The Thought Occurs

The Thought Occurs

Friday, 7 August 2015

Why Relational Constructions With An Indefinite ‘Value’ Cannot Be Viewed As Attributive

Relational constructions with an indefinite ‘Value’: Non-exhaustive instance-type specification

Kristin Davidse (University of Leuven):
The grammar and semantics of relational constructions are a key interest in SFL. Yet, a number of these constructions, particularly ones that contain participants realized by indefinite nominal groups have, in my view, not yet received a wholly satisfactory characterization – not in their own right and not in terms of their agnation relations to other relational constructions. In this talk I’ll address some of these issues, focusing on clausal and ‘cleft’ constructions in English with be and indefinite nominal groups.
A first set of issues is situated at the borderline between identification and attribution. Clauses with an indefinite Value such as (1a)-(1b) are viewed as identifying in Halliday (1967, 1994: 129) because they share reversibility as a crucial recognition criterion with identifying (2a) – (2b). The question I want to raise is whether they can be viewed as attributive. Semantically, they express a categorizing relation: a more specific thing is said to be an instance of a more general type. Unlike with identifying clauses, no exhaustiveness is implied. Moreover, as is typical of attributive (but not identifying) clauses, the conformity of the instance to the type can be graded in certain contexts, as in (3). If they are viewed as attributive, i.e. as ‘categorizing’ rather than ‘equative’, the further question is whether an opposition akin to decoding – encoding for identifying clauses should be posited for attributive clauses.
(1a) … The Gulf War is a good example.
(1b) … Also, a good example is the Gulf War
(2a) … Tom is the loser.
(2b) … The losers are you and me.
(3) … but Pandora's Tower is very much an example of the difficulty I'd like to see in Zelda game.


Blogger Comments:

[1] It is not true that clauses with an indefinite Value such as (1a)-(1b) semantically express a categorising relation.  In these clauses, the Gulf War identifies a good example — so they are identifying.  (Identifying an example isn't assigning it membership to a class.) The identity encodes a good example by reference to The Gulf War.  (See further clarification here.)

encoding: operative
The Gulf War 
is
a good example
Agent
Process:
Medium
Token/Identifier
identifying
Value/Identified

encoding: receptive
a good example
is
the Gulf War 
Medium
Process:
Agent
Value/Identified
identifying
Token/Identifier

Importantly, encoding identifying clauses and attributive clauses differ markedly on the ergative model.  In terms of agency, encoding clauses are effective, whereas attributive clauses are middle.

encoding
the Gulf War 
is
a good example
Agent
Process:
Medium
Token/Identifier
identifying
Value/Identified

attributive
the Gulf War 
was
immoral
Medium
Process:
Range
Carrier
attributive
Attribute


[2] The function of very much in (3) is interpersonal: a mood Adjunct of intensity.

Pandora's Tower 
is
very much
an example [of the difficulty [[I'd like to see in Zelda game]] ]
Agent
Process:

Medium
Token/Identifier
identifying

Value/Identified
Subject
Finite
mood Adjunct: intensity
Complement
Mood
Residue

These occur whether the clause is identifying or attributive, and whether the Value is definite or indefinite:
  • Tom is very much the loser (identifying with definite Value) 
  • Gerri is hardly an actress (attributive).
Therefore, the Adjunct does not grade 'the conformity of the instance to the type' and does not provide an argument for treating such clauses as attributive.


[3] Since such clauses cannot be viewed as attributive, there is no motivation for positing an opposition akin to encoding and decoding for attributive clauses.


Moreover, it is actually the decoding identifying clauses — not the encoding — that are closer to attributives.  Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 237):
The 'decoding' type of 'identifying' clause is intermediate between the 'attributive' and  the 'encoding' type. … Nominal Attributes are closer to Values than adjectival ones; and these, in turn, are very close to the ‘is an example of’ type of ‘identifying’ clause …

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