An analysis of the grammatical choices made to establish and maintain the communicative role of the texts.
PART 2: Discussion of extracts.
Extracts 1 and 2 are articles about ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a chronic form of back pain. Extract 1 has been written for a website by a sufferer of the condition. His aim is to inform and offer help to other sufferers whilst advertising a booklet on the condition. Extract 2 is an article aimed at doctors and gives information about the condition as well as the treatment Both articles will be discussed in relation to the grammatical choices the writers make in order to establish and maintain the communicative role of the texts.
Firstly, the extract will be analysed in terms of its use of the interpersonal function of language. The interpersonal is primarily concerned with the social and expressive functions of language; presenting language as the means by which to change or affect social roles. This includes factors such as power, distance and involvement between reader and writer. Secondly, the author’s use of the ideational metafunction will be discussed in terms of transitivity roles within clauses. The ideational explains language as a means of representing the speaker’s world. Transitivity attempts to reveal how such ideologies are expressed through verb choices. Lastly, the extract will be discussed in terms of the textual meta-function and, in particular, the role of theme. This involves the use of language to organise the text itself and relating ‘what is said to the rest of the text and other linguistic events’ (Bloor & Bloor, 2004: 11). Finally, the analysis will establish similarities in the way each metafunction is used to convey the writers’ choices and construe a communicative purpose. Before moving on to an analysis of the choices within the text, several relevant theoretical concepts will be briefly discussed.
2. Literature Review.
2.1. Interpersonal Metafunction
The speech function and the grammatical system of mood and modality signal interaction within a text and help to establish social roles between interactants. Halliday (1986) contends that whenever we use language to interact, one of the things we are doing is establishing a relationship. The speech forms (declarative, interrogative, and imperative) serve as collaboration between the speech role (giving/demanding), and the commodity being exchanged (information/goods and services). The distinction between giving and demanding, for example, can be associated with the different structures of the declarative and imperative. The structure of speech forms – the organisation of a set of functional constituents including the subject and finite – is what determines the mood of a clause.
An important realisation of mood is that whilst declaratives are usually realised through statements and imperatives through commands, there are possibilities for marked correlations also. This choice of marked mood structure typically functions to express tenor dimensions, such as ‘unequal power, deference, or low contact and involvement’ (Eggins 2004: 187). Therefore, by looking at the grammatical choices speakers make in terms of mood, we are able to study the social creation and maintenance of hierarchical, socio-cultural roles.
2.2. Ideational Metafunction
Transitivity concerns the organisation of semantic and syntactic choices within the clause. It provides a means of investigating how a reader’s- or listener’s perception of the meaning of a text is stated in a particular direction and how the linguistic structure of the text effectively encodes a particular worldview. As claimed by Fowler (1986: 27); ‘Linguistic codes do not reflect reality neutrally; they interpret, organise, and clarify the subjects of discourse’.
The transitivity model – first discussed by Halliday (1985) – can be defined as an exploration into the representation of meaning in a clause, featuring the different types of processes which are recognised in the language;
Our most powerful conception of reality is that it consists of ‘goings on’, of doing, happening, feeling and being. These goings on are sorted out in the semantic system of the language and expressed through the grammar of the clause.
(Halliday, 1985: 101)
Thus the ‘semantic processes’ expressed within a clause are defined through three major components: the process itself (typically realised by a verbal group), the participant(s) (typically realised by nominal groups), and the circumstance. The model provides sets of choices in grammaticalising the same non-linguistic experience/phenomenon. The choice of process implicates associated participant roles and configurations.
2.3. Textual Metafunction
Halliday (1994: Ch 9) identifies the textual metafunction as the features which give a text ‘texture’. The role of theme within a textual analysis is concerned with the structural element of displaying the text’s ‘method of development’ (Fries, 1981). This involves signalling maintenance or progression of what the text is about at that particular point, thus enabling the text to be ‘negotiated’. The theme of a clause is the point of departure for that message, whilst the rheme is the rest of that clause which provides more information about the point of departure. The theme serves to specify or change context for the following clause or clauses, and signals section boundaries.
3. Discussion of Analysis.
In terms of interpersonal choices, there are various differences in the choices each writer makes. Whilst Extract 3 is consistently written in the declarative form with each clause functioning as a statement, the writer of Extract 2 also makes use of the imperative and interrogative forms. This conveys the author’s purpose for interacting with an online community of similar sufferers of the condition and a desire to share experiences and symptoms. Questions are used to communicate with the audience, whilst commands are used to help others take action and acquire medical help. Not only are there varied speech functions and mood types, but there are also marked forms. In clause 7 the writer states; ‘At any stage you need to do something’. Here, the use of the declarative functions as a command. The author chooses the marked form here to urge sufferers to take action without appearing to be rude and demanding. Thus an equal relationship of power is maintained and the writer can sustain an element of trust and friendliness throughout the article, ultimately persuading readers to buy the leaflet.
In contrast, the purpose of Extract 3 is to inform and appear to be objective about the condition and possible treatments in order to maintain trust and respect amongst a medical or’ perhaps, academic community. The writer also uses less modality. In addition, four of the six instances present are variations of the verb ‘can’, suggesting the use of hedging to appear more neutral. The modality in Extract 2 has mostly instances of ‘will’, and ‘would’, expressing a higher degree of probability and thus subjectivity. Bloor and Bloor (2004) claim that such modality is also a feature of narrative texts. In particular, it talks of worlds that might have been, and ‘evaluating the world as it was’. Again, this relates to the writer’s desire to share his personal account of the illness in order to persuade readers to take action.
