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Language on Language: the Grammar of Semiosis

Article  in  Social Semiotics · January 1991

DOI: 10.1080/10350339109360339

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Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


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Language on language: The grammar of semiosis

Christian Matthiessen
Department of Linguistics, University of Sydney, Sydney, 2006

Version of record first published: 29 Apr 2009.

To cite this article: Christian Matthiessen (1991): Language on language: The grammar of semiosis , Social Semiotics, 1:2, 69-111
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Language on language: the grammar of semiosis*

Christian Matthiessen

In this paper I explore how semiosis is construed in the grammatical system of English.
I begin by noting isolated examples of how the grammar interprets semiosis (Section 1). Such
examples do not by themselves suggest that the grammar is concerned with semiosis in any
fundamental way but we can in fact only explain them by pulling back to focus on the
grammatical system as a whole, across the metafunctional spectrum (ideational, interpersonal
and textual; Section 2). I argue that the ideational and interpersonal metafunctions give us
complementary pictures of semiosis (Sections 3, 4 and 5) and that the textual metafunction
gives value to this complementarity (Section 6).

1. The grammar of semiosis

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Consider the following examples of semiosis (taken from McNeill,

1979: 5):
An indexical sign is a sign that is actually connected to
i t s object.
A symbolic sign is an arbitrary and conventional (in the
sense of socially determined) representation of whatever
i t represents.

They define two types of sign, indexical and symbolic ones. The sign in
general is, of course, the cornerstone of traditional approaches to semiotic
systems. Alongside thelexical item sign, we find other terms for semiotic
objects and their 'parts' such as symbol, representation, icon, index, term;
signified and signifier, content and expression. More recently, terms for
semiotic macro-objects have become fashionable as alternatives to material
interpretations of life, for example discourse, story, narrative. We also find
semiotic processes — signify, symbolize, represent, mean. Such lists suggest
nothing more than the rather obvious fact that a certain area of vocabulary or
lexis is concerned with semiosis. This area of lexis is semi-technical in the
sense that most items do double duty in folk semiotics and academic semiotics.
An important aspect of semiotics in anacademic context has been to explore
and technicalize lexical taxonomies just as in the examples above (as in
taxonomies of signs — sign: index, icon, symbol; and so on). Now, lexis is just
one perspective on the linguistic system for making meanings as wordings.

Social Semiotics, Vol.1, No.2, 1991 69

Language on language Christian Matthiessen

This system is lexicogrammar -- the unified system of grammar and lexis:

grammar is concerned with more general meanings, realized by grammatical
structural configurations such as Subject + Finite, Token + Process + Value,
and Theme + Rheme and grammatical items such as the, will, but and lexis is
concerned with more specific meanings realized by lexical items such as
discourse, story, narrative (e.g.Halliday, 1961; Hasan, 1987). While lexical
concerns are more exposed and less cryptic than grammatical ones (see
Halliday, 1984a, and Whorf, 1956, on cryptogrammar) and we can readily
identify the vocabulary of semiosis, it is reasonable to expect that semiosis is a
concern or motif in grammar just as it is in lexis precisely because the two are
one unified resource. Indeed, the semiotician's signify, symbolize, represent
and so on all serve in a particular kind of grammatical structure, that of the
intensive identifying clause (Halliday, 1967/8; 1985: 112-28). There is a
Process relating two participants, Token and Value, as signigfier and signified,
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expression and meaning, and so on. This is in fact the clause type illustrated
above, as shown in Figure 1.
An indexical sign is & sign that is actually
connected to its object.

A. symbolic sign is an arbitrary and conventional

(in the sense oi socially
determined) representation oi
whatever it represents.

Token Process Value

Fig. 1: The grammar of symbolization

One of the properties of this type of clause is that it is reversible: either

Token or Value may serve as theTheme (i.e., what serves as the local context
or point of departure) of the clause ~
An indexical sign i s a sign that i s actually connected to
i t s object :
a sign that i s actually connected to its object is an
indexical sign

a symbolic sign i s an arbitrary and conventional (in the

sense of s o c i a l l y determined) representation of whatever
i t represents :

Social Semiotics, Vol.1, No.2, 1991 70

Language on language Christian Matthiessen

an arbitrary and conventional (in the sense of s o c i a l l y

determined) representation of whatever i t represents i s a
symbolic sign.

In this respect, it differs from the intensive attributive clause, the clause
for representing class membership, although both clause types have be as the
most neutral verb realizing the Process (as in an icon is a sign which is not
reversible as an attributive clause; we do not find a sign is an icon in the
attributive sense of 'an icon is a member of the class of signs').
The intensive identifying or Token-Value clause is the foundation upon
which the traditional notion of the sign rests.1 This notion is a a reification of
the symbolic relationship construed by the intensive identifying type of clause,
illustrated by the examples above. This clause type has thus been crucial to the
development of semiotics. It is also central to those linguistic theories of
language that interpret language through realization (rather than for example
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transformation). I will now briefly consider the role of lexicogrammar in

relation to semantics in this light and then return to semiosis. Lexicogrammar,
or grammar for short, is a resource for making and expressing meanings as
wordings, both instantially as text and generally as system. We say that the
grammar realizes the semantics, shown diagrammatically in Figure 2 (for the
significance of this form of representation, devised by Halliday, see
Matthiessen & Halliday, in press).
Realization construes a Token-Value relationship between
lexicogrammar and semantics. This relationship is thus both an inherent
principle of organization in language itself and part of its theory
of the reality of which it itself is a part. It is important to note that we
are focussing on whole subsystems within language as a semiotic system, not
on lists of isolated signs.2 Thus the semantic system of speech functions is
realized by the grammatical system of mood (Halliday, 1984b); for instance,
the semantic opposition between giving and demanding information (statement
/ question) is realized by the grammatical opposition between declarative and
interrogative clauses (e.g., he is the Master vs. Is he the Master? ). The clause
type for interpreting this relationship is the same as in Figure 1, for example
with 'interrogative' as Token and 'question' as Value: interrogative realizes

