This is the third part of a series summarising the basic concepts of Systemic Functional Grammar. The first post was a overview of SFG, the second post looked at the Interpersonal Metafunction, this post will be looking at the Experiential Metafunction.
In my fourth and final post, I will be examining the Textual Metafunction and considering how SFG applies to our language classroom.
This post is based on research from the following books
An Introduction to Functional Grammar
The Functional Analysis of English
Using Functional Grammar: An Explorer’s Guide
If the Interpersonal Metafunction showed the point of view of the speaker at the moment of speaking through the Mood element, one could say that the Residue carried the content of that message. And the content, in Hallidayan linguistics is categorised by different processes defined by the main verb of the clause. Here’s the 2nd Metafunction.
The Experiential Metafunction
Halliday (1976) originally purported that the experiential metafunction was one of the three main metafunctions. He later includes it within the ideational metafunction (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004), alongside the logical metafunction of relationships between clauses and clause-complexing. Thompson (2004), however, sees the latter as a fourth metafunction. As clause-complexing is beyond my scope, the focus will be on the experiential metafunction.
Also called Clause as Representation, the clause represents the ‘content’ of our experiences, answering the question ‘Who does what to whom’. This metafunction uses the grammatical system of transitivity. Although sharing the traditional view of transitivity that the focus is on the verb group (the Process), SFG refers to the system as describing the whole clause (Thompson, 2004) and does not use the labels ‘subject’, ‘verb’ and ‘object’, seeing that ‘verb’ is a word class, while ‘Subject’ is a functional term. Instead, different functional labels are given to Participants (realised by nominal groups), Processes (realised by verbal groups) and Circumstances (realised by prepositional phrases or adverbials signifying time, place or manner) of each process type.
Material process clauses refer to experiences of the external world and describe processes of doing and happening, answering the question ‘What did he/she do?’ or ‘What happened?’ (Butt et al, 2000). The distinction between participant types (Beneficiary, Goal, etc.) can alleviate students’ confusion as to which can be turned into a prepositional phrase and shifted to the end to be highlighted as newsworthy. Also, in the experiential metafunction, functional terms define the roles the Participants play in the Process, and Goals or Beneficiaries can take Subject position.
|Nominal group||Verbal group||Nominal group||Adverbial group|
Material process with Beneficiary
|Nominal group||Verbal group||Nominal Group||Nominal group||Adverbial group|
Material process with Beneficiary shifted to the end
|Chia||bought||some curry||for Paul||yesterday.|
|Nominal group||Verbal group||Nominal group||Nominal Group||Adverbial group|
Agentless passive structure with Beneficiary as Subject
|Paul||was bought||some curry.|
Agentless passive structure with Goal as Subject
|Some curry||was bought||for Charles.|
Relational process types serve to identify and characterize, and are further subdivided into processes of ‘being’ (intensive or circumstantial) and ‘having’ (possessive). (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004). Attribution specifies the class the Carrier belongs to, while identification narrows the class down to one.
Relational Process of intensive attribution
|Carrier||Process: Relational: intensive atrribution||Attribute|
|Nominal group||Verbal group||Nominal group with adjective as Head.|
Relational Process of intensive identification with Value as Subject
|Value||Process: Relational: intensive identification||Token|
Relational Process of intensive identification with Token as Subject
|Token||Process: Relational: intensive identification||Value|
In ‘Emma is the prettiest one’, ‘Emma’ is the Value identified by the Token ‘the prettiest one’, since Emma is represented by the prettiest one. However, in ‘Emma is the leader’, ‘Emma’ represents the leader and is now the ‘Token’, identified by ‘the leader’ as the Value. Because of this structural distinction, we cannot combine the two and say, ‘Emma is the prettiest one and the leader’. (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004)
Below, are more examples of attribution and identification within other types of relational processes.
Relational Process of possessive attribution
|Emma||has||a Wii console .|
|Carrier||Process: Relational: possessive attribution||Attribute|
Relational Process of possessive identification
|That Wii console||is||Emma’s.|
|Token/Possessed||Process: Relational: possessive identification||Value/Possessor|
Relational Process of circumstantial attribution
|The deadline||is||on Tuesday.|
|Carrier||Process: Relational: circumstantial attribution||Attribute|
Relational Process of circumstantial identification
|Tuesday||is||the deadline for the blogpost.|
|Token||Process: Relational: circumstantial identification||Value|
Serving to construe processes of sensing, happenings within our consciousness, mental processes are subdivided into processes of emotion, perception, cognition, and desideration (ibid).
