Monday, 23 October 2017

Tom Bartlett Misunderstanding Meaning Potential, Delicacy And Instantiation

We can probably bring in a phylogenetic and logogenetic perspective too - focusing on the meaning potential of the lexeme across the language as well as the construal of the process in the text -

I think this would be in line with what Lise has suggested in a couple of plenaries recently.

Each lexeme (here verb) has developed a range of possible meanings and associations at the potential end of the cline,

and when used in text (to construe a process) this range of meanings and connotations is narrowed down (but not entirely) by both the grammatical structures used and the surrounding cotext.

As Lise was suggesting, we then also need to consider the middle ground - what sorts of meaning tend to be cut down under what sorts of conditions/in what sort of situation types.

Basically, it's looking at the system-instance cline from the perspective of the individual resources (for Lise, lexis, but I would say any meaning type including structures) rather than (or complementary to) the total range of meanings that are "at risk".

Again as pointed out by Lise, we need to consider the potential of the individual resources we can draw on in a particular situation as well as the potential range of meanings we can make.

What we end up uttering is the intersection of the two, and that may leave ambiguity, etc.

Blogger Comments:

[1] Theorising by focussing on the lexical item is neither systemic nor functional, and so, is inconsistent with the perspective of Systemic Functional Grammar.  The reason it is not systemic is that a lexical item is not (a feature in) a system; instead, a lexical item is the synthetic realisation of the most delicate features in lexicogrammatical systems (as a phoneme is the synthesis of phonological features).  The reason it is not functional is that lexical items are lower in symbolic abstraction than both the lexicogrammatical features they realise, and the semantic features that the lexicogrammatical features realise.  Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 49) explain:
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, Bartlett is unwittingly using a different theory to interpret the data, thereby yielding interpretations at odds with the original theory.

[2] This confuses 'potential meaning' (of a lexical item) with 'meaning potential' (system).

[3] Here Bartlett contrasts the lexical with the grammatical contributions to the meanings realised by an instantial process.  In SFL, this is theorised by the scale of delicacy.  Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 198-9):
… 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). Note that it is not (usually) the lexical items themselves that figure as terms of the systems in the network. Rather, the systems are systems of features, and the lexical items come in as the synthetic realisation of particular feature combinations. 
[4] This confuses the lexical and grammatical notions of the 'word'.  Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 568):
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. … 
(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.
[5] The potential pole of the cline of instantiation is the system.  Because lexical items are not systems — but synthetic realisations of features — it is inconsistent to construe them as systems at the potential pole of the cline.

[6] The midway point on the cline of instantiation is register, each of which a subpotential of the overall system that varies according to situation type.  Because lexical items are not systems, it is inconsistent to construe them as subpotentials at the midway point of the cline of instantiation.

[7] Here Bartlett contrasts looking at lexis in terms of the cline of instantiation with 'the total number of meanings that are "at risk" '.  As explained above, this is a contrast between, on the one hand, a misunderstanding of delicacy and instantiation, and on the other, the system of meaning potential.

[8] Here Bartlett misconstrues (syntagmatic) structures as being on the cline of instantiation that obtains between (paradigmatic) system and instance.  This is inconsistent in terms of axis.

[9] Here Bartlett summarises by claiming that instances (texts) involve 'the intersection' of
  • the potential meanings of lexical items (and grammatical structures) at the instance pole of the cline of instantiation, with 
  • meaning potential (the system pole of the cline of instantiation), 
As demonstrated above, the first of these arises from misunderstandings of meaning potential, delicacy and instantiation, combined with a perspective on grammar that is neither systemic nor functional.