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

Fig. 2: Stratification of 'content' into lexicogrammar and semantics

The relationship between the lexicogrammar and semantics is natural
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rather than conventional. It is also reciprocal rather than non-reciprocal:

grammar and semantics construct one another. The motivation behind
grammar is semantic. For instance, from a developmental point of view, the
emergence of grammar makes it possible to mean more than one thing at the
same time (Halliday, 1975; Painter, 1984); thus it makes it possible, in the
clause, to make interpersonal selections within mood together with ideational
selections within transitivity and textual selections within theme (see further
Section 2 below). But this also shows the 'active' role grammar plays: it
construes the semantic space within which meanings are made.3 For instance,
the interpersonal clause grammar construes the semantic space of speech
functions and the ideational grammar construes a semantic space organized
into domains such as conscious processing, being & having, locutions, ideas,
masses, and discrete things.
Now, it is entirely possible that one such semantic domain could be
construed only in one environment in the grammar, in which case its
repercussions in the grammatical system as a whole are confined or localized.
Thus semiosis might be construed locally only within relational clauses by
means of the model of Token + Process + Value, reflected in the traditional
notion of the sign. However, there are many significant semantic domains that
are dispersed as motifs in the grammar, motifs such as cause (Halliday,
1985: Appendix 3) and time (Matthiessen, 1991); they are manifested across
different grammatical environments such as the clause complex, the clause,
and the nominal group; and they emerge clearly only when we have access to a

Social Semiotics. Vol.1, No.2,1991 72

Language on language Christian Matthiessen

global map of the grammatical resources such as that developed by Halliday

(e.g., 198S). One of these semantic motifs in the grammar is indeed semiosis
itself. Semiosis emerges as a motif throughout the grammatical system, which
is hardly surprising since it is the very basis of social-semiotic systems in
general and language in particular. Embodied in language is a reflection of
its own nature as a semiotic system. Language allows us to reflect on
itself — to talk about talk, in Firth's terms, to create its own metalanguage, or
however we choose to put it. As already noted, the theory of the sign rests on
the relational model of Token + Process + Value. Alongside this model
favoured by the traditional semiotician we find the verbal one (Halliday,
1985: 129-30; Section 7.5) - as in
I said "Well, this isn't on the National Health"
and she laughed
and she said "No, a lot of things aren't".
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This verbal model is a construal of the act of semiosis itself: Sayer + Process
(/ said) projecting (i.e., quoting or reporting) something as a wording:

This isn't on the National Health*

'No, a l o t of things aren't"

verbal process / p r o j e c t (quote, report)

I said
she said

In daily life, the verbal model figures prominently in the news since
news in the information age is at least as much about semiosis ~ what people
have said — as about material processes ~ what people have done, what has
happened (cf. Halliday, in press, b; Nanri, in prep.); and in academic life this
verbal model has been the foundation of speech act theory. When still a
toddler, this is howthe folk semiotician starts - building up an interpretation
of semiosis as process with verbs reflecting the relational and verbal models
rather than nominal reifications of semiosis (sign, symbol; word, sentence,
discourse, narrative). Halliday (1977) observes:

Social Semiotics, Voll, No.2, 1991 73

Language on language Christian Matthiessen

The earliest linguistic terms an English-speaking child learns to use are not terms like
noun and verb, or even word and sentence; in fact, they are not nouns at all - they are
verbs, typically say and mean, and shortly afterwards tell. ... By the time he is two
years old, a child has a considerable awareness of the nature and functions of
language. When he starts to talk, he is not only using language; he is also beginning to
talk about it. He constructing a folk linguistics, in which (i) saying and (ii) naming-
meaning, denote different aspects of the same symbolic act.

The fact that the grammar construes semiosis according to these

relational and verbal models is, of course, in itself quite interesting. But the
investigation into the motif of semiosis in the grammar can be taken still
further by considering how the two models are reflected outside of the
relational and verbal clause types themselves. At this point, I will just give a
few brief examples; later I will explore the dispersal of semiosis more
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(1) With respect to the token-value model of identifying relational
clauses, we can note that it is also reflected in nominal groups. (1) Nominal
groups may be ambiguous depending on whether they are read 'at face value*
or as token for a semiotic construct. For example:
(a) Dennis changes everything - (i) Dennis read at face value: the person;
or (ii) Dennis read as a token for the fact of the person (as part of a process), e.g. 'the
fact that Dennis was responsible changes everything1
In the second reading, (ii), the grammar construes a relationship between a
phenomenon of ordinary reality and the semioticization of the phenomenon as
a metaphenomenon of second-order reality. Similarly, the grammar
recognizes the semiotic relationship between an author, i.e. the source of
semiosis, and his/ her works, i.e. the results of semiosis, that allows one to
'stand for' the other
(b) Greene i s very e n t e r t a i n i n g — (i) Greene read at face value: the
writer; or (ii) Greene read as a token standing for his discourse, e.g. 'Greene's novels
are very entertaining*
(2) The structure of a nominal group may embody both token and value
in a symbolic relationship thus construing a symbol. For instance, a picture of
Henry can mean 'a picture representing Henry', with picture as token and
Henry as value. Such a nominal group can in fact be read in two ways by the
textual metafunction when it selects a Theme. Alongside the expected reading
where the whole nominal group (as a construal of a symbol) is thematic —

Social Semiotics, Vol. 1, No.2,1991 74

Language on language Christian Matthiessen

(c) A picture of Henrv I ' ve seen

— we can also get the value alone as Theme:
(d) Henrv I've seen a picture of
(ii) With respect to the verbal model, we can note (1)that projection
(reporting, quoting) is also reflected at lower ranks in the grammar and(2)
that it may be construed temporally as ever-present. (1) Any grammatical unit
can in principle be projected as a wording (locution) or a meaning (idea):
(e) " kOM means ' go ' .
That is, the piece of wording "ko" can be translated as the meaning fgo\ Here
we can see a clear relationship between symbolization andprojection (see
further below). (2) The grammar treats semiosis as potentially ever-present or
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(f) In Hamlet, Shakespeare shows u s that itis dangerous t o

