Saturday, 2 December 2017

David Rose "Being Obtuse"

David Rose wrote to sysfling on 30 Nov 2017 at 14:05:27:
Perhaps I'm being obtuse, but can I ask if, whether our perspective is transitive or ergative, when we describe items like 'strike' or 'strike back’ in terms like 1-Role Processes or 2-Role Processes (or ergative/transitive or whatever), we are actually classifying lexical items according to grammatical criteria? By the term Process do we mean a lexical item or an element in a function structure, such as Actor+Process? If the latter, then what is the relation between the function structure and the lexical item?

Blogger Comments:

[1] In describing 'strike' and 'strike back' as lexical items, instead of verbs, Rose is taking the lexical perspective on the notion of 'word' and ignoring the grammatical perspective.  As Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 568-9) point out:
The folk notion of the “word” is really a conflation of two different abstractions, one lexical and one grammatical.
(i) Vocabulary (lexis): the word as lexical item, or "lexeme". This is construed as an isolate, a 'thing' that can be counted and sorted in (alphabetical) order. People "look for" words, they "put thoughts into" them, "put them into" or "take them out of another's", and nowadays they keep collections of words on their shelves or in their computers in the form of dictionaries. Specialist knowledge is thought of as a matter of terminology. The taxonomic organisation of vocabulary is less exposed: it is made explicit in Roget's Thesaurus, but is only implicit in a standard dictionary. Lexical taxonomy was the first area of language to be systematically studied by anthropologists, when they began to explore cultural knowledge as it is embodied in folk taxonomies of plants, animals, diseases and the like. 
(ii) Grammar: the word as one of the ranks in the grammatical system. This is, not surprisingly, where Western linguistic theory as we know it today began in classical times, with the study of words varying in form according to their case, number, aspect, person etc.. Word-based systems such as these do provide a way in to studying grammatical semantics: but the meanings they construe are always more complex than the categories that appear as formal variants, and grammarians have had to become aware of covert patterns.
From a grammatical perspective, 'strike' is a verb and 'strike back' is a phrasal verb, both at word rank.  As verbs, they feature as constituents of verbal groups, where they realise the functional element 'Event'; and verbal groups, in turn, feature as constituents of clauses, where they realise the functional elements 'Process', experientially, and (Finite +) Predicator, interpersonally.

[2] A lexical item is the synthetic realisation of the most delicate features of lexicogrammatical systems — just as a phoneme is the synthetic realisation of phonological features.  The relation between lexicogrammatical features and a lexical item is thus one of symbolic identity — lexical item as Token, features as Value — not class membership (attribution).

[3] The architectural dimensions of the theory provide the means of relating any regions within it.  To relate function structure to lexical item, the following path can be taken:
  • from structure to system: syntagmatic axis to paradigmatic axis (related by realisation),
  • within system, from most general features to most delicate (related by delicacy),
  • from bundle of most delicate features to lexical item (related by realisation).

But the question itself arises from taking a lexical perspective on the word instead of the grammatical.  The grammatical question would be 'how do we get from clause structure to word?', and the answer is via the rank scale and realisation, as described in [1] above.

See a related post from 2015 David Rose On Lexical Items.

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