Mental process of emotion with nominal group as Phenomenon
|Sensor||Process: Mental: Emotion||Phenomenon|
Mental process of perception with embedded clause as Phenomenon
|Sensor||Process: Mental: Perception||Phenomenon|
Mental process of cognition with projected clause
|David||knew||he was getting headphones for Christmas.|
|Sensor||Process: Mental: Cognition||Projected Clause|
Mental process of cognition with projected clause
|David||hoped||that he would get headphones for Christmas.|
|Sensor||Process: Mental: Desideration||Projected clause|
Notice that in mental processes of emotion and perception, what is loved or hated, seen or heard, is labelled Phenomenon, even when the fact is realised as an embedded clause. However, mental processes of cognition and desideration often bring wishes and ideas into existence by projecting a separate clause (Thompson, 2004).
Pairs such as ‘like/please’, which show a different direction in Sensor-Phenomenon relationships, are often unaccounted for in traditional grammar, but commonly occur in cognitive and emotive mental processes (ibid).
|Sensor||Process: Mental: Emotive||Phenomenon|
|Phenomenon||Process: Mental: Emotive||Sensor|
In ‘David liked the headphones’, ‘David’ is the Sensor of this emotive mental process which is denoted by the verb ‘liked’. ‘The headphones’ is the Phenomenon which summarises what is thought, perceived, or liked/disliked. Contrast that with ‘The headphones pleased David’, where the Subject is now the Phenomenon, and the Sensor, which is the conscious being, fills the interpersonal slot of Complement. The example below shows that ‘realise’ is a ‘like’ type verb, while ‘occur to’ is similar to ‘please’. (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004)
|David||realised||the fact that he was wrong.|
|Sensor||Process: Mental: Cognitive||Phenomenon|
|The fact that he was wrong||occurred to||David.|
|Phenomenon||Process: Mental: Cognitive||Sensor|
Other process types
Between material and mental are behavioural processes, while existential processes are between relational and material. Verbal processes share the ability of mental processes to project what is said or thought in a separate clause. Some indirect-speech verbs, e.g. ‘urge’, ‘force’, which take to-infinitives when projecting, and direct-speech verbs like ‘whispered’, ‘sneered’ can convey illocutionary force (Bloor and Bloor, 2004).
|Joe||sang the song.|
Verbal process projecting direct speech as separate clause
Verbal process projecting indirect speech as separate clause
Different process types have different tenses as their basic, unmarked, forms, e.g. while the unmarked present tense for material processes is the present-in-present (the present progressive), that for relational and mental processes is the present simple. Halliday and Matthiessen (2004) criticise EFL syllabuses for over-simplifying the teaching of the present simple as habitual behaviour without considering that this largely depends on process types. Another oversimplification is the famous pedagogic rule that state verbs cannot take the progressive tense. However, many verbs like ‘have’ can be either states or actions, which can be confusing for students. SFG’s separation into different processes (‘have a shower’ is material, while ‘have a pen’ is possessive attributive), which are governed by different sets of rules, explains the phenomenon to students more clearly, e.g. the present-in-present for relational and mental processes implies a highly-marked narrowing of the present, which tends to signify temporality e.g. ‘I hate burgers but I’m loving this one!’ (ibid).
Furthermore, different genres have the tendency of using certain process types more than others. A written recipe contains material processes, while a chef on a cooking programme might use a combination of material and relational processes (Thompson, 2004). Existential processes are often used in narratives to introduce new characters or scenes. A good understanding of the corresponding grammatical features of processes can help students use them in expressing their experiences of the world in the appropriate register, and define the syllabuses for students learning English for Specific Purposes (ESP) or Academic Purposes (EAP).
(Bibliography in Part 1)
9 thoughts on “Systemic Functional Grammar (Part 3 – The Experiential Metafunction)”
“The distinction between participant types (Beneficiary, Goal, etc.) can alleviate students’ confusion as to which can be turned into a prepositional phrase and shifted to the end to be highlighted as newsworthy.” Would you care to elaborate on this, or, better yet, can you provide an example? Thank you.
Thanks for taking time to comment. The examples of the distinction between Beneficiary and Goal, etc are highlighted in the tables at the beginning of the article, using the model sentences ‘Chia bought curry for Paul’ and ‘Chia bought Paul some curry’.
Hope that clarifies it.
please is there anything like system,class,structure and unit functional grammar?
hi!! i’m a bit confused with “being” and mental cognitive process.
E.g. “i was shocked and worried”
Is this an example of Relational Process of intensive attribution??? Please help
its so cool I love your posts but will love to expand my knowledge more on English n grammar you are good.