FW: Buying Slurpies a la Burke

Bob Ashley ax386 at chebucto.ns.ca
Sun Sep 2 09:22:18 EST 2001

From: Bob Ashley <ax386 at chebucto.ns.ca>
Date: Sun, 02 Sep 2001 02:09:12 -0400
To: < Edappel8 at cs.com>, < kb at purdue.edu>
Subject: Re: Buying Slurpies a la Burke

Ed Appel wrote:

> After Bob's two analyses, we can dispense quickly with "being verb"
> sentences, as needing discretely different classification, can we not?
> Halliday's notions of "participant" and "process" would transcend and
> encompass all of the following sentences, wouldn't they?--
> "John ran down the street."  (Agent, action conceived as process, no receiver
> of the action.)
> "Ted Williams could hit Major League pitching."  (Agent, action conceived as
> process, direct object receiver of the action.)
> "Fred is the son of John and Mary Jones."  (Agent(?)/participant, process
> conceived as action, identifying signification.)

[[Note: When I capitalize certain terms below it denotes functionalist
labels, e.g. 'Actor', 'Carrier', 'Relational'.]]

Yes, exactly.  This is what functional grammar calls an 'identifying'
clause, a subset of relational processes. Different types of
processes--material, mental, relational (identifying)-- project different
types of participants. Such is the thorn in Ed's "Agent(?) question.  'Fred'
is not an agent, but he is certainly still a participant, isn't he. In this
sentence, this participant, 'Fred', would be a called 'Token' and "the
son..." and "Value".  In other words, 'Fred' _signifies/represents/betokens_
the son..." 

Notice here that functional grammar is looking at the 'function' of the
clause for the speaker/writer, _not_ its referents, at least not directly,
anyhoo. This writer sees a relation between a Value of being the son of John
and Mary and its grammatically identified token, and he so he/she needs a
clause which will _function_ to 'identify' Fred as the Token. The
speaker/writer is thus an 'identifier'. He/she has observed that in the
_process_ of Fred's be-ing, among other things Fred is a specific token or
signification of a abstract value, sonshipping.

> "Fred is a kook."  (Agent(?)/participant, process conceived as action,
> classifying signification.)

Yes, exactly Hallidayan, Ed! (except no agency) The labels for this type of
relational clause is 'Attributive' and it sees 'Fred' as 'Carrier' (of some
attribute) and 'a kook' as 'Attribute' (of some class).  Agency is
irrelevant in this clause, which is why labels like 'Carrier'...in an
'attributive:relational' clause are necessary.

> "Fred is kooky."  (Agent(?)/participant, process conceived as action,
> attributive signification.)

Same as previous sentence.
> The truly acute subscribers to this list will recall Bob's using those last
> three sentences, almost verbatum, in a post of his about a year ago.

Ha, ha! I'm pre-wired, I guess.
> Plumbing the "deep structure" or subterranean implications of the following
> sentence, where do we find an actor or agent?--
> "George suffered a terrible beating."
> This sentence is not passive voice.  It is in what traditional grammar would
> call active voice, is it not?  Yet, the subject is plainly not "acting" in
> any sense that would make him an "agent" in terms of his particular
> situation, a being capable of self-initiated action that can effect changes
> in its environment or in itself for good or ill, for benefit or harm, and is,
> in fact, performing that kind of "act."

Right, no agency, no acting.  The voice is active, as you say. This sort of
clause is the reason for trying to interpret how grammar enables that huge
class of processes of human perception or sensation. This is what functional
grammar calls a 'mental' clause because the processes or events it
predicates are 'mental' in some way, cognitively, (dis)affectionately,
perceptually/sensually (hear/see/feel/smell).

'George', in Ed's example is thus not an agent but he is a type of
participant called a 'Senser', 'suffering' being a type of mental sensation.
The 'terrible beating' is called a 'Phenomenon', and here, the phenomenon of
beating is a cause. What Ed defines above as the Actor is someone who, in
functional grammar, enacts 'material' types of processes, like 'beating',
'kicking', 'putting' and 'cooking'. In functional linguistics, Sensers enact
mental processes or react to Phenomenon, 'Sayers' project speech or thought,
and 'Tokens' signify 'Values' (or Carriers carry Attributes). These are the
three main types of processes: material, mental, relational.


'Fred beat the oak tree into submission' (material with an

'Fred suffered a terrible beating' (mental with Senser participant)

'Fred is the son of John and Mary' (relational with a token or identified

Blurring things a bit, Halliday recognizes the fuzziness of the borders
between these three types of processes. Between the material and the mental
there is the 'Behavioral' (e.g. giggling, showing off) between the mental
and relational, the 'Verbal' processes, like projecting speech or thought.
Between the material and the relational there is 'Existential', i.e., 'There
is...' types of constructions. There ain't much more. One can picture a
mandala whose sectors are divided into these primary linguistic functions of
material, mental, and relational, and some mushy leakage between them in
extistential, verbal, and behaviorial.

