Clause vs Sentence

The difference between a clause and a sentence can be difficult, but important. A clause basically must have a Finite whereas a sentence is just an orthographic convention beginning with a capital and ending with a full stop. Here is a text from SMH that illustrates this difference nicely:

When designing their own home, architects Sacha Zehnder and Jaya Param of Walk North Architects were reminded regularly they’d chosen ”the most difficult block” in the area.
Steep, tree-covered, 50 metres above sea level, with no road access; and, on idyllic but somewhat logistically challenging Scotland Island, in the middle of Pittwater and accessible only by boat.

Here the first part actually contains three clauses in one sentence: a mental Process (‘were reminded’) and a projected clause (‘had chosen’) plus a hypotactic ‘when’ clause. The second part, on the other hand, is a ‘sentence’, in that it begins with a capital and ends with a full stop, but is not a clause as there is no Finite element. I think the second sentence is, in fact, a kind of logico-semantic relation of enhancement giving reasons why the area is ‘difficult’ (although I guess you could also it’s elaboration – exemplifying the ‘area’).

I think a lot of EFL students might miss the logico-semantic link between the two parts if they are not familiar with the difference between ‘sentence’ and ‘clause’.

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Metaphors of time and grammar

One of the most common EFL grammar lessons, especially at Beginner or Pre-Intermediate levels, is the ‘Present Continuous to Talk About Future Plans’ lesson. While this is an important usage for the present-in present and should be introduced at some stage, the problem I’ve always had with these kinds of lessons is that it doesn’t explain why we might choose that tense in that situation. Recently however, I’ve been trying to introduce the notion of grammatical metaphor in relation to time and tense choice: the dichotomy between real-world time and grammatical time. Let’s call then R-T and G-T.

If R-T and G-T match, then we are presenting some fact about the world directly. For example, I go hiking on weekends, where R-T and G-T both construe a primary present, expresses a true condition about my habitual action while I’m going hiking on weekends these days, where the G-T shifts to a secondary present-in present, expresses some change that has occurred (hence the Circumstance these days – we want to know when the change started). Often, when R-T and G-T match it can be too pragmatically direct. Compare, for example, Do you want a drink? (R-T = G-T) with Did you want a drink? (R-T ≠ G-T).

When talking about the future this grammatical metaphor also comes into play. Imagine explaining there is a meeting tomorrow (there is/tomorrow – R-T ≠ G-T construing the meeting as a hypothetical event). We may wish to construe this as confirmation of a fact about the future with primary future (I’ll have a meeting tomorrow – R-T = G-T) or shift it slightly into the primary present (I have a meeting tomorrow – R-T ≠ G-T) to suggest some slight hypotheticality or that it is one as usual out of a regular scheduled series. This slight difference can be used by writers to subtle effect. Here are two newspaper versions of the same story written by the same reporter. Note the shift in the last two sentences of each:

Power firm angry over new rule on shipments By Barry Turnbull A ROW has erupted over the construction of the controversial coal imports terminal in Bootle. Furious bosses of electricity giants Powergen claim environmental protection measures demanded by Sefton Council will add £12m to the cost of the £40m project. The company is to challenge the conditions imposed by Sefton Council on the grounds that they are unnecessary. Powergen got the go-ahead for the £40m Gladstone Dock facility earlier this year. But cautious councillors demanded that all coal-laden rail wagons leaving the site should be fully enclosed and washed down to avoid spreading dust. Hazard claim Campaigners claim deposits of coal dust released into the atmosphere are a health hazard. But Powergen bosses have reacted angrily to the new council demands. A spokesman for the electricity generators said today: ” There is no evidence that the release into the atmosphere of coal dust from rail wagons will be in quantities which are harmful. The cost would be grossly excessive when compared to any environmental benefit. ” The company claims providing covered wagons would cost £12.6m, with an additional £900,000 a year running costs. Instead, the company suggests installing a £30,000 spray system at the terminal to dampen coal. Local councillor Eddie McEvilly said: ” I don’t really want to talk about conditions on the operation, because I don’t want to see it at all. ” Councillors on Sefton’s environment committee meet tonight to discuss the issue. The Bootle coal mountains are to be the focal point of a demonstration against imports and pit closures tomorrow.