Observations such asthose just given are significant in that they indicate
that semiosis is a motif in that grammar that is not confined to relational and
verbal clauses; and the significance increases when we see that all the examples
above hinge on a differentiation that the grammar makes between material
reality and semiotic reality. Thus in (a) and (b) Dennis and Greene are
construed either materially as things or semiotically as metathings, facts or
discourses.4 With respect to (d), there is a contrast between the example given
and the less likely
Henry I don't have Aunt Augusta's old coloured picture of

where the picture is less of a symbol of Henry and more of a material object
in its own right. Similarly, the example in(f) contrasts with the material
Shakespeare wrote Hamlet before the Tempest
which is not 'timeless'. That is, materially Shakespeare is dead; but
semiotically he lives on.
However, even if we make this important generalization about the
material and the semiotic, the observations still do not, by themselves, indicate
that the grammar is in any way fundamentally concerned with semiosis. But
semiosis is in fact quite central in the whole grammatical system. Tosee this,
we have to pull back from the particular kinds of examples we have

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

considered so that we can get the whole grammatical system into view. This
will entail going beyond the complementarity of the relational and the verbal
as theories of semiosis to the grammar's theory of reality as a whole (Section
3). But it will also mean going beyond the grammar as theory of semiosis and
other aspects of reality to another, metafunctional complementarity that also
involves the interpersonal metafunction (Section 4). To provide the
background necessary for this discussion, I shall begin by discussing the
metafunctional organization of the clause in English (Section 2).

2. The gateway: clause as metafunctional focal point

Before a young child starts learning an adult mother tongue, s/he starts
developing a child tongue — a protoianguage (Halliday, 1975). This
protoianguage is a resource for exchanging meanings just as adult language;
and it also embodies a 'world view' (Halliday, 1978). With protoianguage, the
child develops a differentiation between the self and the environment and
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between different kinds of phenomenon within the environment — persons and

objects in the most general terms. But the self is not insulated from the
environment; in particular, the child collaborates with the persons who are the
immediate care-givers in developing protoianguage and the understanding of
reality that goes with it. The child's conscious self is construed
intersubjectively from the very start (cf. Trevarthen, 1987). The early reality
of protoianguage can be depicted as in Figure 3.
This 'world view9 is grounded in protoianguage: t h e
differentiation between the self and the environment is a linguistic one; and the
differentiation between persons and objects as environmental phenomena is
again established and maintained linguistically as phenomena that can engage
in the exchange of meanings and those that cannot.
Among the four early functions of protoianguage identified by Halliday,
the personal is concerned with the selfs relation to the environment —
withdrawal of consciousness from it, or conscious processing of it in terms of
awareness, interest, pleasure, displeasure and so on. The interactional and
regulatory engage the self with other persons (initially limited to the small
meaning group of immediate care-givers), either as being or as doing, while
the instrumental function is oriented towards objects, calling on persons to
give or not give them to the child. This order of phenomena is construed by
protoianguage so in that sense semiosis is central to the whole organization of
reality; but protoianguage does not represent reality — neither reality in

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

general nor semiotic reality in particular. As we turn to adult language, this

general possibility of non-representational ways of ordering reality will be
very important. In particular, we will see that adult language embodies more
than one 'world view* since, in contrast to protolanguage, it is organized into
three simultaneous metafunctions; but only one of these is representational —
the one embodied in the ideational metafunction.

persons - -
within meaning group
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envi ro a ment

objects - -
phenomena acted on

Fig. 3: A protolinguistic world view

As we have seen, the adult linguistic resources for making meanings are
stratified into two subsystems, semantics and lexicogrammar (see Figure 2
above); and that these are related by realization, as in interrogative realizes
question. At the same time, these meaning-making resources are diversified
into three very general metafunctions (Halliday, 1967/8; 1973; 1978 etc.) -
the ideational, the interpersonal and the textual. The ideational metafunction is
the grammar as theory, as a construal of reality. It includes the relational and
verbal models of semiosis introduced above; but it is only one of the three
perspectives embodied in the grammatical system. Let's consider the three
metafunctions in the context of the clearest focal point of the whole
grammatical system — the metafunctional junction of the clause, where all
three metafunctions are simultaneous in both system and structure. They are

Social Semiotics, Vol.1, No.2, 1991 77

Language on language Christian Matthiessen

clearly separable principles of organization but they are integrated in the

clause through conflation (Halliday, 1967/8; 1985) as shown in Figure 4.
This is what Halliday has called the grammatical gateway to semantics.
Later I will turn to lower-ranking 'replays' of the principles manifested in the
environment of the clause (cf. the examples involving nominal groups such as
a picture of Henry given above). The clause embodies all three metafunctional
principles of organization; and, very importantly in the present context, each
one reflects semiosis in its own way.
(i) Ideational. It is a construal of reality as experience or
experiential meaning; more specifically, it is concerned with
goings-on, construed as a nuclear process, participants more or less
centrally involved in it and less centrally involved circumstances.
(ii) Interpersonal. It is an enactment of a relationship between
speaker and listener; it creates and maintains 'speaker' and
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listener' as roles in semiotic interaction.


Fig. 4: The metafunctional focal point

For example, in the following excerpt from a dialogue the speakers are
interpreting and representing reality at the same time as they are interacting.

