The Thought Occurs

Friday, 28 February 2014

Process Types As "Spectrum"

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 516):
In construing experience in this way, the grammar is providing a resource for thinking with. A strict taxonomy of separate process types would impose too much discontinuity, while a bipolar continuum would precisely be too polarised. What the grammar offers is, rather, a flexible semantic space, continuous and elastic, which can be contorted and expanded without losing its topological order. Since it evolved with the human species, it is full of anomalies, contradictions and compromises; precisely the properties which make it possible for a child to learn, because only a system of this kind could accommodate the disorder that is inherent in experience itself.

System Networks Construe A Continuous Semiotic Space

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 173):
Like all system networks, this [PROCESS TYPE] network construes a continuous semiotic space.

Terms In Systems Are Fuzzy Categories

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 174n):
Systemic terms are not Aristotelian categories. Rather they are fuzzy categories; they can be thought of as representing fuzzy sets rather than ‘crisp’ ones …

Grammatical Labels Reflect Core Category Signification

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 199):
… grammatical labels are very rarely appropriate for all instances of a category — they are chosen to reflect its central or ‘core’ signification ( … ‘prototypes’ …). These core areas are the central region for each process type … and the non-core areas lie on the borders between the different process types, shading into one another as the colours of a colour spectrum.

The Principle Of Systemic Indeterminacy

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 173):
The world of our experience is highly indeterminate; and this is precisely how the grammar construes it in the system of process type. Thus, one and the same text may offer alternative models of what would appear to be the same domain of experience, construing for example the domain of emotion both as a process in a ‘mental’ clause … and as a participant in a ‘relational’ one …

Process Types: Spherical Ordering

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 171-2):
There is no priority of one kind of process over another. But they are ordered; and what is important is that, in our concrete visual metaphor, they form a circle and not a line. (More accurately still … a sphere … .) That is to say, our model of experience, as interpreted through the grammatical system of transitivity, is one of regions within a continuous space; but the continuity is not between two poles, it is round in a loop.

Process Types As Continuous Regions With Core & Peripheral Areas

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 172):
The regions have core areas and these represent prototypical members of the process types; but the regions are continuous, shading into one another, and these border areas represent the fact that the process types are fuzzy categories.

Behavioural, Verbal & Existential Process Types As Categories At Boundaries

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 171):
Material, mental and relational are the main types of process in the English transitivity system. But we also find further categories at the three boundaries; not so clearly set apart, but nevertheless recognisable in the grammar as intermediate between the different pairs — sharing some features of each, and thus acquiring a character of their own.

Behavioural Processes At The Borderline

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 171):
On the borderline between ‘material’ and ‘mental’ are the behavioural processes: those that represent the outer manifestations of inner workings, the acting out of processes of consciousness and physiological states.

Verbal Processes At The Borderline

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 171):
On the borderline between ‘mental’ and ‘relational’ are the verbal processes: symbolic relationships constructed in human consciousness and enacted in the form of language, like saying and meaning …

Existential Processes At The Borderline

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 171):
And on the borderline between the ‘relational’ and the ‘material’ are the processes concerned with existence, the existential, by which phenomena of all kinds are simply recognised to ‘be’ — to exist or to happen …

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Saussure, Semiotic Systems And Meaning

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 509):
Meaning can be thought of (and was thought of by Saussure) as just a kind of social value; but it is value in a significantly different sense — value that is construed symbolically. Meaning can only be construed symbolically, because it is intrinsically paradigmatic, as Saussure understood and built into his own definition of valeur. Semiotic systems are social systems where value has been further transformed into meaning.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Saussure, Hjelmslev And The Problem Of Realisation

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 510):
… we do not yet fully understand the nature of the relationship that is the semiotic analogue of the "cause : effect" of classical physics: this is the problem of realisation. It is true that Saussure, and even more Hjelmslev, took important strides towards an understanding; but we are still arguing about what Saussure really meant (to us it seems that he had not clearly separated the two concepts of instantiation and realisation), and Hjelmslev has been largely ignored — Sydney Lamb (eg 1966a, b) is almost the only person who has tried to follow through his achievements.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

How To Distinguish Complement And Adjunct


Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 122-3):
A Complement is an element within the Residue that has the potential of being Subject but is not; in other words, it is an element that has the potential for being given the interpersonally elevated status of modal responsibility — something that can be the nub of the argument.

