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:
- a process unfolding through time
- the participants involved in the process
- 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.