The compositional structure of language (the stratification of Content and Expression) comprises a small number of “compositional layers…organised by the relationship of ‘is a part of'” (H & M, p.20). This ordering is termed rank. The rank scale for the grammar of English is:

  • clause (little miss muffet sat on a tuffet + eating her curds and whey);
  • phrase or group (eating + her curds and whey);
  • word (eating + her + curds + whey);
  • morpheme (eat + ing).

Thus “each rank consists of one or more units of the rank next below…units of every rank may form complexes…there is the potential for rank shift…[and] it is possible for one unit to be enclosed within another” (H & M, p.10).

Within my own EFL classes I try to introduce the concept of rank for even very low level classes as it is a fundamental concept of understanding the system as a whole and why certain choices are made within the lexico-grammar. As an example, a common exercise for beginner classes is to introduce basic personal information:

  • This is Jane. She is 42 years old. She lives in Tokyo. She is a doctor.

By this, we are construing the information as four separate units of information of equal importance linked textually through reference (Jane – she – she – she). Whe can, however, construe it as two units of information by rank-shifting to form two sentences with two clause complexes:

  • This is Jane who is 42 years old. She is a doctor living in Tokyo.

We could then take this further and construe it as one unit of information with three clauses by rank-shifting to form noun groups (note the change from 42 years old as a separate Participant to 42-year old as a rank-shifted Qualifier):

  • This is Jane who is a 42-year old doctor living in Tokyo.

In this case there are three clauses that are being modified (This is – Jane who – doctor living). We could, however, additionally construe the information as one unit with only two Particpants (an Identified and an Identifier) by rank-shifting who is a doctor and living in Tokyo from clause level down to noun group level:

  • Jane is a 42-year old doctor in Tokyo.

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