Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Beatriz Quiroz Misinterpreting Markedness As Improbability

Wondering now about 'markedness' again in terms of the textual metafunction. If markedness has only to do with probabilities in lexicogrammatical choices, then it makes sense. I find this criterion problematic in Spanish, though, because then a number of other patterns would be indeed marked, but they don't make much sense from the point of view of text analysis - e.g. non-modally responsible Participants at initial position, which to me are NOT marked Themes, even though they are relatively infrequent. The reason is that they do seem to sustain the angle on the field and thus contribute to the method of development (in ways beta clauses and circu[m]stances don't) across registers. This may even be related to an explanation of 'doubling' in clitic-doubling varieties, such as Chilean and Buenos Aires Spanish. 
On the other hand, if we consider interactions with higher level choices (discourse-semantic, generic), how do we treat patterns that are indeed productive in text analysis (such as beta clauses at initial position)? You then suggest this would be solved by taking into account different layers, without talking about marked or unmarked Themes?

Blogger Comments:

[1] This misunderstands the notion of markedness in SFL theory.  The unmarked option is 'the form we tend to use if there is no prior context leading up to it, and no positive reason for choosing anything else' (Halliday & Matthiessen 2004: 58), in contradistinction to marked, which means that the option is less frequent and 'carries a special interpretation' (Halliday & Matthiessen 2004: 207).  For example, the unmarked option for present tense in material processes is the present-in-present, and the marked option, the simple present, carries the 'special interpretation' of habitual.

Difference in probability of selection, on the other hand, is what distinguishes different registers.

[2] To be clear, "non-modally responsible Participants" means Complements and some Adjuncts (e.g. Beneficiaries and Agents realised by prepositional phrases).  In SFL theory, these are regarded as marked Themes in declarative clauses, because there is a textual motivation for these, rather than the Subject, to be thematic.

[3] The notion of "the angle on the field" is from Martin (1992: 452, 489). See the theoretical misunderstandings from which this notion proceeds identified at:

[4] The assumption here is that marked Themes do not contribute to a text's method of development.  This is inconsistent with the model being used, Martin (1992: 461):
The concept of modal responsibility is less obvious in propositions, and the meaning of Subject is hard to isolate because of the fact that in English declaratives and interrogatives Subject conflates with unmarked topical Theme. However, it is clear in contexts where marked Themes are used to scaffold a text's method of development that Subject selection is in principle independent of Theme selection.
Martin (1992: 474): 
Although it is harder to unpick the meaning of Subject in written monologue [than in spoken mode] from the meaning of Theme and Given, texts such as [6:36] above which realise their method of development through marked Themes demonstrate the significance of modal responsibility in this mode.
The source of the confusion may be a reading of Martin (1992: 452):
The main contrast is in the range of meanings woven through Theme and New. Only a few of the text's participants and processes are selected as unmarked topical Theme, with far greater variation in New. The Themes focus on the major participants involved in the anecdote, while the News tell the story. Putting this in more general terms, Themes angle in on a given field, reflecting a text's genre; News elaborate the field, developing it in experiential terms. This contrast in functions operates across text types …

[5] The mistaken notion of genre as a higher stratum derives from Martin (1992).  For some of the reasons why the notion of genre as a stratum of context is mistaken, see:
  1. Problems With The Non-Argument For Genre As Context
  2. Seven Problems With The First Justification For A Genre Stratum
  3. Two Problems With The Second Justification For A Genre Stratum
  4. Eight Problems With The Third Justification For A Genre Stratum
  5. Two Problems With The Fourth Justification For A Genre Stratum
  6. Two Problems With The Fifth Justification For A Genre Stratum

[6] The point is simply that the marked vs unmarked Theme distinction does not apply to dependent clauses in regressive sequences.  If the dependent clause is the point of departure for the clause nexus, then it is thematic.  It is not marked because there is no unmarked Theme of the clause nexus with which it can be contrasted.

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