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

A: ... I've been meaning to get hold of him for a long time.
B: Well, if you just write to Paxted College, you'll get him and he's....
A: Yes, does he live there all the time?
B: He's the Master.
A: Is he?
B: Yes, and he works in the Palaeography Department
(CEC, p. 227)

Let's focus on B's contribution He's the Master, (i) Inter personally,
the interactants are exchanging information through the clauses. First A
demands information, that is asks the question Does he live there all the time?
and then B gives him information in response, the statement He's the Master.
A follows this up with an acknowledgement question, Is he?, which shows the
interpersonal significance of the combination of Subject and Finite (the Mood
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element of the clause) as carrier of the arguability value of the clause --

SubjectA Finite, he is. Finite A Subject, is he. Then B confirms: Yes. This kind
of dialogic dance can continue for a long time. B's statement is realized as a
declarative clause, without any ellipsis; the following question, Is he?, is an
interrogative clause, which is elliptical since A can presume some of what B
has said ~ Is he [the Master]. And B's follow up only retains the positive
polarity, presuming the rest of the clause through ellipsis — Yes [he is the
(ii) Ideationally, B's contribution is a statement about identity. The
person being talked about, Tom Blandermore, is identified in terms of his
professional role: he serves as Identified and his role, the Master, is the
Identifier. By identifying him as the Master , B provides A with information
from which he can infer the answer to his question whether Tom Blandermore
lives at the College all the time or not. At the same time, just as in any other
identifying clause, a symbolic relationship between Token and Value is also
construed: Tom Blandermore serves as, or plays the role of, the Master — his
value is that of master of the college. The two metafunctional contributions to
the make-up of the clause are shown in Figure 5.
At this point, we can see that the grammar reflects the complexity of
semiosis; it sorts it out as a complementarity of two perspectives, action
(interpersonal) and reflection (ideational). These are different perspectives —
they are fundamental metafunctional complementarities in the linguistic
system; but, at the same time, they are both mapped onto the same clause.

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

From this follows another fundamental point: there is an inherent

ambivalence in the system; at any given point, a system or a fragment of a
structure may be either ideational (experiential in the environment of the
clause) or interpersonal or both; for instance, a grammatical unit that enters
into a grammatical structure may do so in more than one way. Thus in the
example above, He is both Subject and Token. This is not surprising for a
's the Muster

interpersonal : Subject Finite Complement

Mood Residue
ideational :
TRANSITIVITY: Token / Process Value/
Identified Identifier
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Fig. 5: Metafunctional simultaneity

grammatical theory that brings out multifunctionality in language; but, as we

shall see below, the ambivalence is worth emphasizing as a principle that is
necessarily inherent in a multifunctional system such as adult language. In
addition to the organization we have already considered, the clause is also
organized as a piece of text:

(iii) Textual. Thirdly, the grammar turns back on itself and

construes what it has created through the ideational and
interpersonal metafunctions as semiotic process that can be shared -
- as text in context.
For instance, in the clause He's the Master, the speaker has given the
Subject/ Token thematic status, relating to the development of the discourse at
this point, in fact picking up the Theme already selected by A in does he live
there all the time?; and she selects the Master as the focus of the New. The
textual interpretation of the clause is given in Figure 6 together with the
earlier ideational and interpersonal strands.
The characterization of the textual metafunction in (iii) suggests that it
is secondary in relation to the other two. It is not secondary in temporal
terms; that is, it seems untenable to assume that it is activated only after the
two other metafunctions in the production of text. — On the contrary, there

Social Semiotics, Vol.1, No.2,1991 80

Language on language Christian Matthiesscn

are many examples of the ideational metafimction accommodating the textual

one, as in an ideational metaphor such as Nineteen eighty-seven saw the large
producers and distributors playing it safer than ever before where the
structure of a mental clause of perception is used textually to create two
quanta of information, one thematic (Nineteen eighty-seven) and one new (the
large producers and distributors playing it safer than ever before); cf.
Halliday (1988) and Matthiessen (in press). But it is secondary in terms of the
nature of the 'reality' it is deals with; it is concerned with the kind of second-
order reality that is created by language itself — semiotic reality or reality
as meaning. And this is significant when we try to understand why its mode of
expression is the way it is. As we shall see, it is precisely this aspect of the
textual metafimction that brings out ambivalences in the system — points of
tension where something is interprétable as one or the other or both. But
before I get to this point, let me review what I have said about the
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metafunctions from the point of view of semiosis.

He 's the ttaster

interpersonal : Subject Finite Complement

Mood Residue
TRANSITIVITY: Token / Process Value/
Identified Identifier

textual :
THEME Theme Rheme


Fig. 6: The metafunctional spectrum in the structure of a clause

The ideational metafunction construes 'natural' reality as meaning; and
the interpersonal metafunction enacts 'intersubjective' reality as meaning.
Reality as meaning is second order reality, reality turned into meaning; it is
semiotic reality — see Figure 7. These two metafunctions thus create semiotic
reality in their two different ways. Because of this, reality has itself been
expanded; and the ideational metafunction can now turn back on this semiotic
reality, evolving theories both of its ideational aspect and its interpersonal
aspect in the form of intensive identifying relational clauses and verbal ones,

Social Semiotics, Vol.1, No.2, 1991 81

Language on language Christian Matthiessen

and so on. This order of reality internal to language itself, semiotic reality, is
the condition for a third metafunction, a purely semiotic one — the textual
metafunction, which presents semiotic reality as text in context. At the same
time, it also uses this order of reality as its own mode of expression so it joins
the other metafunctions as a shaper of it (as illustrated briefly above in
Nineteen eighty-seven saw the large producers and distributors playing it safer
than ever before with reference to ideational metaphor).
My characterization is, of course, a naive conceit; but it is a helpful way
of getting started as long as it is recognized that reality is not an apriori given
and that the temporal sequence is a matter of presentational convenience.
I shall deal with the ideational and interpersonal metafunctions with
respect to semiosis ~ the ideational theory of semiosis (Section 3) and the
interpersonal enactment of it (Section 4). I shall then discuss cases where they
coincide, where theory and enactment conflate, (Section 5) before turning to
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the textual presentation of semiosis as text in context (Section 6).

