Clause as Representation.

The clause as representation, or system of Ideational meanings, is the grammatical system for “imposing order on the endless variation and flow of events [and] construes the world of experience” (H & M, p170).

The system of Ideational meanings is how we experience, and interpret, the world around us. For EFL, the important implication of this is that language is not an abstract set of tools to talk about experience. Language is our experience of the world, the semiotic space within which we operate as human beings. The grammar of experience divides the world into three different semiotic spaces:

  • The physical world (doing);
  • The world of abstract relations (being), and;
  • The world of consciousness (sensing).

Each of these semiotic spaces has its own prototypical process types. Importantly, however, is the concept of ‘indeterminacy’ – these semiotic spaces are not exclusive but are fuzzy and shade into one another. This fact can be particularly frustrating for EFL learners.

An example of this is pain. As Halliday (1998, ‘On the grammar of pain’) demonstrates, pain and our experience of it may be construed different ways through grammar. It may be described as a quality of a part of the body (my leg is sore/painful) or an injury (the cut is sore). It may exist seemingly independently (there’s a pain in my leg). It may also be described as if doing something (my leg is hurting), doing something to you (it’s hurting me) or even given an external behaviour (my leg is throbbing). It may also be described as a metaphorical entity to be examined by a doctor (I’ve got a pain in my leg). While the actual experience of ‘pain’ may be real, it is only through the system of Ideational meanings that this experience can be given meaning and the experience shared with other members of the culture.

The figure of the clause as representation consists of three components:

  1. a process unfolding through time
  2. the participants involved in the process
  3. circumstances associated with the process.

These three together “are organized in configurations that provide the models or schemata for construing our experience of what goes on” (H & M, p.175). The sentence “The birds are flying in the sky”, for example, consists of a process are flying, a participant birds and a circumstantial element in the sky.

Advertisements

About eflfunc

I'm an EFL teacher in Japan and this is a blog to record some thoughts on using Systemic Functional Linguistics in the foreign language classroom.
This entry was posted in Content: lexico-grammar, Content: semantics, Ideational function, Representation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s