This is an exchange from the TV show ‘Friends’ (Season 1, Episode 4) between the characters Monica and Joey:
Monica: Hey, Joey, what would you do if you were omnipotent?
Joey: Probably kill myself!
Here we can see that certain elements of the conversation have been foregrounded reflecting the personal nature of the conversation. These are called the interpersonal Theme, and include:
- Vocatives: “Joey”
- Modal adjuncts: “Probably”
- Wh- questions: “what”
- Finite operators, like modals.
A difficulty for all levels is recognising what is presented as new information within the clause. New information comes through stress in the Expression stratum and differs from the Theme – Rheme distinction of the clause. Here is a short activity to get learners focusing on new information in a simple dialogue. The dialogues all feature a repetition of the same lexico-grammatical clause but the focus of the new information shifts in each case. Learners could try predicting where the stress might fall and then work with a teacher to discuss why it changes. The dialogues are below (possible stress in bold):
A: What‘s your name?
B: It’s Bob. What’s your name?
A: It’s Jane.
A: How old are you?
B: I’m 24. How old are you?
A: I‘m 25.
A: What do you do?
B: I’m a doctor. What do you do?
A: I‘m a lawyer.
A: Where are you from?
B: I’m from Sydney. Where are you from?
A: I‘m from London.