Sunday, 7 October 2018

Mick O'Donnell On "Main And Support Verbs"

In answer to the query:
1. In a structure like: "Honey, don't forget to pay the bill before the week is over" should I say that 'forget to pay' is a complex verbal group? O should I say that 'forget' is a mental process that projects the clause complex 'to pay the bill before the week is over'?

 Michael O'Donnell wrote to Sysfling on 5 October 2018 at 18:40:
There are arguments for both analyses, here. 
I would argue for grouping "forget to pay" and "forget that..." as both instances of mental processes.
1. if you follow your precedent and treat "She forgot to pay" as a complex verbal group, then would you do the same with "She SAID to pay at the counter". So, where do you draw the line in determining whether the first verb is the main verb or the support verb
2. In Construal Analysis (analysing a document to see what participant roles particular entities fill), it would probably be beneficial to treat the participant as both construed Sensor and Actor. Alternatively, in "he started to think", I don't see the value of recording a participant role for "starting". 
3. In a case like:
A: Did you pay him?
B: I forgot. 
...where the second is elliptical for "I forgot to pay him", it seems strange to say "forget" is not the main verb. It is certainly the main activity reported. 
None of these arguments are conclusive. I think the issue of where the dividing line lies between aspectual verbs and projecting verbs is very blurred, with different linguists placing the involved verbs on different sides. I have always gone with the criteria that if the verb involves mental or verbal action (semantically), then this should be recognised, allowing it to group with the other cases where the projection takes the form of a that-clause, a present participle clause, or a nominal group.

Blogger Comments:

[1] Trivially, a verbal group complex is not a complex verbal group.  The former is a complex of verbal groups, and a theoretical term, whereas the latter is a single verbal group deemed to be "complex".

[2] To be clear, while 'forget (that…)' is unambiguously an instance of a mental Process, 'forget to pay' can alternatively be analysed as a verbal group complex that construes two Events, 'forget' and 'pay' as a material Process; see, for example, Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 574).

[3] This is a non-sequitur, since the two instances differ markedly.  In She forgot to pay, a proposition is mentally projected with the same Subject as the projecting clause; whereas, in She said to pay at the counter, a proposal is verbally projected with a different Subject from the projecting clause.

[4] To be clear, in terms of SFL theory, the question is whether
  • the verbal groups form a complex to realise a single process in a clause simplex, or
  • each verbal group realises a different process in a clause complex.

What O'Donnell calls "the main verb" is the verb serving as the Event of the verbal group that serves as the Process of a projecting clause in a clause complex; what O'Donnell calls "the support verb" is the verb serving as the Event of the projecting verbal group of a verbal group complex.  In focusing on verbs, O'Donnell is focusing on form (the view from below) instead of function (the view from above).

[5] Here O'Donnell is largely consistent with Halliday ± Matthiessen (1985, 1994, 2004, 2014) — though unwittingly so, since he presents the analysis as his own.

[6] For reasoning with regard to the distinction between projection in clause complexes and projection in verbal group complexes, see Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 584-92).

[7] Here O'Donnell misinterprets the question of what rank complexing takes place, clause or group, as a distinction between "aspectual and projecting verbs".  Moreover, this distinction reduces the vast array of potential relations between (what are) verbal groups in verbal group complexes to time phase elaboration ("aspectual") and projection.  The systemic potential of verbal group complex is given in Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 584-92) as:

[8] To be clear, the issue is not what linguists do, but whether analyses are consistent with the theory said linguists are using.

[9] This criterion is oblivious to the question of what rank, clause or group, the "mental or verbal action" is to be "recognised".