textual mod« of

reality as meaning enactment

theory of
natural' of inter-
reality ideational subjective


as text in

Fig. 7: Orders of reality, semiosis and metafunctions

Social Semiotics, Vol.1, No.2, 1991 82

Language on language Christian Matthiessen

3. Ideational theory of semiosis

The ideational metafunction embodies a 'theory* of semiosis. The clause
is concerned with 'goings-on* in its transitivity system and structures; it is
simultaneously a theory of (i) how phenomena are configured in relation to
one another as a nuclear process, participants more or less closely involved,
and more peripherally associated circumstances and of (ii) what the different
domains of experience of these processes belong to. The kind of 'world view'
that emerges from an exploration of the ideational area of clause grammar is,
not surprisingly, centred around human consciousness. The ideational
metafunction draws a boundary between the domain of human conscious
processing and what is outside this domain. This is consistent with the
protolinguistic non-representational world view (see Figure 3); but the
conscious self is generalized to the class of phenomena that are like it — human
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consciousness in general. For instance, the following narrative (from Pinter's

Betrayal) is propelled forward by a sequence of happenings in the outside
world (processes of motion); but there are three instances of conscious
processing being represented. The scene is set cognitively (/ thought of you
the other day) and it ends with an invitation to share the experience (Do you
remember?). And in the course of driving, the narrator perceives something
(Suddenly I saw where I was) and then acts on this new information:
I thought of ypu the other day. I was driving through
Kilburn. Suddenly I saw where I was. I just stopped, and
then turned down Kinsdale Drive and drove into Wessex
Grove. I drove past the house and then stopped about
fifty yards further on, like we used to do. £o_ you

Human conscious processing is interpreted as a combination of a

cognizant participant and conscious processing, Senser + Process (e.g., 'I +
think; I + see; you + remember'); it spans perception (seeing, hearing, feeling,
etc.), cognition (thinking, knowing, believing, remembering, wondering, etc.),
and affection (loving, hating, wanting, fearing, rejoicing, etc.). The domain
outside this centre of human consciousness is essentially either active (doing &
happening — the examples in bold above) or inert (being & having - the
example in italics above) processing. This organization of the world of goings-
on can be depicted as in Figure 8.

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

doing & happening

human conscious

being (at) & having

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Fig. 8: The ideational centre of the universe of processes

In other words, there are certain goings-on that are restricted only to
(human) consciousness — from a nominal point of view, the most nuclear
participant is /, you, we; he, she, who rather than it, what (cf. Halliday,
1985: 108). 5 Neither doings & happenings nor beings & havings are
constrained in this way. This picture would seem to suggest a fundamentally
biological or cognitive interpretation of reality; however, the picture is
incomplete. The human centre is in fact expanded but the expansion is not
along biological or cognitive lines to include our animate neighbours6 but
rather along semiotic lines to group us with documents, signs, instruments,
and so on as symbol sources, as in my friend/ the paper/ the article says there
were no casualties (cf. Halliday, 1985: 129-30); it is an expansion based to
language to include semiotic processing as well as conscious processing, that
is to include the 'verbal model' of semiosis mentioned in Section 1. The
central domain can itself be generalized linguistically as one of symbolic
processing: see Figure 9. In this perspective, conscious processing is a kind of
symbolic processing — internal from the point of view of human
consciousness. It may take an 'external1 form, as saying, as in the following
little argument alternating between external and internal (from Pinter's
Jerry: Why didn't you tell me?

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Robert: I thought you might know.

Jerry: But you didn't know for certain, did you? You didn't know?
Robert No.
Jerry: Then why didn't you teU me?
Robert TeU you what?
Jerry: That you knew. You bastard.

What is at issue here is the relationship between external symbolic

processing (telling) and internal processing (knowing). But the external
symbolization of internal symbolic processing is no longer restricted to human
consciousness. It is general semiosis, involving any kind of symbol source as
the most nuclear participant (Halliday, 1985: 129-30). Thus alongside
examples such as In the hospital's newsletter, he tells of one patient who
stopped a two-week-long bout, we also find The British medical journal The
Lancet recently reported a study at Oxford University's John Radcliffe
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These are construed in the grammar of transitivity as shown in Figure

10 (cf. Halliday, 1985: Chapter 5). Thus doings & happenings are construed as
material clauses, conscious processing (sensing) as mental ones, 'saying* as
verbal ones and being (at) & having as relational clauses. These different
process types are not signalled overtly in the grammar; they are covert or
cryptotypic categories and emerge only when we consider reactances (cf.
Whorf, 1956, on cryptotypes and reactances). For instance, only verbal and
mental clauses can combine with projection (quoting & reporting) in a
personal way.7 Mental clauses are different from verbal ones in that they are
two-way (with pairs like like! please; fear I frighten; grieve I sadden;
remember/ remind), in that the Medium/ Senser is endowed with
consciousness and in that they cannot have a Receiver whereas verbal clauses
can (to him in she said to him "they shoot horses, don't they?" ). Moreover,
verbal clauses project locutions or wordings whereas mental clauses project
ideas (he said that he was happy vs. he though that he was happy). Material
clauses differ from all the others according to two criteria, one concerned
with time and the other with activity: their unmarked present tense is present-
in-present (he is mowing the lawn), whereas it is the simple present with the
other process types (she says he's mowing the lawn; she believes he's mowing
the lawn; he has a lanmower); and they have a special pro-verb (do (to/ with),
as in what he did to the lawn was mow it but not e.g. what he did to the
lawnmower was have it ). As with all systems in language, any given subtype
or any given instance will be more or less like prototypical material, mental,

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verbal or relational clauses (cf. Martin & Matthiessen, in press; Matthiessen,