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 123):
An Adjunct is an element that has not got the potential of being Subject; that is, it cannot be elevated to the interpersonal status of modal responsibility.


(a) Consider the following clause:

Maureen gave David the book.

Q1. Can ‘David’ be raised to Subject?
A. Yes, as follows: David was given the book by Maureen.
Conclusion: ‘David’ is Complement.

Q2. Can ‘the book’ be raised to Subject?
A. Yes, as follows: The book was given to David by Maureen.
Conclusion: ‘the book’ is Complement.

(b) Consider the following clause:

Maureen gave the book to David.

Q1. Can ‘to David’ be raised to Subject?
A. No. *To David was given the book by Maureen.
Conclusion: ‘to David’ is Adjunct.

(c) Consider the following clause:

The book was given to David by Maureen.

Q1. Can ‘to David’ be raised to Subject?
A. No. *To David was given the book by Maureen.
Conclusion: ‘to David’ is Adjunct.

Q2. Can ‘by Maureen’ be raised to Subject?
A. No. *By Maureen gave the book to David.
Conclusion: ‘by Maureen’ is Adjunct.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Context Vs Language

Halliday (2007 [1991]: 271):
What this means is that language considered as a system — its lexical items and grammatical categories — is to be related to its context of culture; while instances of language in use — specific texts and their component parts — are to be related to their context of situation. Both these contexts are of course outside of language itself.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Epistemological Position Of SFL Theory

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: xi):
… we stress that the categories and relations of experience are not “given” to us by nature, to be passively reflected in our language, but are actively constructed by language, with the lexicogrammar as the driving force.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 3):
We contend that the conception of ‘knowledge’ as something that exists independently of language, and may then be coded or made manifest in language, is illusory. All knowledge is constituted in semiotic systems, with language as the most central; and all such representations of knowledge are constructed from language in the first place.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 3):
Our contention is that there is no ordering of experience other than the ordering given to it by language. We could in fact define experience in linguistic terms: experience is the reality we construe for ourselves by means of language.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 13):
In paradigmatic construal, we construe a phenomenon as being of some particular type — some selection from a set of potential types. … In syntagmatic construal, we construe a phenomenon as having some particular composition — as consisting of parts in some structural configuration.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 17):
The view we are adopting is a constructivist one, familiar from European linguistics in the work of Hjelmslev and Firth. According to this view, it is the grammar itself that construes experience, that constructs for us our world of events and objects. As Hjelmslev (1943) said, reality is unknowable; the only things that are known are our construals of it — that is, meanings. Meanings do not ‘exist’ before the wordings that realise them. They are formed out of the impact between our consciousness and its environment.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 68):
Categorisation is often thought of as a process of classifying together phenomena that are inherently alike, the classes being as it were given to us by the nature of the experience itself. But this is not what really happens. Categorising is a creative act: it transforms our experience into meaning, and this means imposing a categorical order rather than putting labels on an order that is already there.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 68):
There would be indefinitely many ways of construing analogies among different elements in the total flux of experience; what our semantic resources enable us to do is to construe those analogies which yield categories resonating with what as a species, and as members of a particular culture, we have found to carry material and symbolic value.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 82):
From a typological point of view, construing experience in terms of categories means locating them somewhere in [a] network of relations.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 97):
To construe experience of concrete phenomena as meaning is thus to construe some signification which lies outside the ideation base as a value which is internal to the ideation base system.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 213):
The key to the construal of experience is the perception of change; the grammar construes a quantum of change as a figure (typically one clause) and sorts out figures in the first instance into those of consciousness (sensing and saying), those of the material world (doing & happening) and those of logical relations (being & having). The central element of a figure is the process; ‘things’ are construed as entities participating in processes, having different rôles, of which one is ‘that participant in which the process is actualised’ … ; hence the grammatical nucleus of the clause is the configuration of Process with Medium.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 353):
… our metatheoretic position is that the construction of meaning is both a discourse–semantic and a lexicogrammatical process.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 423-4):
… reality is not something that is given to us; we have to construct an interpretation of it — or, as we prefer to put it, we have to construe our experience. Interpretation is a semiotic process, and our interpretation takes into account not only the concrete natural world but also the socio-cultural realm that is brought into existence as a semiotic construct …

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 602):
Language is not a second–order code through which meanings created in some higher–order realm of existence are mysteriously made manifest and brought to light. To borrow the conceit that Firth was fond of caricaturing, there are no “naked ideas” lurking in the background waiting to be clothed. It is language that creates meaning, in the sense that meaning has for us as human beings (which is the only sense of it that we can know).

