Chapter in:Corpus-based Approaches to Register Variation
Edited by Elena Seoane and Douglas Biber
[Studies in Corpus Linguistics 103] 2021
► pp. 85–110
Theme as a proxy for register categorization
In Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), choices in relation to the initial elements of clauses or ‘Themes’ have been claimed as indicators of register, genre or text type (Vande Kopple 1991, Fries 1995, North 2005). This chapter tests this premise using a large-scale corpus-based analysis of Themes in written Present-day American English. The analysis includes samples from fifteen registers, with different target audiences, communicative purposes and stylometric features. Two major segmental approaches to Theme are tested here: Halliday’s ‘first (ideational) element’ definition and Berry’s (1995) ‘preverbal’ hypothesis, according to which the Theme extends up to either the first ideational element or the verb, respectively. Each of the Themes identified in the corpus according to these definitions is typified according to its syntactic function and systemic-functional (textual, interpersonal, experiential) status. The clustering of registers based on the category Theme reveals the ‘first-element’ approach is a plausible dissimilarity metric for registers, thus demonstrating that SFL Theme may be taken as a predictor of register categorization.
Keywords: Theme, register, cluster, ideational function, clause, text
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