1990). The grammar construes the non-discreteness of our world by creating
borderline cases and blends. As I will note presently, the interpretation is no
exception; it is in fact quite central in this respect.

doing & happening

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being (at) & having

Fig. 9: Semiotic extension of human centre

As will be clear from what I have just said about mental and verbal
clauses, all types of semiosis have one fundamental property in common in the
grammar: they have the potential for combining with projections.8 This can
happen in either of two ways (Halliday, 1985: Section 7.5). (i) The semiosis
brings the projection into existence, as a locution (or 'wording', external
semiosis, realized by a verbal clause) or an idea (internal semiosis, realized by
a mental clause). For example:
•Some Americans,' he said, 'who c a l l themselves Christians
are paying four rupees a head 1 to people they b a p t i z e 1 .
'What brought you to Bangkok? I asked.
I said I didn't think Faulkner would have agreed with him.
•Good', I said, ' l e t him g o . '
•Anyway, forget i t ' , I said.

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I was told I should not draw any conclusions from Delhi.

I urged him to get off the train.
I said I would send it to him.
I wondered where she lived.
He thought I was angry.
I hoped for his state of mind that it wouldn't get any
That night I dreamed I missed the Mandalay train.
I wanted (him) to hang up my jacket.
I'd hate you to leave without sorting this out.

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unmarked present : pro-verb :

present-in-present mental do (to/with)

2-way : like /please

Senser: 'conscious*

present with Droiection

addressable : Receiver


Fig. 10: Corresponding categories in the grammar

That is, the saying, asking, urging, wondering, dreaming, wanting and
so on project a situation as asemiotic construct (locution or idea).
(ii) Alternatively, the projection has independent existence as a fact and
impinges on somebody's consciousness:
We rejoiced (at the fact) that he didn't have any
We regretted (the fact) that we hadn't left earlier.
(The fact) that he didn't have any objections surprised us
It surprised us that he didn't have any objections.

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(The f a c t ) that more than twenty had attended t h e l e c t u r e

p l e a s e d him / I t p l e a s e d him t h a t more than twenty had
attended t h e l e c t u r e .
Here a fact brings about a mental reaction (surprise, sadness, pleasure,
worry, and so on): it may, in fact, take on the role of Agent as in the last two
pairs of examples (the fplease'-type). Broadly speaking, projections are
brought into existence by all types of semiosis except for reaction; the latter is
the environment of independently existing projections. (However, the latter
may also be disposed of symbolically, as in She rejected/ accepted the claim
that her work was biased.)9
Semiosis is also construed by the grammar (i) as doing & happening on
the one hand and (ii) as being on the other; that is, the grammar introduces
more than one ideational perspective on symbolic processing, as shown in
Figure 11.
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semiosis as activity

He was watching The two friends

the puppy
i when the alarm He saw
went off that thepuppy had
His friend said to him
that he was looking
chatted all afternoon

«8 for another job

been in a playful

(internal, external)

Einstein showed
(told, indicated to) us
that E = mc2
Einstein was aware
that E • mc2 The results showed
(meant, were)
that E • mc2

semiosis as

Fig. 11: Different ideational perspectives on symbolic processing

The examples in the figure illustrate that the grammar allows us to

construe semiosis not only as a type of processing in its own right, construing

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semiotic reality, but also (i) either as an activity (behaviour), as part of

material reality, (ii) or as a relation of being.
(i) The differentiation between semiosis as happening & doing, i.e. as
semiotic behaviour, and as semiosis is fairly clear-cut in the grammar. Most
importantly in the present context, semiotic behaviour can only project at the
lowest level of 'content', as wording (not as meaning), and then only
paratactically (not hypotactically) in certain registers:10
He smiled " I ' v e had a lovely day" (projected paratactically) but not
He smiled t h a t he had had a lovely day (projected hypotactically)

(Similarly, there are restrictions on perception as behaviour in contrast to

perception as purely inert semiotic processing: while / see that the puppy has
been in a playful mood is fine, we cannot get I'm watching/ watch that the
puppy has been in a playful mood. )
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(ii) However, the line between external semiosis, saying, and semiosis as
being is not as sharp; there are closely related pairs such as the one given
above (Einstein showed that... [saying: verbal] / The results showed that...
[being: relational]). In fact, this points towards a similarity in the relationship
between the projecting (Einstein showed ) and the projected (that E = me2)
in the environment of saying (verbal clauses) and the Token (The results) and
the Value (that E = me2 ) in the environment of being (relational clauses) — as
an approximation:

projecting : projected ::
Token : Value
That is, projecting onto another order of reality, semiotic reality, is like
assigning a Value to a Token in a symbolic relationship; this can be shown
diagrammatically as in Figure 12.
This constitutes a dual interpretation of reality, at two levels of
abstraction. The directionality of the relationship is the same with saying and
being, from the 'lower' order of abstraction to the 'higher' order of
abstraction.11 (This has doubtless been of fundamental importance in semiotic
endeavours in general just as it has in linguistics in particular; the typical
approach is to ask of any form or symbol 'what does it signify?' instead of
starting with a meaning to ask how it is encoded.)

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projected The results

showed/ were

Einstein showed
/ said
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Fig. 12: Projection and token-value relation

The grammar can also create a relationship where the projection is
construed as a Token that is assigned a Value:

Chomsky's answer is [that i t is difficult to see how

the device would be made to work
without such a supposition!