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 603):
… our interpretation of meaning is immanent, so that meaning is inside language, not some separate, higher domain of human experience.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 608-9):
… the human brain has evolved in the construction of a functioning model of “reality”. We prefer to conceptualise “reality construction” in terms of construing experience. This is not so much because it avoids metaphysical issues about the ultimate nature of reality — we are prepared to acknowledge a broadly materialist position …

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609):
… what is being construed by the brain is not the environment as such, but the impact of that environment on the organism and the ongoing material and semiotic exchange between the two.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609):
… we want to emphasise the evolutionary perspective, since this allows us to start from what human beings have in common with other species rather than always insisting on our own uniqueness: when we talk of “construction of reality” it is almost impossible to avoid taking our own construction as the norm, whereas parakeets, pythons, and porpoises have very different experiences to construe — different both from each other’s and from those of people.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 609):
… the concept of experience is, or can be, a collective one: experience is something that is shared by the members of a species — construed as a “collective consciousness”, in Durkheim’s classic formulation.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Cognition: The Mental Map Is A Semiotic Map

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: x):
… cognition “is” (that is, can most profitably be modelled as) not thinking but meaning: the “mental” map is in fact a semiotic map, and “cognition” is just a way of talking about language. … Instead of explaining language by reference to cognitive processes, we will explain cognition by reference to linguistic processes.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Nominal Groups Inside Prepositional Phrases: Indirect Participants


Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 296-7):
… the Complement of a preposition can often emerge to function as Subject … This pattern suggests that Complements of prepositions, despite being embedded in an element that has a circumstantial function, are still felt to be participating, even if at a distance, in the process expressed by the clause.


Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 261):
We can make a contrast, then, between direct and indirect participants, using ‘indirect participant’ to refer to the status of a nominal group that is inside a prepositional phrase …


Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 278):
Wherever there is systematic alternation between a prepositional phrase and a nominal group, as in all the instances in Participant functions realised by prepositional phrases, the element in question is interpreted as a participant.


Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 295-6):
… the choice of ‘plus or minus preposition’ with Agent, Beneficiary and Range … serves a textual function. … The principle is as follows. If a participant other than the Medium is in a place of prominence in the message, it tends to take a preposition (ie to be construed as ‘indirect’ participant); otherwise it does not. Prominence in the message means functioning either (i) as marked Theme (ie Theme but not Subject) or (ii) as ‘late news’ — that is, occurring after some other participant, or circumstance, that already follows the Process. In other words, prominence comes from occurring either earlier or later than expected in the clause; and it is this that is being reinforced by the presence of the preposition. The preposition has become a signal of special status in the message.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Why Is An Instance 'A Token Of A Type'?

The organising principle of the cline of instantiation is intensive attribution (Halliday & Matthiessen 1999: 14-5, 145).

Attribution is concerned with class membership.
Attribution + elaboration includes type–subtype relations.

But, the most delicate subtype has just a single member.
The relation between a category and its single member is identification.
The category and the member uniquely identify each other.
The member is the Token that realises the category Value.
An instance is the Token that realises the most delicate category Value.

This is the distinction between instance and subtype.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Success Of Mediocre Ideas

A mediocre idea that guarantees enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.
 — Mary Kay Ash

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Speak Truth To Power

A phrase coined by the Quakers during in the mid-1950s. 
It was a call for the United States to stand firm against fascism and other forms of totalitarianism; 
it is a phrase that seems to unnerve political right, with reason.