So 'Actor' falls rather short in capturing the panoply of linguistic
functions of human, or for that matter, nonhuman participants through
language. It suggests, too, that Burke's main concern is human actions in
and through language and about it, and their motives, less so, human
perception of events which are unmotivated, that is, non-symbolic motion. I
think this is why Burke, proper to his project, doesn't have much to say
about a sentence like, "The bull sees red." (mental with a Sensor
participant) or "Bubinga wood is rare." (relational with a Carrier and
Attribute). In fact, these examples of expressions are neither symbolic
action (other than the speech act itself) or nonsymbolic motion. We could
call them 'symbols of nonmotion/nonaction', whose content is devoid of an
Actor who possesses agency. Motive nor purpose does not cause the bull to
see, nor explain the rarity of bubinga. I think Burke's heuristics do not
come into their most productive best at the level of the sentence, but at
the level of strung sentences, or discourse. But Halliday's grammatical
schema could be useful to the Burkean critical project because it provides a
reliable, repeatable, systematic set of analytical appliances with which to
begin, sentence by sentence, phrase by word. 'Repeatable' is a not to be
undersung quality of this set of appliances; university students and now
some high school students in Australia are learning to parse clauses with
functional grammar. I expect that, at least in the least delicate analytical
stage, students should be coming up with the same analyses. This aspect of
the grammar ain't all that difficult to grasp; in fact, as Ed is app(t)el(y)
demonstrating, it can be quite intuitive. One thing for sure, it's massively
more sensible than traditional Port Royal grammars, which, though they be
medieval, and based upon Latin (a completely different language no less!!)
are still the ruling paradigm installed in Comp 101 manuals of rhetoric.

Another use of the dialectic as I read it would be for Burke's thinking to
provide functional linguistics even more tools than it already has. Most
especially, something like consideration of the scene:act, purpose:scene and
other ratios help to define situational contexts which in turn bear on
semantic meaning at the sentence level.

> We can, though, can we not, find an actor or agent implicit in the "deep
> structure" of the utterance above, as in the sentence:
> "A gang of thugs broke into George's house and beat him severely."
> Am I getting it right, the nexus between Burke's dramatism and Halliday's
> functionalist grammar?

I think your Burke scholarship makes for a highly advantaged reading of the
functionalist paradigm!

> Here is a passive voice sentence that would indeed suggest an agent in an
> implicit "by" phrase:
> "Martha was born on February 17, 1983."

This is just the past tense of to be, not passive voice. In English, the
passive uses 'Be' + past participle '-ed'. You can't make an active version
of this example. A passive would be something like:

"Martha was beaten on February 17, 1983 (by Mr. X)".  The Actor, 'Mr X' is
optionally there or deleted, but implied.

This is a relational clause, assigning a temporal value to identified
participant...from the functionalist view, that is. You're right, no agency,
just a Carrier with the Attribute of being born on such and such a day-year.

> To wit:
> "Martha's mother, Elizabeth Smith, gave birth to her on February 17, 1983."
> Of course, Martha's mother's agency in this "process" was circumscribed.  She
> was the object of "passion" as well as the subject of "action."  That
> ambiguity is implicit in the term "procreation" that would characterize her
> "act." 

The "passion" Ed speaks of is interpretative, beyond the reach of the
grammar, at least directly. But it is true that ES is the subject of the
action, in this case, the material process of giving birth. The 'to her'
makes ES a grammatical 'Recipient', another participant in the process,
something projected by the process. "On February 17, 1983", functionally
speaking is a Circumstance of time.

> We should have no trouble conceiving Bob's noun clause as functioning as an
> agent in his sentence:
> "That Bill's tennis serve is so tricky makes me nervous when I play him."
> That "fact" functions as the agent, true, but I think Burke would not disjoin
> Bill's implicit guile and craft from the agency of this noun clause as much
> as Halliday might.

Good point. I think we could find a functional explanation which would
'approach' Ed's suggestion, and we could try to do it grammatically. It
wouldn't sound as elegant, though.
> More problematic in terms of the participant/process senario's equating with
> Burke's agent/act configuaration is this sentence of Bob's:
> "Gingerly is the way to return Bill's serve."
> As Bob says, "Here an adverb is the subject.  We do this sort of thing all
> the time."  True, true, true.  The "is" can certainly be perceived as a
> "process" in this declaration.  Is, though, "gingerly" in any conceivable way
> a "participant"?  I have no answer at this moment, except to say that
> "gingerly" would seem to fall under the Burkean heading of "attitude" or
> "manner," that the real "action" in this utterance is in the adjective clause
> "to return Bill's serve."

