Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Misconstruing Marked Topical Theme

Martin (1992: 435):
…in English declaratives, unmarked topical Theme is conflated with Subject, whereas marked topical Theme precedes it.

Blogger Comment:

This is misleading.  In SFL theory, there is only one topical Theme in a clause.  Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 79):
The guiding principle of thematic structure is this: the Theme contains one, and only one, of these experiential elements. This means that the Theme of a clause ends with the first constituent that is either participant, circumstance or process. We refer to this constituent, in its textual function, as the topical Theme.
A topical Theme of a clause is either unmarked or marked.  In the case of declarative clauses, Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 73, 74) set out the criteria as follows:
In a declarative clause, the typical pattern is one in which Theme is conflated with Subject; … We shall refer to the mapping of Theme on to Subject as the unmarked Theme of a declarative clause. The Subject is the element that is chosen as Theme unless there is good reason for choosing something else. …
A Theme that is something other than the Subject, in a declarative clause, we shall refer to as a marked Theme. The most usual form of marked Theme is an adverbial group … or prepositional phrase … functioning as Adjunct in the clause. Least likely to be thematic is a Complement, which is a nominal group that is not functioning as Subject — something that could have been a Subject but is not … . Sometimes even the Complement from within a prepositional phrase functions as Theme … .
The problem with Martin's interpretation can be demonstrated by the following:

(i) According to SFL theory:

blessed
are
the meek
Theme: marked
Rheme
Complement
Finite
Subject
Attribute
Process
Carrier


(ii) Following Martin's misinterpretation:


blessed
are
the meek
Theme: marked
Rheme
Theme: unmarked
Complement
Finite
Subject
Attribute
Process
Carrier

On Martin's interpretation, the clause has two 'points of departure', one at the beginning and one at the end, for the body of the message, which is simply 'are'.

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