Article published in:Grammar, usage and discourse: Functional studies offered to Kristin Davidse
Edited by Lieven Vandelanotte, Wout Van Praet and Lieselotte Brems
[English Text Construction 10:2] 2017
► pp. 298–322
The significance of theme
This paper explores the area of mismatches between the grammatical semantics of definite NPs and equivalent features actually operative in common ground in a given context of utterance. It does so with a view to examining the provision for accounting for their significance in terms of a Prague School approach and in terms of Systemic Functional Linguistics; and finds problems, of different kinds, with both these approaches. The rhetorical exploitation of such mismatching demonstrated by opening a text in medias res is discussed; and a third approach, that of “significance generation”, is proposed.This approach of significance generation, which has previously been applied with respect to the meaningfulness of different sentence types, is proposed here as offering a new perspective on a confusing area of different kinds of meaningfulness in the treatment of theme. It involves a “change of gear” between features of meaning associated with the forms of language (linguistic semantics) and features operative in a context of their use. It is based on the claim that a single variable, such as ‘± given’, may have a different value according to whether it is derived from “context as is”, or from the semantics of the linguistic expression used in that context. For example, the linguistic semantics may indicate ‘+ given’, where there is nothing in context to validate this, and so the value as derived from context would be ‘− given’. By allowing for features from these two different sources to clash, this approach provides for a significance outcome, seen as a category in pragmatics which is the product of their combination, to be different from both of them: that is, here, “clash” , as opposed to either ‘+ given’ or ‘− given’. In so doing, I suggest that it provides a framework in terms of which to account for ways in which such opposition may be exploited for rhetorical effect.
Keywords: theme, given, common ground, communicative dynamism, functional sentence perspective, systemic functional linguistics
Published online: 19 October 2017
Austin, J. L.
Davies, Eirian C.
Forthcoming. Elements of English Functional Grammar: A Set-Theoretical Approach (Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 280). Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.
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Fries, Peter H.
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Halliday, M. A. K.
Halliday, M. A. K. & Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen
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