Material Clauses 4

Material clauses represent “a quantum of change…unfolding through distinct phases” (H & M, p.184). This unfolding necessarily has an outcome: “a change of some feature of one of the participants” (H & M, p.184). This outcome may be either creative or transformative.

In a creative type of clause, the Actor (in an intransitive clause) or the Goal (in a transitive clause) “is construed as being brought into existence as the process unfolds” (H & M, p.184):

  • Intransitive (What happened?) – Icicles formed.
  • Transitive (What did they do?) – They built a house.

In a transitive type of clause, the outcome is “the change of some aspect of an already existing Actor (intransitive) or Goal (transitive)” (H & M, p.185):

  • Intransitive (What happened to it?) – The icicles melted.
  •                        (What did he do?) – He ran away.
  • Transitive (What happened to it?) – The sun melted the icicles.
  •                     (What did they do to him?) – They chased him away.

The outcome of the transformation is an (1) elaboration, (2) extension or (3) enhancement of the Actor or Goal. For examples, see here.

As for EFL, I think this creative/transformative distinction could also help make the whole transitive/intransitive a bit clearer for students by focusing not just on the process (for example, by having a long list of tansitive and intransitive verbs) but also demonstrating the function of the Actor and the Goal in the unfolding of the clause.


Material Processes 1

Material clause construe “a quantum of change in the flow of events as taking place through some input of energy” (H & M, p.179). The unmarked tense is present-in-present (e.g. is doing). Material clauses answer the questions: What did X do? or What happened to X?

The material clause consists of one participant, the Actor, which “brings about the unfolding of the process through time” (H & M, p.180). The clause in its most basic form is Actor + Process to produce the intransitive clause:

  • The lion (Actor) ran (Process: material).

Alternatively, “the unfolding of the process may extend to another participant” (H & M, p.180), the Goal, to produce a transitive:

  • The lion (Actor) caught (Process: material) the tourist (Goal).

We may also add more information to both of these clauses with a Circumstance:

  • The lion (Actor) ran (Process) towards the tourist (Circumstance).
  • The lion (Actor) caught (Process) the tourist (Goal) quickly (Circumstance).

Note here the change in function of the word tourist.

Activity: Actor v Carrier.

Here is a very simple activity I sometimes use with both elementary adult classes and young learners. It focuses attention on the basic difference between Actor-Goal and Carriers-Attribute.

First, on the whiteboard or a piece of paper, write the following:

  1. apples
  2. bananas
  3. peaches
  4. melons
  5. tomatoes
  6. grapes

Under this we could write:

  • Actor – Process – Goal (- Circumstance)

Students then roll a dice and makes sentences, such as 4. – I (Actor) like (Process) melons (Goal) or 2. – My dad eats bananas for breakfast. Write down each sentence as it is said and, after every student has rolled, look as a class at the Actors and how they are (mainly) human. Also look at the Processes (mainly material and some mental)

Once the students have practised this, we could then write:

  •  Carrier – Process – Attribute

This time, the students roll the dice and make sentences, such as 4. – Melons (Carrier) are (Process) sweet (Attribute) or 2. Bananas are yellow. Again, write down each sentence and look at the Carriers (fruit) and Processes (mainly “are” but others such as “look” and “taste” also possible).

Transitivity of Phrasal verbs?

The analysis of phrasal verbs, such as ‘turn [the sound] up’, presents all kinds of problems and debate. H & M (p352) say that “Experientially, a phrasal verb is a single Process” but I’m wondering if there is in fact more than one type: one as a single process and another one as Process + Attribute. This may also explain why some phrasals are separable and some not.

The word ‘up’ may be used as an Attribute, especially with certain electrical or mechanical items. Here is an example from the British National Corpus:

The, the water is the water pressure’s definitely changed. Well it’s changed now cos it ‘s up now.

The analysis of ‘turn [the water] up’ seems to be ‘turn [the water] (to the point where it is) up‘.
H & M (p352) also point out the difference between behavioural ‘see [the sign]’ and material ‘see [my brother] off’ yet it could also be that this is related to the sense of ‘date’ (as in ‘Are you seeing anyone now?’) in which case the analysis might be:

  • I = Actor
  • ‘m seeing = Process
  • my brother = Goal
  • off = Attribute (cf. ‘I’m off now’)

If we compare this, however, with H & M’s analysis of ‘look for’ which would be the non-separable:

  • I = Actor
  • ‘m looking for = Process
  • a needle = Goal

Just a thought…