transitivity in Halliday and Crombie
paper by Zachār Laskewicz
ŠNIGHTSHADES PRESS 2008
Noordstraat 1/3, 9000
This paper remains the original copyright of Zachār Alexander LASKEWICZ who wrote this paper in 1996. If use is made of the contents of this work, please reference the work appropriately and inform the author at the following address :
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The grammatical approaches presented by Halliday and Crombie form part of a new paradigm in linguistics. Case grammar, which found its strongest theoretical proponent in Halliday and his 'transitivity', is an expression of this paradigm in which the emphasis is placed back on the meaning-based function of words and sentences rather than on a structuralistic 'transformative grammar' originating with Chomsky in the fifties. This is directly expressed by a method of clause analysis in which the meaning-based function of the words is used rather than a grammatical model based on the abstract positioning of words within sentences, and this is where the term 'transitivity' needs to be extended. The term is involved with the the role individual verb classes play in sentences, meaning that the terminology requires considerably more than the traditional definition allows: whether or not a verb requires an object. Halliday can assist us at this point. He says that "transitivity specifies the different types of process that are recognized in the language, and the structures by which they are expressed." (Halliday, 1985, pg. 101). Transitivity has revealed itself to be a complex subject, as demonstrated by the different approaches taken by linguists since Fillmore. In this assignment we will be looking at two contrasting approaches to 'transitivity': that presented by Halliday (1985), based on material and mental 'processes', and that of Crombie (1985), based on dynamic, process and stative predicate groups.
Before we begin with comparative sentence analysis it is first important to clearly lay out the processes used by Halliday and Crombie to help to classify verb 'transitivity'. Halliday defines the 'going-ons' of life as 'processes' which are represented in the form of language. In terms of traditional grammar, a 'process' can be considered that event or occurrence that results from the use of a verb. According to Halliday, such a 'process' consists of three components:
(i) the process itself;
(ii) participants in the process;
(iii) circumstances associated with the process.
(Halliday, 1985, pg. 101).
Halliday divides process types into two major divisions, material and mental processes. Material processes are defined as processes of 'doing': "they express the notion that some entity 'does' something-which may be done 'to' some other entity." (Halliday, 1985, pg. 103). These material processes can be again divided into two major forms: dispositive or 'doing to' and creative or 'bringing about'.
e.g. The lion caught the tourist: dispositive
The man built the house: creative.
Another major distinction within the material processes division is between event and action. An action is the direct occurrence performed directly by the subject with material results: it something that is done. An event, however, is something that does not have observable material result: it is something that happens. Compare the following two sentences:
The lion sprang action
The mayor resigned event
Two further terms need to be classified before we can move to the second process type which will be analysed in this assignment: the names of the participants within material processes. The two participants are ACTOR (A) and GOAL (G). Actor is the name given to that element of a sentence which performs the process, and the goal is the result of the action. As will be demonstrated in the following example, the actor does not necessarily have to be in the 'subject' position within the sentence, and its meaning is therefore based on its function within the sentence rather than its position:
The lion (A) caught the tourist (G).
The tourist (G) was caught by the lion (A).
The second major type of process which will be discussed in this assignment are what Halliday refers to as mental processes. Halliday divides mental processes into three major types: perception, affection and cognition. Perception processes are those involved with the senses: smelling and seeing for example; affection processes involve the relation the participant has with an object, whether that be an 'idea' or a 'thing' (liking, fearing, hating etc.); cognition processes involve what the participant 'thinks' of a given object (thinking, knowing, understanding etc.). Halliday assigns the names senser and phenomenon to the two participants within a mental process and affixes the following criteria to these processes:
(i) there is always a human participant as 'senser';
(ii) the phenomenon may be a 'thing' or a 'fact';
(iii) simple present is used as the basis form-
e.g. He is scared of ghosts. *He is being scared of ghosts;
(iv) the process can generally be realized in both directions-
e.g. he liked the book/the book pleased him;
(v) cannot be realized by 'do' or happen'-
e.g. What did John do? *He liked the book;
(Halliday, 1985, pp.108-111).
In a similar manner, Crombie is interested in the "semantic relationships that exist within propositions [clauses]" (Crombie, 1985, pg. 95). In order to avoid confusion at this point it may be useful to note terms that are used by Crombie which have similar functions to those of Halliday but which are named differently. Crombie refers to 'participants' as arguments and 'processes' as predicates. She notes three major types of predicates which it will be revealed cross-over on one level or another with Halliday's terminology. Her predicate types can be distinguished as follows:
Type 1: Dynamic predicates (involving mental or physical activity)
(a) general activity (e.g. write/eat)
(b) Momentary activity (e.g. nod/glance/wink)
(c) Transitional event (e.g. arrive/leave)
(d) Mental activity (e.g. choose/decide)
(e) Factitive activity (an activity which brings an entity into being) (e.g. build/construct)
Type 2: Process predicates (involving processes in which in which there is no active, conscious activity) (e.g. deteriorate/boil/melt).
