Sunday, 6 March 2016

Misinterpreting Theme And New

Martin (1992: 452):
The main contrast is in the range of meanings woven through Theme and New.  Only a few of the text's participants and processes are selected as unmarked topical Theme, with far greater variation in New.  The Themes focus on the major participants involved in the anecdote, while the News tell the story.  Putting this in more general terms, Themes angle in on a given field, reflecting a text's genre; News elaborate the field, developing it in experiential terms.  This contrast in functions operates across text types

Blogger Comments:

[1] None of the text's processes are selected as topical Theme — unmarked or otherwise; see the Theme analysis below.  The reason for the greater variation in New information than unmarked topical Themes is that, in these declarative clauses, the unmarked topical Theme is restricted to the Subject, whereas any information at all can be highlighted as New, including the unmarked topical Theme/Subject.

[2] This unsupported assertion is manifestly untrue.  Both Themes and News textually highlight the major participants in the anecdote — and more besides; see the Theme analysis below, in which the focus of New information is highlighted as green when also thematic and blue otherwise.

[3] This unsupported assertion also is manifestly untrue. The speaker tells the story; the News are information that the speaker presents as non-recoverable to the listener. Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 118):
We can now see more clearly what the terms Given and New actually mean. The significant variable is: information that is presented by the speaker as recoverable (Given) or not recoverable (New) to the listener. … what is treated as non-recoverable may be something that has not been mentioned; but it may be something unexpected, whether previously mentioned or not. The meaning is: attend to this; this is news. One form of ‘newness’ that is frequent in dialogue is contrastive emphasis…
[4] Unmarked topical Themes present the experiential wording that is to be the point of departure for the clause as message.  In declarative clauses, as in the text under discussion, these also present the Subject, the carrier of modal responsibility, as the point of departure.

Field, in contrast, is the ideational dimension of context (the culture as a semiotic system that is realised in language).  Martin's misunderstanding of the SFL notion of field is twofold.  On the one hand, he misconstrues context as register, and so misconstrues field as a dimension of register.  On the other hand, he misconstrues some ideational semantics ('activity sequences') as field, and thus as context misconstrued as register.

Genre, in the sense of text type, is modelled in SFL as register: the sub-potential of language that realises a sub-potential of context (situation type).  Register is a point of variation on the cline of instantiation.  Martin, on the other hand, models genre as a more abstract level of context than his register.

[5] This assertion also is manifestly untrue. News do not "elaborate the field". Elaborating the meanings that realise field is effected through logical structures and conjunctive cohesion.  News present the speaker's take on what is unrecoverable to the listener.

[6] The contrast in functions of Theme and New does operate across text types, but not the functions Martin attributes to them.  Misleadingly, Martin presents Theme and New as if they always highlighted different portions of messages, whereas, in fact, the conflation of Theme with New is an important textual resource.  In the text under discussion, the conflation of Theme with New occurs 9 times (out of 44).


the only real accident that I’ve ever had
was in fog and ice

was a big truck parked on the side of the road about three feet away from the side of the road

was very thick fog

a mini
had gone into this truck

the mini
had just touched the offside of the truck with its nearside wing
and so

meant [[[when I came along || my side of the road was completely blocked]]]
went into a four wheel skid

before coming up to this mini

at that time
I didn’t know

to deal with a four wheel skid
and so

went into the mini

hit it sideways on

about twelve cars
went into me
and then

a friend of ours
came along


to try and overtake the lot
and so

went into each one

sort of banging them sideways as it were
and oh

was in daylight

because of the fog

needless to say
treat fog with great respect now


keep happening these multiple collisions in fog

all right though as a result of this
(oh yes)

(oh yes)

was no-one injured

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