguistic knowledge — it can stand independently of SFL, let alone discourse semantics — and that it pays huge dividends for very little investment, as exemplified here.

[5] This is the motivation for misrepresenting appraisal as description rather than theory: its use without the recognition of its inclusion within discourse semantic systems.  For critiques of discourse semantic systems, see here.

[6] The systems of 'transitivity', within the grammatics, are part of SFL theory.  They are metalinguistic potential.  See [1].  Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 514) are quite clear on the matter:
This part of the grammar, then — the grammar of clauses — , constitutes a theory about the types of process that make up human experience.

[7] This is the logical fallacy known as the straw man fallacy — an argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument which was not advanced by that opponent.

It also exemplifies the form of argument termed 'polemic' (which Jim Martin warned us about on the sysfling list on 8/1/16, by means of a quote from Foucault).
polemic is a contentious argument that is intended to support a specific position via attacks on a contrary position. Polemics are mostly seen in arguments about controversial topics. The practice of such argumentation is called polemics. A person who often writes polemics, or who speaks polemically, is called a polemicist or a polemic. The word is derived from Greek πολεμικός (polemikos), meaning "warlike, hostile", from πόλεμος (polemos), meaning "war". 
Along with debate, polemics are one of the most common forms of arguing. Similar to debate, a polemic is confined to a definite thesis. But unlike debate, which may allow for common ground between the two disputants, a polemic is intended only to affirm one point of view while refuting the opposing point of view.
See Foucault's polemic against polemics here.


* For Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 55), a description is an account of a particular language, whereas a theory is an account of language in general.  On this view, also, Appraisal is a theory of language.

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