Type 3: Stative predicates
(a) Inert perception and cognition (e.g. understand/prefer/like)
(b) Relational (e.g. own/consist of/contain)
(Crombie, 1985, pg. 98)
In contrast to Halliday's participants which are kept constant within each of the two categories, Crombie developed a complex set of 'semantic roles' which differ depending on the predicate type. She defines five major categories: Causal roles, Participation roles, Orientation-transition roles, Relational roles and the Abaxiant role. These categories are involved with different classifications for the 'arguments' that specific predicate types can adopt. For example, Process predicates has 'process-participation roles' which are unique to the Process predicates category. These Participation roles include those roles which involve the "non-causal involvement of an entity or abstraction in an activity or with a process or state." (Crombie, 1985, pg. 102). Within each of these categories she defines for which type of predicate type the different roles can be assigned. This is quite a complex set of categories and distinctions, and at this stage it is safer to demonstrate them by showing examples from Crombie's work and contrasting them with those presented by Halliday.
The method within this paper is to take a number of sentences used in Halliday's analysis and a number of sentences used in Crombie's and analyse them in terms of the transitivity systems presented by the other. Hopefully from this analysis we will gain a clear idea of how the systems differ and in which ways they are related to one another.
-The lion caught the tourist.
For Halliday, this is clearly a material process. The lion is the actor and the tourist the goal. In addition the sentence is clearly an 'action' of the dispositive type,
For Crombie this sentence adopts a Dynamic predicate , which can be subdivided into the 'general activity' category. Here we can refer to Crombie's 'semantic roles': the lion is the agent (from the causal roles), and the tourist is the patient (from the participation roles).
-The lion sprang.
Halliday would refer to this sentence again as a material process. According to Halliday's model, goals need not be involved in the process, so 'the lion' becomes the solo actor. Again the sentence falls into the category 'action' of the dispositive type.
Crombie would define the sentence again as a Dynamic predicate, although her terminology would place the sentence into the 'momentary activity' category. Like Halliday, 'the lion' would again become the agent.
-The mayor resigned.
Halliday would refer to this sentence as a material process, but this time he would refer to it as an 'event'. The mayor is again the actor.
Crombie would define this sentence as falling into the dynamic predicate category, and the mayor as the agent.
-A new approach is evolving.
Halliday would refer to this sentence as a material process falling into the second category 'event'. 'A new approach' is the actor and 'is evolving' is the process itself.
In contrast with Halliday's definition, Crombie would define this sentence as belonging to type 2: Process predicates. This involves the assigning of new semantic roles. 'A new approach' falls into the participation roles category and takes the name Mutant (Mu): the entity that is changed by the process (in this case of evolving).
-Children fear ghosts.
Halliday would refer to this sentence as a mental process of the affection type. The 'children' take the participant role of the 'senser' and the ghosts take the role of the 'phenomenon'.
Crombie would place this sentence into type 3: Stative predicates, category (a) Inert perception and cognition. Again, contrasting semantic roles are assigned. Both categories come from the 'participation roles'. 'Children' are defined as being the Experiencer (E), and the ghost are defined as being the Appertainant (Ap), which is defined as being an "entity or abstraction experienced in a particular way." This can be compared to Halliday's criteria for mental processes in which the phenomenon is allowed to be either a 'thing' or a 'fact'.
-Do you know the city?
Halliday would refer to this sentence as a mental process, falling into the cognition type. The participants are again senser and phenomenon, taken by 'you' and 'the city' respectively.
Crombie would place this sentence again into type 3: Stative predicates, category (a) Inert perception and cognition. 'You' is the Experiencer and the 'the city' is the Appertainant. It is interesting to note that Crombie places it into the same category, whereas as Halliday has a different way to subdivide this particular level and so has a separate category for this type of process.
-[If there was anything out there] we'd hear it coming.
Halliday would refer to this sentence as a mental process, falling into the perception type. 'We' is the senser and 'it coming' is phenomenon (in this case, a fact).