Costs row over coal terminal By Barry Turnbull A MULTI-MILLION pound row has erupted over the construction of the controversial coal imports terminal in Bootle. Electricity giants Powergen claim environmental protection measures demanded by Sefton Council will add £12m to the cost of the £40m project. The company is to challenge the conditions imposed by Sefton Council on the grounds that they are unnecessary. Powergen was given the go-ahead for the Gladstone Dock facility earlier this year, but councillors demanded that all coal-laden rail wagons leaving the site should be fully enclosed and washed down to avoid spreading coal dust. Campaigners claim deposits of coal dust released into the atmosphere are a health hazard and a nuisance. But Powergen bosses have reacted quickly to the new council demands. A spokesman for the electricity generators said today: ” There is no evidence that the release into the atmosphere of coal dust from rail wagons will be in quantities which are harmful. The cost would be grossly excessive when compared to any environmental benefit which may result. ” Instead, the company suggests installing a £30,000 spray system at the terminal to dampen coal. Councillors on Sefton’s environment committee will meet tonight to discuss the issue . The dockside coal depot will be the focal point of a demonstration against imports and pit closures tomorrow.

Why does the writer do this? Note the use in the first article of evaluative language – furious bosses, cautious councillors, reacted angrily – which is largely absent from the second which is more concerned with taking a factual tone. This change is then also expressed through the shift from metaphorical grammatical choices (meet tonight, are to be…tomorrow) to non-metaphorical (will tonight, will be…tomorrow).

To return to our meeting, a shift to primary present (I have a meeting) may then be narrowed in focus with the present-in present to express who (I’m having a meeting with John), where (We’re meeting in the boardroom) or what time (We’re starting at 2pm). It’s also possible, however, that we might want to put some metaphorical distance between speaker and event. In this case we might shift to a present-in future (I’ll be having a meeting with John).

Hopefully, by presenting the event in this way the students can begin to think about the ways in which speakers make grammatical choices and the reasons why those might be made.

some/any distinction

Carrying over from transformational grammar teaching, the some/any distinction has generally attained the status of a basic structural ‘rule’ of English within foreign language teaching:

  • positive = some (There are some books);
  • negative = any (There aren’t any books);
  • question = any (Are there any books).

Open any elementary textbook and this is presented unproblematically within the first several units. However, as Lakoff pointed out as long ago as 1969 in an article entitled “Some reasons why there can’t be any some-any rule”, this is not, in fact, true. The problem is that the rule assumes that the distinction between some-any derives from “syntactic conditions” whereas in actual fact “semantic notions – such as presupposition, speaker’s and hearer’s beliefs about the world, and previous discourse – must be taken into account”.
This implies then that both options, some/any, are possible depending upon the speaker’s intention. Also, as Lock (p.46) also points out, the zero option is also possible. This leaves us with:

  • Are there any books (implying I think there are not?)
  • Are there some books (implying I think there are?)
  • Are there 0 books (compared to other items?)

The question, of course, is how to teach this.

Activity: TPR, Directions and Interpersonal Semantics

Recently, I’ve been spending more time with lower level learners on the Interpersonal semantics of exchange. This is a short activity that tries to highlight the differences between giving/demanding information and giving/demanding service in a more physical way. It is based on a ‘Giving Directions’ lesson and is a kind of TPR game.

First, highlight on the whiteboard the four (although the game concentrates mainly on the first three):

  1. Demanding Information: Where is the station?/Is it far?
  2. Demanding Service: Turn left.
  3. Giving Information: It’s on the left.
  4. Giving Service: Shall I take you?

The game is then very simple. All the students stand and the teacher reads a line of script from a ‘Giving Directions’ lesson and the students must perform an action that reflects the role of the listener. If the line is 1., the students point (showing). If the line is 2., the students walk once on the spot (action). If the line is 3., the students put their hand to their ear (listening). If a student makes a mistake, he or she sits down. The last one standing is the winner. To make the game increasingly more difficult, the lines can be spoken more quickly so that students have to focus mainly on intonation and initial sounds, or lines can be combined so that students have to perform two or more actions, e.g. When you reach the corner (3.), turn left (2.).