In relation to the ideational metafunction, there are further differences in the writers’ grammatical choices. Both use a similar number of material processes (just over half the total processes in both extracts). The use of material processes helps to convey the concrete and physical symptoms the illness creates and what actions can be taken to reduce pain. However, on closer analysis, the types of actor in each material process differ considerably, thus suggesting differences in communicative purpose. In Extract 2, over 50 per cent of the actors refer to ‘me’ or ‘you’. This suggests a personal and close relationship between reader and writer and a sharing of information, be it either facts or thoughts and feelings. It also suggests a high level of subjectivity. The largest category of actors in Extract 3, however, refer either to the illness itself or the parts of the back it affects, such as ‘spine’, ‘disease’ and ‘chronic form of arthritis’. Here, the ideologies of both writers are similar in their choice of participants. Writer 2 places importance on the individual and the stress caused to sufferers, whilst writer 3 chooses to express the importance of the illness and, more importantly, in the latter half of the text, the steps to prevent the illness. Such differences convey a communication of experience versus a communication of scientific information.
Another difference in relation to processes is noted in the second extract with the writer’s increased use of mental processes. This creates greater subjectivity as the verbs reflect the writer’s personal beliefs and feelings. Phrases such as ‘we had thought’ and ‘so we decided’ reflect opinion rather than fact. In contrast, there are only four mental processes in Extract 3, which refers to more objective cognitive processes such as ‘viewed’ and ‘diagnosed’.
Circumstances can sometimes be used by the writer to grammatically background certain information. Circumstances appear to be more peripheral in a clause than participants and are usually concerned with matters such as temporal and physical settings, the manner in which the process is implemented and other people or entities accompanying the process rather than being directly engaged in it. Within Extract 2, there are multiple instances of ‘in remission’ as a recurring circumstance. Here, the writer is able to focus on the illness by placing it as the goal in many instances whilst back-grounding the scientific terms, (in this case ‘in remission’), which serve as the circumstances. The scientific terms are less important to a sufferer wanting to communicate how the illness has affected his/her personal life. In the second half of the text, the majority of circumstances relate to the booklet (‘as outlined in the booklet’, ‘in the booklet’, ‘for this information’). Here, the writer can foreground the important lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet, as the goal whilst peripherally advertising the sale of his booklet. In this way, the communicative purpose still remains – importantly for the reader – on the ways of reducing the illness, yet the writer is also able to communicate a personal purpose to his benefit.
In Extract 3, there are three instances where circumstances are used to discuss sufferers; one such example being ‘in the patient to lessen the severity of pain’. Here the patient and the emotion brought on by the back pain are positioned on the periphery of the statement rather than in the nucleus, which instead is taken up with ‘a more pronounced curvature’ as actor. The writer places importance on the medical and physical effects of the illness instead of the patient. This promotes the communicative purpose of scientific evidence and research into management of the illness.
Another important element of the transitivity analysis is writer 3’s use of projection in the instance of a verbal process:
Calin and Fries reported that positive results were obtained in 90% of U.S. Caucasians with AS…antigen.
In contrast, the three verbal processes in Extract 2 are followed by verbiage. McCabe (1994) claims that personal projecting clauses of verbal and mental processes allow the writer to detach him-/herself from propositions by attributing them to others:
Thus with these constructions, writers can either distance themselves from the content… while at the same time acknowledging the possibility of its having differing interpretations by encoding some third party as the subject.
(McCabe, 1994: 7)
In this way, writer 3 is able to discuss the positive results of the trail from an objective viewpoint.
Finally, in relation to the textual metafunction, there are differences in the theme analysis of both texts. The differences follow a similar pattern to those relating to the other metafunctions. In Extract 2, the majority of themes refer to ‘I’ or ‘you’. There are also three instances of ‘we’, also serving the purpose of including the writer and strengthening the relationship between the participants. Alternatively, the majority of themes identified in Extract 3 refer to either the disease itself (‘Ankylosing spondylitis’, ‘a chronic form of arthritis’), or the prevention and treatment of it (‘medication’, ‘lifestyle changes’, ‘conservative treatment’).
There is also a marked difference in the structure of the extracts, again reflected by the theme. The first half of Extract 3 contains all of the instances of the disease and symptoms, whilst the second half refers to the treatment. This reflects a more academic genre of writing. The writer sets out to define the illness before discussing possible solutions. Fries (1981) discusses the importance of a ‘method of development’ reflected through theme within a text. The themes of the second extract do not appear to reflect a particular order, perhaps suggesting a more free flow of ideas and thoughts and similar to a diary entry or blog. The theme can also serve to signal what a writer deems to be an important starting point. In this case, writer 2 places importance on subjects rather than the illness. This also supports the writer’s use of people in the majority of transitivity participants.
In summary, the discussion shows how both authors use the grammatical choices involved in the interpersonal, ideational and textual meta-functions in order to create, maintain and further emphasise their communicative purpose. Writer 2 maintains a close and personal relationship with his/her readers, placing importance on the personal account of symptoms and experience. In contrast, writer 3 presents a more neutral and objective text with the aim of informing readers, presumably scientists, of the preventative measures involved rather than the individual effects and symptoms. The analysis provides a way of interpreting meaning simultaneously on various levels, ranging from the internal factors concerning the text’s cohesion to the ideological representations of the external reality. This does not necessarily mean uncovering hidden meanings but, rather, making explicit the purpose or function of the text as a whole.
WORDCOUNT: 2,159 words
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Eggins, S. 2004. An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics (2nd ed.). London: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Fries, P. 1981. On the Status of Theme in English: Arguments from Discourse. Forum Linguisticum. 6:1.
Fowler, R. 1991. Language in the News; Discourse and Ideology in the Press. London: Routledge.
Halliday, M. A. K. 1985. Spoken and written language. Oxford: OUP.
Halliday, M. A. K. 1994. Introduction to Functional Grammar (2nd ed.). London: Edward Arnold.