Process Types.

The first part of the figure of the clause as representation is the process. Traditional grammar classes all “doing” words as verbs. Systemic Functional Linguistics takes this further by considering how the Ideational metafunction, through the system of transitivity, “construes the world of experience into a manageable set of process types” (H & M, p170-1). There are six different process types:

  • material processes – the outer world of actions and events;
  • mental processes – the inner world of consciousness;
  • relational processes – of identifying and classifying the world;
  • behavioural processes – the border between material and mental;
  • verbal processes – the border between mental and relational;
  • existential processes – the border between relational and material.

To illustrate the differences between the process types, think of how we might represent a discussion of the weather. If we say “It is raining” we are focussing on the world of action around us, or the weather as a material Process. We might, however, construe the rain as some entity that has a quality or attribute, a relational Process, and say “The rain is heavy”. On the other hand, we might shift this into our sphere of consciousness, or mental Process, and say “I think that it is raining”. These are the three core process types.

Further however, we might construe the weather as a whole event that does or doesn’t exist (“There’s a storm coming”), or an existential Process. We might ascribe this to some source with a verbal Process (“The TV said that there is a storm coming”). Finally, we might assign the weather some, in this case metaphoric, behaviour using a behavioural Process (The wind is howling”).

For EFL, then, using the weather to teach some isolated grammar point, such as ‘will’ or ‘going to’ as is usually the case, may lead learners to miss the point about a fundamental aspect of language and how process types provide a system of choice through which we construe our experience of the world around us. Also, rather than classing this or that word as a “verb” it seems more helpful to show learners how and why a particular word functions as a process.


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