Thursday, 7 December 2017

David Rose "In A Nutshell" [Part 2]

We can often categorise lexical items according to grammar or discourse patterns they tend to instantiate (as Michael and Christian like to do in IFG). But these categories are only one dimension of their meaning. Their more specific meanings can only be described in terms of register systems (the function of dictionary and thesaurus). So my instinct is to locate them at the level of register. This is hard to conceptualise because they only manifest as wordings, so we usually talk about them as if they are words. But the items themselves are meanings (at register level), that are realised in language as wordings. In text, they co-instantiate with grammar and discourse features to construe patterns of register. These probabilistic co-instantantions may be the basis of much linguistic description. 
in a nutshell

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[1] The claim here is that lexical items are categorised according to grammar or discourse patterns.  This is inconsistent with Halliday & Matthiessen (2004, 2014).  In SFL theory, lexical items are specified by bundles of the most delicate features of the systems of lexicogrammar.  The relation between a bundle of such features and a lexical item is symbolic identity: the more abstract Value (feature bundle) is realised by the less abstract Token (lexical item).

[2] To be clear, in SFL theory, lexical items realise meaning.  That is, wording (lexicogrammar) is construed as a lower level of symbolic abstraction than meaning (semantics).

[3] Rose's argument can be characterised as follows:
Premiss: (reason) the more specific meanings of lexical items — as provided by dictionary and thesaurus — can only be described in terms of register systems.
Conclusion: (result) lexical items are located at the level of register.
Ignoring the theoretical misunderstandings for the moment, the argument itself is an instance of circular reasoning, in this case: the logical fallacy known as begging the question (petitio principii): providing what is essentially the conclusion of the argument as a premiss.  Moreover, the premiss itself is a bare assertion, unsupported by reasoned argument.

Turning to the theoretical misunderstandings, both the premiss and conclusion are inconsistent with the SFL architecture.  In the premiss, Rose does not recognise the stratal differentiation of a lexical item (lexicogrammar) and the meaning (semantics) that it realises.  In both the premiss and the conclusion, Rose misrepresents the SFL notion of register in terms of stratification (context vs language) and instantiation (system vs sub-system).

Stepping back a little, this is what Rose's previous three posts — in which he disingenuously described himself as "perhaps obtuse", "puzzled" and "generally puzzled" — have been leading to: his "instinct" to locate lexical items at the level of register.  Keeping in mind that, for Rose, register means "social context", which he distinguishes from language, his proposal is to locate lexical items outside language.

[4] As mentioned in a previous post, in SFL theory, 'lexical item' is one of two abstractions on the word, the other being a rank unit in the grammar.

[5] This is another bare assertion, made on the assumption that the previous circular reasoning, involving a bare assertion, has established it as true.  It contains the same theoretical confusions about lexical items and register that were identified in [3] above, with the addition of locating linguistic meaning at the level of context (characterised by Rose as 'social context', and misconstrued, following Martin (1992) as 'register').

[6] The claim here is that lexical items, at the level of social context, are realised in language as wordings.  This adds further to the previously identified theoretical inconsistencies by proposing a realisation relation between context and lexicogrammar, thereby skipping the intervening level of symbolic abstraction, semantics.

[7] The claim here is that lexical items are instantiated in text.  On Rose's model, lexical items are located in context, and as such, are not instances of language (text), but of social context, which Rose distinguishes from language.

[8] To be clear, in SFL theory, the relation between features co-selected across different strata is realisation.  On the model proposed by Rose, this means that lexical items (at the level of context) are realised by the realisation of discourse semantic features in lexicogrammatical features.  Here the notion of 'co-instantiation' helps to mask the fact that Rose has not accounted for the discourse semantic features that realise lexical items.

[9] To be clear, in SFL theory, the different probabilities of features being co-selected provide the quantitative means of differentiating registers — where registers are coherently construed: as sub-potentials of language.

[10] From Fawlty Towers (The Hotel Inspectors):
Mr Hutchinson: In a nutshell.
Basil Fawlty: Case, more like.
In a nutshell.
Case, more like.

Read more:
In a nutshell.
Case, more like.

Read more:
In a nutshell.
Case, more like.

Read more: a nutshell.
Case, more like.

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