The Emperor's New Clothes

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Fundamentalist Zealot

There is a holy, mistaken zeal in politics, as well as in religion.
By persuading others, we convince ourselves.
 — Junius

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Wiener's Law of Libraries

There are no answers, only cross references.
 — Norbert Wiener

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Deconstructing Martin's "Commitment Of Meaning"

1. commit = do (see below)

to commit

In this usage, to commit meaning is simply to mean.
To commit more meaning is simply to mean more;
to commit less meaning is simply to mean less.

What 'more' and 'less' mean in this usage depends on which of the (unidentified) dimensions of SFL theory are being referred to.  For example,

expansion: more elaborated, extended or enhanced meaning;
specificity: more specific or more general meaning (not to be confused with delicacy);
abstraction: more abstract or concrete meaning;
and so on.

2. commit = pledge or bind (see below)

It is this sense of commit that, at first glance, seems to push to commit meaning beyond the mere sense of to mean.  However, as can be seen from the usages below, if this were the case, the form would be along the lines of to commit oneself to (a) meaning.

verb: commit; 3rd person present: commits; past tense: committed; past participle:committed; gerund or present participle: committing
  1. 1.
    perpetrate or carry out (a mistake, crime, or immoral act).
    "he committed an uncharacteristic error"
    synonyms:carry out, doperformperpetrate, engage in, enactexecuteeffect,accomplishMore
  2. 2.
    pledge or bind (a person or an organization) to a certain course or policy.
    "they were reluctant to commit themselves to an opinion"
    synonyms:pledgedevoteapplygivededicatebindobligate More
  3. 3.
    transfer something to (a state or place where it can be kept or preserved).
    "he composed a letter but didn't commit it to paper"
    • consign (someone) officially to prison, especially on remand.
      "he was committed to prison for contempt of court"
      synonyms:consignassignsenddeliverconfine More
    • send (a person or case) for trial in a higher court.
      "the magistrate decided to commit him for trial"
    • send (someone) to be confined in a psychiatric hospital.
      "you guys would have had me committed"
      synonyms:hospitalizeconfineinstitutionalize, put away, lock away, lock up;More
    • refer (a parliamentary or legislative bill) to a committee.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The Tail Waggle Dance Of Academia

Bees explore physical space looking for material resources (nectar, pollen)
Academics explore semiotic space looking for semiotic resources (theories)
When bees construe such a resource, they identify it for their fellows, indicating the value of the resource through their enthusiasm
When academics construe such a resource, they identify it for their fellows, indicating the value of the resource through their enthusiasm
Other bees select which of the resource-finding bees to join up with and subsequently make use of the resource
Other academics select which of the resource-finding academics to join up with and subsequently make use of the resource
The long term success of a specific bee community depends on imitating the bees that identify sufficiently rich resources The long term success of a specific academic community depends on imitating the academics that identify sufficiently rich resources

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Language "Instinct"

The very essence of instinct is that it's followed independently of reason.
 — Charles Darwin

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Occam's Razor

Occam's razor (also written as Ockham's razor from William of Ockham, and in Latin lex parsimoniae) is a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in logic and problem-solving. It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

In science, Occam's razor is used as a heuristic (general guiding rule or an observation) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models rather than as an arbiter between published models.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Reductio Ad Absurdum

Reductio ad absurdum is the technique of reducing an argument or hypothesis to absurdity, by pushing the argument's premises or conclusions to their logical limits and showing how ridiculous the consequences would be, thus disproving or discrediting the argument.

This has roots in the Socratic method, and has been employed throughout the history of logic, mathematics, philosophy and the philosophy of science.

Reductio ad absurdum is only valid when it builds on assertions which are actually present in the argument it is deconstructing, and not when it misrepresents them as a straw man.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Straw Man Fallacy

A straw man argument is one that misrepresents a position in order to make it appear weaker than it actually is, refutes this misrepresentation of the position, and then concludes that the real position has been refuted. This, of course, is a fallacy, because the position that has been claimed to be refuted is different to that which has actually been refuted; the real target of the argument is untouched by it.

(1) Trinitarianism holds that three equals one.
(2) Three does not equal one.
(3) Trinitarianism is false.
This is an example of a straw man argument because its first premise misrepresents trinitarianism, its second premise attacks this misrepresentation of trinitarianism, and its conclusion states that trinitarianism is false. Trinitarianism, of course, does not hold that three equals one, and so this argument demonstrates nothing concerning its truth.