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Title: Systems and uses of identifying processes : a semiotic perspective in SFL
Authors: Zhao, Ruihua
Degree: Ph.D.
Issue Date: 2016
Abstract: Identifying clauses are ubiquitous in daily life. People make use of them to acquire knowledge, to get acquainted with others and to get things done. By examining the identifying clauses one can gain a preliminary understanding of the cognitive patterns of the human mind. In spite of the importance and ubiquity of identifying clauses, relevant studies are few and far between, and most of them have been carried out at a fairly general level and have not produced specific evidence-based insights. This thesis is intended to provide a comparatively complete picture of identifying clauses by exploring them mainly in three respects-grammatical characteristics, semantic implications and experiential / textual uses. As a systemic functional study, the thesis takes an inductive approach to examine the identifying clause, starting with extensive data analysis and moving to systemic conclusions. Enlightened by Matthiessen (2006a), I combine the text-based method and corpus-based method, collecting the data from two sources - college textbooks / academic books and the Corpus of Contemporary American English. These two sources of data complement each other in view of the indeterminacy in identifying clauses. The data from the corpus are typically used in the examination of the grammatical characteristics, semantic implications and experiential uses of identifying clauses because of the comprehensiveness of the data that include typical and non-typical identifying clauses. The data from the textbooks and academic books, which take the form of long passages, are used particularly in the exploration of the textual uses of identifying processes. The data are approached in a trinocular perspective: from above, from roundabout and from below. The qualitative method is fundamental in this research, and the quantitative method is a supplement in supporting some of the findings obtained via the qualitative method and in presenting the findings from the corpus. The analyses of the data show that an identifying clause construes two semiotic processes simultaneously. One is denotation (foreground the special case is the extra-stratal realization process foregrounded by certain types of equative verbs), and the other is the inter/intra-stratal realization process (a semiotic process specific to identifying clauses). These two semiotic processes show different features in both grammatical characteristics and semantic implications. By examining the realizations of the participants and process of an identifying clause, I found that an identifying clause may have an eight-cell paradigm, four-cell paradigm or two-cell paradigm. The identifying clause is traditionally introduced as being characterized by an eight-cell paradigm, but the four-cell and two-cell identifying processes also exist due to three factors - semantic reversibility, the possible locations of tonic prominence and grammatical reversibility /Subject-Complement switchability. These three factors, examined on the lexicogrammatical stratum, are influenced by the factors on the semantic stratum respectively - external perspectival directionality 1, external perspectival directionality 2 and internal perspectival bidirectionality.
The semantic implications frequently conveyed by identifying clauses are exhaustiveness and contrastiveness. The focus of the present research falls on the former. Traditionally, the exhaustive meaning has been studied mostly in so-called cleft constructions. However, it is also conveyed frequently by identifying clauses, depending on the type of exhaustiveness and the coding direction. In terms of referential exhaustiveness, exhaustiveness is indicated by the definiteness of the nominal group realizing the participant unless the nominal group denotes a class rather than an individual. In terms of realizational exhaustiveness, exhaustiveness is relevant to the coding direction. It is conveyed inevitably in encoding identifying clauses but optionally in decoding ones. In addition, the functions of only in identifying clauses are also investigated. The position variability is a significant feature of only, which is related to the textual and interpersonal statuses of only in an identifying clause. When conveying a meaning of exclusion, only is an Adjunct functioning either thematically or rhematically; when indicating an adjustment of an expectation, only is a mood Adjunct functioning interpersonally. The two main functions of only are (1) restricting the number of the possible interpretations of an identifying clause (in this way reducing the ambiguities inherent in identifying clauses) and (2) reinforcing the exhaustive meaning in an encoding identifying process and supplementing the exhaustive meaning in a decoding identifying process (that does not convey such a meaning in case of no only). The thesis examines the experiential and textual uses of identifying clauses by reference to the thematic and information structures of an identifying clause. The experiential uses of identifying clauses refer to their roles in construing the knowledge of the world, including specifying, defining, demonstration, naming, role identification, symbolization, exemplification, constitution, possession, circumstance, equation, counter-expectation and categorization. An identifying clause can function differently according to the coding direction of the information. The textual uses of identifying clauses refer to their roles played in presenting the knowledge as text, including topic introduction, topic maintenance, topic shift (phase/non-phase), evidence providing and summarizing/evaluation. A certain kind of textual use has a close relationship with a certain type of experiential use, such as definition with topic introduction and categorization with evaluation. Apart from these three main aspects, I also present a preliminary corpus-based study of identifying processes. The quantitative study of the data from the corpus shows two findings. First, the equative verbs of the same use tend to show a similar frequency of occurrence. The second concerns the dominant field and the comparatively marginal field of identifying processes in the academic genre. The thesis is guided by Halliday's conception of language as a system of choices, while at the same time shedding further light on this conception. It also demonstrates the cognitive pattern of the human mind in the process of identifying. The findings of the research can be applied to the evaluation of the quality of a textbook so as to find out a better way to design the textbooks to enhance the quality of education. In addition, the system of identifying clauses can be further expanded by the inclusion of an ergative perspective, the mood and modality and non-structural textual description.
Subjects: Functionalism (Linguistics)
English language -- Grammar.
Systemic grammar.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Pages: xiv, 348 pages : color illustrations
Appears in Collections:Thesis

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