Crombie would again place this sentence into type 3: Stative predicates, category (a) Inert perception and cognition, where 'we' is the Experiencer, and 'it coming' is the Appertainant. Here the three mental processes of Halliday (perception, affection and cognition) are contrasted with the single possibility available within the subdivisions provided by Crombie.
-I smell petrol.
Crombie would place this sentence into type 3: Stative predicate, category (a) Inert perception and cognition. 'I' is the Experiencer and 'petrol' is the Appertainant.
Halliday would define this sentence as a mental process of the perception type, with 'I' taking the participant role of senser and 'petrol' of phenomenon.
-I am smelling petrol.
Crombie would define this sentence as falling into type 1: Dynamic predicates, category (a) General activity. 'I' is the Agent and 'petrol' is the Patient. The fact that Crombie would change the category because of this type of contrast in meaning is different to the way Halliday would characterise the sentence. He doesn't have a list of distinctions that refer to whether a sentence occurs directly or over a period of time.
Halliday would define the sentence again as a mental process of the perception type, with 'I' taking the participant role of senser and 'petrol' of phenomenon.
-The mechanic repaired the car.
Crombie would place this sentence into type 1: Dynamic predicates, category (a) General activity. 'The mechanic' would take the role of Agent and 'the car' of Patient.
Halliday would define this sentence as a material process of the 'action' type. 'The mechanic' is the actor and 'the car' is the goal.
-The butter melted.
Crombie would place the sentence into type 2: Process predicates. The semantic roles involved contrast again, giving us the term Mutant which is the entity changed by the process.
This precision of definition contrasts to Halliday's system which would simply refer to it as a material process. The butter is defined as being the actor according to what is referred to as the 'ergative function': "Halliday [. . .] defines this function in terms of an affected participant which is the one inherent role associated with action clauses, and which is the goal in a transitive and the actor in an intransitive clause." (Kennedy, 1982, pg. 85).
-The sun melted the butter.
Crombie would place the sentence again into type 2: Process predicates., where 'the sun' takes a new semantic role of Force and 'the butter' is again the Mutant. A 'force' is described as a "non-sentient causative which precludes the explicit or implicit involvement of an agent" (Crombie, 1985, pg. 101).
Halliday, in not having the same amount of semantic roles to assign to the participants of this sentence, would refer to it again as being a material process in which 'the sun' is the actor and 'the butter' is the goal. The sentence is of course an 'event' because something is 'happening' rather than being directly 'done'.
-The plant grew.
Crombie would place this sentence into type 2: Process predicates, where 'the plant' becomes the Mutant. Halliday would refer to the sentence as a material process and an 'event'. Because of the ergative function, the plant would be defined as the actor.
-The boy grew tired.
Crombie would place this sentence into type 2: Process predicates. The boy is placed again into the semantic role of Mutant. The 'predicate' itself is defined as falling into the Material Processes category. (Crombie, 1985, pg. 85).
Halliday would define the sentence as a material process, and an 'event'. the boy is defined as being the actor because of the ergative function.
-The coin rolled down the hill.
Crombie would define this sentence as falling into type 1: Dynamic predicates, type (a) General activity. Contrasting semantic roles would be assigned. 'The coin' would become the Object, which Crombie defines as "the entity described as being in a particular location or as being involved in a transitional event." (Crombie, 1985, pg. 103). 'the hill' would be assigned the role of Range, which is defined by Crombie as being "the location of a static entity or the path or area traversed by a moving entity." (Crombie, 1985, pg. 103).
For Halliday, the sentence would simply be a material process, and an 'event'. 'The coin' would be the actor and the phrase 'down the hill' would be defined as being a 'circumstance associated with the process'. This contrasts to Crombie's more precise terminology for each of the roles played within the sentence.
-The music was heard by the prince.
Crombie would define this sentence as falling into type 3: Stative predicates, type (a) Inert perception and cognition. 'The prince' is the Experiencer and the 'the music' is the Appertainant.
Halliday would define this sentence as being a mental process of the perception type. 'The music' is the phenomenon and 'the prince' is the senser. This sentence demonstrates that this approach to grammar in both cases places semantic/participant roles based not on the position within the sentence but on the actual function of the words. In this passive form, the roles stay with the same words as when the sentence is in its active form: The prince heard the music. The passive form does not change the essential roles assigned to the words.
-He died of Polio.
Crombie would define this sentence as falling into type 1: Dynamic predicates. 'Polio' takes the causative semantic role of Force, whereas 'he' becomes the Patient.
The sentence could be rewritten in the following way: Polio killed him. In this sense, Halliday would define the sentence as being a material process and an 'event', in which 'polio' is the actor and 'he' is the goal.
