Sunday, 15 October 2017

Mick O'Donnell On The Number Of Process Types

 Michael O'Donnell wrote to Sysfling on 12 October 2017 at 19:20:
I think part of the problem here is the assumption that all clauses possible within the English language can be explained as belonging to one of 6 different grammatical categories: material, behavioural, mental, verbal, relational, existential. 
I do agree that the bulk of the clauses of the English language conform to basic prototypes within these categories. However, the English language has a long history, and occasionally we find examples which are structurally different from other sentences. "It matters" seems to be one of these. 
Remember, Halliday's process types are supposed to be grammatical categories, linked together not only by common semantics, but also by commonality of form
And I have always felt it strange that the "present tense" test has always been the primary (and often only) grammatical criterion given for classifying clauses. 
I also do not accept the criterion that "IFG says so" is a valid criteria, unless IFG contains reasoning to support the categorisation. 
Looking purely structurally, "It matters" is closer in form to:
Life evolved.
Something happened.
It appeared.
He abstained.
He apologised.
He breakfasted.
Looking through a list 2,700 verbs that cannot take a complement (intransitive verbs), they seem to fall into 2 main semantic patterns:
a) Those that explain happenings (material, no agent): evolve, happen, appear.
b) verbal activity with no verbiage nor addressee: abstain, apologise, snigger, yammer, soliloquize, snitch, compromise
...and maybe a set of (rare) items that do represent semantically a relation to another participant which can be specified via a "to" circumstance:
He mattered (to me)
It bonded (to the wall)
They conformed (to the regulations)
We could then shove such cases under relational, but then it seems our unstated but primary grammatical criteria is: All clauses can be categorised under one of the six named process types. ...even when the verbs at issue reflect substantially distinct structural patterns. That to me is the problem. We are b[e]ing too simplistic, trying to fit the language into a box which is too small for it.

Blogger Comments:

[1] Here O'Donnell offers the historical depth of the English language as support for his contention that the most general types of process — motivated by the data — number more than six.

[2] As O'Donnell makes clear, his approach to process types proceeds from the perspectives of structure and form.  Systemic Functional Linguistic theory, on the other hand, as the name implies, is theorised from the perspectives of system and function.  Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 49):
Being a ‘functional grammar’ means that priority is given to the view ‘from above’; that is, grammar is seen as a resource for making meaning — it is a ‘semanticky’ kind of grammar. But the focus of attention is still on the grammar itself. 
Giving priority to the view ‘from above’ means that the organising principle adopted is one of system: the grammar is seen as a network of interrelated meaningful choices. In other words, the dominant axis is the paradigmatic one: the fundamental components of the grammar are sets of mutually defining contrastive features.  Explaining something consists not of stating how it is structured but in showing how it is related to other things: its pattern of systemic relationships, or agnateness (agnation).
By adopting a different perspective on the data, O'Donnell is unwittingly using a different theory to interpret the data, thereby yielding interpretations at odds with the original theory.

[3] Strictly speaking, Halliday's process types are both grammatical and semantic.  The two are in agreement (congruent) except in the case of grammatical metaphor.  Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 503):
… we treat transitivity both within semantics (the paradigmatic and syntagmatic organisation of figures) and within lexicogrammar (the grammar of transitivity): it is a system construed within the content plane of language — both in the ideational component in the lexicogrammar and in the ideation base. This two-stratal approach to transitivity makes it possible to model the resource of grammatical metaphor and is fundamental to work on multilingual systems for generating text.
[4] Here O'Donnell maintains his steadfast ignorance of the trinocular perspective that Halliday used in theorising the grammar; see previous posts herehere, and especially here.  The theory of process types arises from looking at the grammar (1) from above (what meanings are being realised?), (2) from roundabout (what other systemic variants are possible?), and (3) from below (how are they realised?).

[5] This is a statement about the competence of the most intrusive list members, not about the criteria used by Halliday, as set out in IFG.  For example, Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 354):

[6] In citing IFG, an analyst is, of course, referring the reader to both the theoretical assumptions and the reasoning on which an analysis is based.

[7] Trivially, the clause it bonded (to the wall) is material, not relational, both on the basis of what it means (from above), and what would be the unmarked present tense (from roundabout).

[8] This risks a misunderstanding.  The six named process types are the most general categories only.  The total number of process types construed by the SFL approach is enormous, but won't be known until these most general types are elaborated into more and more delicate categories, to the point where each lexical item is specified.  Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 198):
… we can differentiate both processes and participants into finer and finer subcategories, until we reach a degree of differentiation that is associated with the choice of words (lexical items).

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