Value/ Subject Process Token

The identity of the Token and the Value is shown clearly if we consider the
related clause with represent: That it is difficult to see how the device would
be made to work without such a supposition represents (constitutes)
Chomsky's answer; similarly that E = me2 represented his answer (contrast:
his answer showed that he was ignorant). Here the Value is the speech
functional status of a clause; cf. the relational construal of modality along
ascriptive model with Carrier instead of Token and Attribute instead of Value:
[Carrier:] that E = me2 [Process:] is (seems) [Attribute:] unlikely. It is as if
this flip from projection as Value to projection as Token in the token-value
model represented the flip bywhich a projecting clause (/ think and the like)
comes to serve as an interpersonal value assigned to an independent clause: this
is, I think, theright approach. See further below in Section 6. (There are
actually languages that use the relational model of 'his saying/ answer was ... '

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quite regularly, as in Tagalog (Martin, in press; cf. Schachter & Otanes, 1972:
169 f); cf. also Munro (1982: 313) on Chamorro.)
The clause grammar thus construes a symbolic relation between Token
and Value (see Halliday,1967/8; 1985; forthcoming); the symbolization is
embodied in the Process of the clause, which is realized by verbs such as be;
represent, symbolize, signify, stand for, express, mean, indicate. Whatever
serves as the Token, it is given the status of a symbol by the grammar. Thus
'Henry' can be a symbol, as in Henry represents integrity; His name was
Henry. However there is also a class of noun that is inherently symbolic ~
picture, painting, sketch, drawing, photo, image. Just as processes of symbolic
processing are construed from different angles by the grammar, the grammar
takes a dual perspective on symbolic objects; that is, pictures, paintings,
photos, sketches, etc. can be treated as primarily material objects or as
primarily semiotic ones. Thus painting may be foregrounded as a material
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object (as in he's sold his first painting) or as a symbolic one (as in this
painting is/ represents Napoleon). And a nominal group such as Henry's
picture is ambiguous precisely along these lines: if picture is a symbol, it
means 'a picture representing Henry' (intensive); if it is a material object, it
means either 'the picture belonging to Henry1 (possessive) or 'the picture
painted by Henry' (circumstantial). (As often is the case in language, you can
have it both ways at the same time: a painting of and by Van Gogh.)
Furthermore, in clauses of symbolic creativity the name of an ordinary thing
such as Henry may be interpreted either as denoting an ordinary thing or as
denoting a symbolization of this thing, as in:
He's painted Henry
which may mean either that he applied paint to the unfortunate Henry
(dispositive) or that he produced a painting of Henry (creative). A similar
example was given in the introduction but we can now begin to see that it is
just one instance of a more general picture. Here we have the Token — Value
relation again: pictures represent (express, stand for, symbolize, are)
landscapes, generals, cardinals, angels, and what not.12 Thus He's painted
Henry means either that he has created a 'token' whose 'value' is Henry; or
that he has manipulated the 'value' directly.
The entire linguistic system rests on the relationship of symbolization,
of course; but there is one strategy for expanding the linguistic resources
that rests on the symbolic relationship between Token and Value: metaphor

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(Halliday, 1985: 320). We have indeed already seen examples of this strategy
at work in relating the material and the symbolic: in the examples given
earlier (in Section 1, Greene is very entertaining, etc.), Greene is congruently
the writer, but metaphorically his own discourse; Henry is congruently the
material man, but metaphorically a visual representation of him. So in the
present context we can set up the following proportionality:

Token : Value ::
metaphorical : congruent
The grammar, then, creates its own symbolic objects out of the
resources that are already part of it; and this happens in the grammatical part
of lexicogrammar as well as in the lexical one — grammatical metaphor
(Halliday, 1985: 320-1). In grammatical metaphor, we can see the symbolic
relation between Token and Value at work in creating the potential for
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multiple interpretations in the grammar. A wording may be read 'at face

value1; or it may be read as a token of something else. Before pursuing this
picture further in Section 5, I will consider how semiosis is enacted in the
interpersonal metafunction.

4. Interpersonal enactment of semiosis

While the ideational metafunction embodies a theory of semiosis, the
interpersonal metafunction is, in the first instance, an enactment of semiosis.
The central abstraction here is the enactment uniquely defined by language
itself — dialogue: the interpersonal centre is that of unfolding dialogic
interaction in which speaker and listener, 'you & me', are defined, as well as
the ever-changing spatio-temporal Tiere & now1; see Figure 13.
That is, semiosis is enacted inside dialogue by you & me, here & now;
the rest of the world does not take part in this dialogic interaction — the
outsiders, non-interactants, are 'they', 's/he' and 'it', the third person of
traditional grammar (cf. Halliday, in press, a). We can call the inside the
deictic centre of the interpersonal universe since it serves as the frame of
reference for various kinds of deixis {here : there; this : that; now : then; etc.).
Dialogue is the semiotic extension of early intersubjective togetherness in the
life of the child (Halliday, 1979; Trevarthen, 1987).
The insiders constitute the meaning group of any exchange — the group
of people defined by their exchange of meanings. At the protolinguistic stage,
the instantial and potential meaning groups coincide: the young child only

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exchanges meanings with his/ her immediate caregivers, those who share in
the child's protolinguistic system (Halliday, 1975). As the child moves into
adult language, the potential meaning group expands: the child's interpersonal
universe grows in the sense that s/he can interact with people in general. But
the interpersonal resources of the grammar and the semantics continue to
negotiate the socio-semiotic distance between the inside and the outside on the
one hand and the interactants on the inside on the other (cf. Hasan, 1990;
Poynton, 1984).

outside dialogue
non-interactants (other)
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inside dialogue

Fig. 13: The inside and outside of interpersonal enactment of semiosis

The interactants engage in interactions or exchanges, which involves

giving or demanding a commodity. When we enquire into the nature of this
commodity, we see that the grammar is again critically concerned with
semiosis: the basic distinction is between the exchange of a semiotic
commodity, information, or a non-semiotic one, goods & services (Halliday,
1984; 1985: Section 4.1). Information is brought into existence by language
itself. It is thus a second-order commodity, one that is part of semiotic reality.
In the life of the child, information only emerges gradually as a category as

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the child gains more experience with semiosis (Halliday, 1984); protolanguage
deals only with goods & services.
In the grammar, interpersonal meanings are manifested in the related
systems of MOOD and KEY. Thus the distinction between information and
goods-&-services is realized by the distinction between indicative clauses and
imperative ones. Indicative clauses can choose their Subject from interactants
and non-interactants, but imperative ones are largely restricted to interactant
Subjects. The indicative grammar, the grammar for the exchange of the
semiotic commodity of information, is much more highly evolved in adult
language than the imperative grammar. In addition to making MOOD
selections, interactants insert themselves into the dialogue by means of
attitudes (both affective and cognitive/modal ones) and comments of various
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Now, modern playwrights, happily, have not departed from

the classic patterns as much as they are supposed to have.