One tricky point that can also be introduced is the difference between Turn left, Demanding Service, and You turn left, Giving Information. I think the difference between them is one of expectation. For Turn left, the speaker expects that the action will be carried out immediately, whereas for You turn left the expectation is that this is just information that may or may not be acted upon at a later date. This can be a difficult concept. I often try to use the difference between giving directions on the street (more likely to be acted upon) and giving direction in a tourist information centre (information).

Move

Semantically, the clause is an “interactive event involving speaker, or writer, and audience” (H & M, p.106). The move in this event is whether we want to initiate or have to respond. This may seem a rather obvious point, that we speak to someone who is listening, but it one that is often overlooked, especially within EFL. Looking at the two sentences below might help demonstrate the importance of this concept of exchange more clearly:

  1. It is a pen.
  2. This is a pen.

These two might commonly be found in beginner EFL or young learner texts yet rarely is the difference between them made clear. The first is how you might respond within an exchange to provide new information:

A: What’s that you’ve got there?

B: (It’s) a pen.

This is also evident in written text. The following headline (from www.techcrunch.com) is, in fact, a response to an assumed question on the part of the reader signalled intertextually by a picture which takes the role of initiating the exchange:

Picture: (What’s this?)

Headline: It’s a pen! It’s a bullet! It writes upside down and underwater! It’s a bullet pen!

The second example, however, is how we might initiate an exchange, explicitly drawing attention to the topic of discussion and inviting a response:

Jack: This is an astronaut pen. It writes upside down. They use this in space.

Jerry: Wow.

(Seinfeld, S3, E3)

From these two examples we can see that the move of the exchange, whether to initiate or respond, can thus influence the lexico-grammatical choices made within the clause. The choice between it and this is not the result of sentence-level rules but is instead dependent on how the clause functions within the exchange. It also demonstrates the interactive nature of the exchange, that “the speaker adopts for himself a particular speech role, and in doing so assigns to the listener a complementary role which he wishes him to adopt in his turn” (H & M, p.106). The added consequence of this is that the choices available for the response are constrained by those made in the initial move (see also Eggins & Slade, 1997, p.181-2).

There are two types of initiation: open, which is dependent on whether it is an offer, a command, a statement or a question and generally takes the form of a major clause, or a response request, which is the function of the tag question. I think it is important for learners to be aware that the tag question is not just a request for a response, as it is generally presented in textbooks, but it may also function as a request to not respond, to close down the conversation.

There are also two types of response: expected or discretionary. How the two functions of response operate may vary according to nature of the interaction. In the case of an offer, the response may be either one of acceptance or rejection:

              Offer:                    Would you like it?

              Acceptance:        Yes, please.

              Rejection:            No, thanks.

Where a demand is made, the response may be either an undertaking or a refusal:

               Command:           Give it to me!

              Undertaking:       Here you are.

              Refusal:                I won’t!

For questions, we may have either an answer or a disclaimer:

              Question:            What is it?

              Answer:               A teapot.

              Disclaimer:          I don’t know.

For statements, there may be either a response or a contradiction:

              Statement:          He’s giving it to her.

              Response:            Is he?

              Contradiction:     No, he isn’t.

(all examples from H & M, p.108)

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Exchange

One of the key aspects of Systemic Functional Linguistics for EFL teaching is the notion of the language as an exchange, that “the clause is organised as an interactive event” (H & M, p.106). At a semantic level, language simultaneously operates through a system of three speech-act functions:

  • Move – initiating or responding;
  • Role – giving or demanding, and;
  • Commodity – information or goods & services.

This is the fundamental system of exchange in language. The importance of this for EFL is that all the seemingly infinite number of social functions of language we might initiate, such as requesting something or borrowing a pen or giving instructions, may in fact be reducible to just two combinations of role and commodity:

1.  Propositions

  • Giving information – It’s a pen.
  • Demanding information – What is it?/ Is it a pen?

2. Proposals

    • Demanding goods & services – Give me a pen!
    • Giving goods & services – Would you like a pen?

Essentially, everything within the clause is semantically related to one of these four functions. We may want to expand this with regards to how sure we are (Admittedly, it almost certainly must not be a pen) but it is still just giving information.