"Gingerly" as subject merely says that an attitudinal marker like this can
perform synchronous functions, in this instance, constitutency (noun clause
as subject) and interpersonal adjunct. In fact, the Burkean headings
"attitude" and "manner" are exactly Halliday's, "attitudinal" or "modal
adjunct" and "Circumstance: manner". Ed, standing on Burke's shoulders, has
independently discovered a deeper level of delicacy in the functionalist
grammar. We have serendipitous accord!

> The further implication of such a Burkean analysis
> is that the constructs Agent, Act, Purpose, Means, Manner, and Scene cannot
> be tied down too tightly to specific grammatical constructions as
> traditionally conceived.  Each of these "basic forms of thought" conjured by
> syntactic and sremantic forms of English are structurally pliable and
> "molten" indeed, to borrow Burke's metaphor from GM.  We will discern them in
> the text and subtext of discourse in multiple "grammatical" ways, using the
> word "grammar" here in the school-marmish way, not in Burke's way.

Yes, this idea of not tying down these constructs to "specific grammatical
constructions" is important. It means that their meaning is more basic, that
is, 'deeper' than the grammatical surface structure which we fiddle with
variously to suit other purposes, like rhetorical presentation. The
liberation from grammar as 'school-marmish' is also a Hallidayan purpose.
Functional grammar investigates texts, not just clauses, and it tries to
take into account 'scene' by what it calls 'context of situation', a term
borrowed from Malinowski. It is notable that both Burke and Halliday draw
water from the Malinowskian well. It's a deep well.

> Finally, we come to the "sensation" sentences Bob has brought to our
> attention.  How do we accommodate Burke, much less traditional grammar, to
> statements like this one:
> "I felt raindrops on my head."
> Where is the agency?  Can we take Burke at his word when he defines
> "logology" as "the systematic study of theological terms for the light they
> might throw on the forms of language"?  Who's dropping the raindrops?  God?
> Zeus?  A Personified Cloud?  Mana in the Heavens?  Somewhere--I think it's in
> GM, although I haven't been able to find the passage recently--Burke suggests
> that "determination" implies a "Determiner."  Such a linguistic implication
> dovetails well, of course, with the ubiquity of religious faith of all kinds,
> from animism to monotheism.  The forces of nature, the insurance policies
> say, are "acts of God."

More simply, and without philosophical derivation, functionalist grammar
merely labels 'I' as "Senser" , 'raindrops' as "Phenomenon", and "on my
head" as "Circumstance: spatial". There are two participants, 'I' and
'raindrops' and one circumstance surrounding one process, a mental process
of perception. The clause is declarative and thus its function is to give
information. The writer has selected 'I' as his/her topical theme,
positioning it at the beginning, notr 'raindrops' nor 'on my head'. A
rearrangement like "On my head, raindrops I felt." has a different meaning
because the circumstance is now situated as the thematic point of departure.
What I've touched down on here is the tripartite functional scheme which
looks at the 'experiential', 'interpersonal', and 'textual' metafunctions of
the utterance. I think we'd need more text to find more substantive meanings
about "the forces of nature", "insurance policies" and so forth. What comes
before this sentence, and after, we need to ponder, lest we take this
sentence as an idealized, uttering monad whose context is a vaccum.

It is interesting, though, that "determination" implies a "determiner" and
this is an example of 'nominalization' a topic of ongoing interest in
functional grammar.

Ed's interpretation focuses on the 'experiential' function, the ideational
implications as these come through in the field of discourse to which such a
sentence might be brought into being. Here the dialectic of context and
lexicogrammar is brought into Ed's view, I think. An inescapable route.

> Something, and lets dramatistically capitalize and personify that Something,
> is causing those drops to fall, for good or ill, for benefit or harm.  That's
> the implication inherent in language looked at from a dramatistic
> perspective.  Agent, Act, Purpose, Means, Manner, and Scene carry about with
> them, implicitly or explicitly, modifiers derived from the terms implicit in
> the idea of order: Pollution, Guilt, Sacrifice, and Redemption.

I like these ideas and I do wish that somehow more thinking like this could
enter directly into discussions about grammar proper. But we can blame the
Saussurean paradigm for severing the link between langue and parole, or
Chomsky's chop between competence and performance or syntax and semantics.

The first set of terms Ed cites have been successfully incorporated into a
highly useful functionalist grammar. Perhaps it is just a matter of time
before someone can do the same with terms such as those in the second set.
It's doubtful, however, that such an integration will not be forthcoming
from that trajectory of linguistic theory which links Saussure to Bloomfield
to Chomsky and the present group of linguists studying language as an
idealized formal system. The more likely benevolent trajectory is that which
aligns Malinowsi, Firth, and Halliday studying language the way Burke does,
as symbolic (and social) action.
> There's more to language, Horatio, than you'll find in your scientist
> philosophies.

No argument here. 


Bob Ashley

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