The Thought Occurs

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Today's 'Typology Forum' Paper By David Rose

The textual metafunction: making matter mean

David Rose
University of Sydney
The textual metafunction is sometimes presented as if it were an afterthought, there merely to organise interpersonal and ideational meanings into convenient structures of clause and text. But in the first stages of language, and in much of everyday discourse, it is the primary means of turning the world into meaning, with exophoric reference to the shared sensations of me and you, this and that, here and there. Once the world gets classified, and configured into clauses, and strung out into texts, the same resources used to indicate the world around us are re-deployed to indicate the semiotic world within a text. Where once there were only signs, now meanings come in messages, each of which must be sensible in the unfolding world of the text, and manage listeners’ attention to the information they present. 
Textual typological studies might start from observing these three general functions: introducing and tracking meanings through a text, or phoricity, contextualising messages, or thematicity, and managing information prominence, or newsworthiness. Resources for realising these functions are prototypically distributed between language strata: phoricity in the reference chains of discourse, thematicity in segmental structures of clauses, and newsworthiness in periodic structures of tone groups. But while they are in principle independently variable, both the functions and their realisations interact with each other, and variations in textual functions proliferate as a result. Perhaps also as a consequence of these interactions, their realisations come to vary across languages and registers. 
This paper will make some general observations about interactions between phoricity and thematicity and between thematicity and newsworthiness, and will exemplify variations in these interactions between languages. In the process, it will also illustrate textual variations in register, from dialogue to monologue, and from accompanying to constituting fields.

Blogger Comments:

[1] Rose's negative appraisal — implied by 'afterthought' and 'merely' (counter-expectancy: limiting) — of an unsourced characterisation of the textual metafunction is unjustified. Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 398):
The textual metafunction is second-order in the sense that it is concerned with semiotic reality: that is, reality in the form of meaning. This dimension of reality is itself constructed by other two metafunctions: the ideational which construes a natural reality, and the interpersonal, which enacts an intersubjective reality. The function of the textual metafunction is thus an enabling one with respect to the rest; it takes over the semiotic resources brought into being by the other two metafunctions and as it were operationalises them.
[2] Here Rose confuses the ideational and textual metafunctions.  It is the ideational metafunction that construes experience as meaning ("turns the world into meaning").

[3] As Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 530) point out, the textual metafunction only operationalises the resources already created by the other metafunctions:
Reference is a way of referring to things that are already semiotically accessible: either actually, in the text, or potentially, in the context of situation.
[4] To be clear, "classifying the world" is construing experience as ideational meaning.

[5] To be clear, it is experiential options that are "configured into clauses", and "configured" takes a structural (syntagmatic) rather than systemic (paradigmatic) perspective on the clause.

[6] To be clear, it is meaning that is "strung out into texts", through the process of instantiation during logogenesis.

[7] To be clear, these resources are ideational potential, construed of experience, and on the SFL model, they do not "indicate" the world, since there are no meanings outside semiotic systems that can be "indicated".

[8] To be clear, in theoretical terms, this "redeployment" is the process of instantiation during logogenesis.

[9] To be clear, in theoretical terms, "indicate" here refers to the logical projection of second-order meaning.

[10] To be clear, in SFL terms, this is the semogenic distinction between protolanguage ("signs") and language ("messages"), though there is no reason to think that this is Rose's meaning.

[11] Here Rose switches to promoting Martin's work on textual systems, as if the preceding paragraph leads naturally to them, and as if they address the (confused) issues he has raised.

[12] This misrepresents the model in Martin (1992).  The meanings that are introduced and tracked are participants, and the system for doing so is termed IDENTIFICATION, not phoricity.  Martin's model is Halliday & Hasan's (1976) model of cohesive reference, misunderstood, rebranded and relocated from lexicogrammar to discourse semantics (evidence here).  Essentially, Martin confuses
  • textual reference with reference in the sense of ideational denotation, like his source Du Bois (1980),
  • interpersonal deixis of nominal group structure with non-structural textual reference, and, as a result,
  • nominal groups realising participants with reference items,
which is why the experiential feature 'participant' is presented (Martin 1992: 325) as the unit and entry condition of this textual discourse semantic system.

[13] These refer to Martin's (1992) reworkings of Halliday's THEME and INFORMATION, which confuse linguistic theory (Theme, New) with writing pedagogy, namely:
  • introductory paragraph, rebranded as Macro-Theme, 
  • topic sentence, rebranded as Hyper-Theme (misunderstood from Daneš (1974)), 
  • paragraph summary, rebranded as Hyper-New, and 
  • text summary, rebranded as Macro-New.
Evidence here.

[14] In SFL theory, these are all systems of the lexicogrammatical stratum.

[15] In SFL theory, reference chains represent (non-structural) cohesive relations within the lexicogrammar.

[16] The claim that thematicity is "distributed" in segmental structures is not only inconsistent with SFL theory, but also with Martin (1992), and most notably with Martin & Rose (2007), where such structures are modelled as waves in a chapter titled Periodicity.

[17] This follows Martin (1992: 384) in confusing the content plane (INFORMATION is a lexicogrammatical system) with the expression plane (the tone group is a rank unit of the phonological stratum).

[18] The notion of "interaction" between strata — different levels of symbolic abstraction — repeats Martin's (1992: 488) misunderstanding of the dimensions of the SFL theoretical architecture as modules.  See the explanatory critiques here.

[19] To be clear, in SFL theory, because 'register' refers to a functional variety of language, it is modelled as a point on the cline of instantiation.  Here Rose follows Martin (1992) in misconstruing register as a stratum of context, the culture as semiotic system.  See the critiques here.

[20] To be clear, in SFL theory, the dialogue vs monologue distinction is one of MODE, a system of context (culture), not register (language).

[21] The notion of 'constituting field' derives from Martin (1992: 185, 193) where it applies to activity sequences, which are modelled in that work as context (field), misconstrued as register, but in Martin & Rose (2007: 100-3) as discourse semantic.  To complicate matters further, Rose, like Martin, confuses the ideational semantics (that realises a field) with field (misconstrued as register).

Moreover, in presenting this distinction as a textual distinction at the level of context, it invites confusion with Hasan's (1985/9: 58) feature opposition of ancillary vs constitutive LANGUAGE RÔLE in her model of MODE, the textual system at the level of context (culture), not register (language):
First, there is the question of the LANGUAGE RÔLE — whether it is constitutive or ancillary. These categories should not be seen as sharply distinct but rather as two end-points of a continuum.