-He made models from matches.
Crombie would define this sentence as falling into type 1: Dynamic predicates, category (e) Factitive. This category brings a number of new semantic roles with it. 'He' is the Agent, 'models' is the Result and 'from matches' is the Material. These roles are connected only to factitative predicate types, and are absent in the Halliday material/mental processes model.
Halliday would define this sentence as being a material process and an 'event'. 'He' would be defined as the actor and 'models' would be defined as the goal of the process, whereas 'from matches' would be defined as the 'circumstance associated with the process.'
-He dreamed a dream about the sea.
Crombie would define this sentence as falling into type 3: Stative predicates, category (a) Inert perception and cognition. 'He' would be defined as the Experiencer, and 'a dream about the sea' would be defined as the Appertainant.
Halliday would define this sentence as being a mental process of the 'cognitive' type. 'He' would be the senser and 'a dream about the sea' would be the phenomenon.
-John boiled the milk.
Crombie would place this sentence into type 1: Dynamic predicates, category (a) General activity where'John' is the Agent . This sentence is viewed however as being of a 'double propositional' nature which can be rewritten as follows: John caused it (the milk boiled), in which 'the milk' is viewed as the Mutant: the entity which is changed by a process.
Halliday would define this sentence as being a material process and an 'action'. 'John' would be the actor and 'the milk' would be the goal.
It could be said that the models for the analysis of verb functions within clauses presented by Crombie and Halliday coincide on some levels. For example, Halliday uses the terms Senser and Phenomenon within his mental processes. Crombie, as a subdivision of the Process predicates type (a) Inert perception and cognition, two semantic roles can be assigned: Experiencer and Appertainant. These categories are practically the same, made even more clearly be Halliday's recognition of both 'things' and 'ideas' as types of phenomenon , just as Crombie recognises that the semantic role of Appertainant can be taken by an 'entity' or an 'abstraction'. We can name further areas of coincidence. Halliday's mental processes allow for an actor and a goal, which can be directly compared to Crombie's Agent and Patient.
If we observe the contrasts, however, they seem to far outweigh the similarities. Halliday has distinctions and categories that are not present in Crombie's system, just as Crombie distinguishes things which are not recognized within Halliday's system. Halliday, for example, in his mental process distinction recognises three contrasting verbal types: perception, affection and cognition. This system is absent in Crombie's, in which a single category within the division Stative predicates: type (a) Inert perception and cognition is allowed for. Crombie's system, however, in its recognition of many different types of 'semantic roles', makes a lot of classification that is completely unaccounted for in Halliday's version of transitivity. Crombie's Process predicates, for example, has a semantic role that is not considered by Halliday: Mutant. Crombie's 'factitive' Dynamic predicates has two semantic roles not included in Halliday's system: Material and Result. Crombie's complex list of 'semantic roles' in which elements within a sentence are given very particular and definable functions contrasts with Halliday's much less complicated 'participants' which are completely dependent on the process type. Other contrasts also present themselves. Crombie has a category which distinguishes between Dynamic predicates which occur 'momentarily' as opposed to those which occur as a 'general activity'. This contrast is further demonstrated when we observe Crombie's tendency to distinguish between 'stative' and 'dynamic' predicates which actually would remain in the same category according to Halliday (e.g. I smell the petrol, I am smelling the petrol). Halliday's use of the mental processes is completely confused when we observe that Crombie's Dynamic predicates have a mental activity subdivision, and that also within the Stative predicates type we observe the Inert perception and cognition subdivision. In this case, sentences that can be classified into the one category in Halliday's system have to span two completely different predicate types in Crombie's system.
This is, however, a question of the division of semantic space. Halliday has chosen a different emphasis to that of Crombie, and so some elements are emphasised by the one and left in a simplified form by the other. Although there are more contrasts than similarities between the two systems it is possible to conclude that they are united in the fact that they are involved in a particular way of looking at grammar. Here the verbs are viewed as being a complex element within the sentence which determines the structure of the involved clause; here 'participants' (Halliday) or 'arguments' (Crombie) are involved directly in a verbal 'process'. The meaning of these 'processes' are related directly to the dynamics involved between the participants and the process itself, and both Crombie and Halliday have attempted to find categories which can help us to define how these verbal systems actually work.
Crombie, W. (1985). Process and
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Halliday, M. A. K. (1985). An
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Kennedy, C. (1982). Systemic grammar and its use in literary analysis. In Ronald Carter (ed.) Language and literature: An introductory reader in stylistics (pp. 83-99). London: Allen and Unwin.
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