But surely, my dear Mrs. Warren, you know the reason.

I intended, gui te frankly, to come down here this morning

and read a short, carefully worded p o l i t i c a l statement
saying I was withdrawing from the race and then quietly
disappear from the stage.

I was just j o l l y glad i t was an innocuous conversation;

we're probably being recorded now.

These attitudes and comments are aspects of the speaker's and listener's
interaction. They are sensitive to the orientation of the interaction: (i) if the
commodity being exchanged is given by the speaker, these attitudes and
comments can be glossed as 1 think/1 assume/ I'm sure/ I'm happy/1 regret; I
admit/ I tell you frankly', (ii) if the commodity is demanded by the speaker
from the listener, the attitudes and comments can be glossed as 'Do you think
etc.; Tell me frankly etc.'. In other words, the attitudes and comments are
interactant-oriented; they derive from the dialogic centre of the interpersonal
universe. The glosses suggest that there is a rough correspondence between the
ideational theory of semiosis and the interpersonal enactment; as we will see
below in Section 5, the strategy of grammatical metaphor makes it possible to
experientialize interpersonal meanings —

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ideational interpersonal
verbal (saying) (tell/ say) frankly, honestly; reportedly,
mental (sensing) perceptive apparently, visibly, [perception as evidence]
cognitive surely, probably, perhaps,
affective happily, unfortunately, regretfully,

— but the important difference is that the ideational theory has as its centre a
general experiential category, conscious processing (or, more generally,
symbolic processing) while the interpersonal enactment revolves around the
deictic centre of 'you & me, here & now1 defined by the process of languaging

5. The two perspectives together

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There are, then, two fundamental manifestations of semiosis in the

grammar — as theory and as enactment. These are metafunctionally distinct
and serve different purposes. Speaker and listener may engage in interaction
concerning any form of representation. The interaction and the representation
are always coordinated in the grammar ~ ultimately they are integrated in the
structure of the clause. But they may even 'coincide': the interaction and the
representation may have the same focal point. That is, the 'deictic centre' of
the interpersonal metafunction and the 'conscious-symbolic' centre of the
ideational one may overlap, in which case the nuclear participant engaging in
symbolic processing is one of the interactants - you or me -- and the symbolic
processing represents (an aspect of) the interaction. Representation and
interaction thus become two perspectives on the same process; the speaker's
reflection and action are conflated; see Figure 14.

The ideational metafunction has the power to turn the universe into
experience and this is true also of the interpersonal universe. The
interpersonal interaction can be experientialized;13 it can be construed
ideationally either mentally (as meaning) or verbally (as wording); and the
speaker can orient towards himself/ herself or towards the listener:

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speaker-oriented listener-oriented

verbal I t e l l you Tell »•;

Could you t e l l me

I wonder; I'd like to Do you know

mental know
Z think/beliere/reckon Bo you t h i n k / b e l i e v e /

I'd like/want you to .. Vould you l i k e Me t o /

desiderative Do you want me to . . .
€ reactive (I'm tirtid)
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consciousness ;

Fig. 14: Reflection on and enactment of semiosis coinciding

These ideational representations stand for selections within the

interpersonal systems of MOOD ('I wonder; Do you know1), MODALITY ('I
think; Do you think') and ATTITUDE (fI regret/ am unhappy/happy/sorry [to
say], I'm afraid'). These are grammatical metaphors of the interpersonal
variety (Halliday, 1985: Section 10.4). That is, some aspect of the ideational
metafunction ('token') comes to represent some aspect of the interpersonal one
('value') as shown in Figure 15.

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is if
modality ideational
'probably / - projection
perhaps/ '
I vonder;
D'y ou know
I think/
D'y ou think
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Fig. 15: Interpersonal grammatical metaphor as 'token — value* relation

The metaphor is the 'token1; it represents the congruent version, the
'value1. Not surprisingly, it is the metafunction of representation, the
ideational one, that supplies the 'token' in this 'token — value' relation.
Moreover, the metaphor is supported by the symbolic ordering in projection
discussed in Section 3 (cf. Figures 2 and 12). Thus the projecting clause /
think stands for the modality probably.14 From an interpersonal point of
view, the projecting clause is enacted within the deictic centre and the
projecting relationship serves to 'remove' the projected clause (the
proposition/ proposal) from this centre, from what is actual (/ reckon) to what
is potential, non-actual (she's too busy).
Conscious processing is, of course, necessarily a stage in interpersonal
interaction and the ideational construal of interaction as conscious processing
comes to stand for not just the fact that somebody is engaging in conscious
processing but also for the concomitant assessment of the information being
processed, modal or attitudinal; for example:
The difference between S a p i r ' s model sentence and what a
person might have said in a r e a l l i f e context to convey
the meaning contained in t h i s sentence i s r e l a t e d , I
believe, to the d i s t i n c t i o n Lyons draws between ' t e x t -
sentences' and 'system-sentences'.
What follows i s an update and, I would like to think, an
improvement on that e a r l i e r attempt.

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The familiar 'ambivalent duality* between 'token' and 'value', between

metaphorical and congruent, emerges at the intersection between the
interpersonal and the ideational. The interpersonal grammar brings this out in
an elaboration of the MOOD system: Moodtags pick up on the Mood of the
'value' or projected clause rather than that of the 'token' or projecting clause
of the metaphor; for instance:
I suppose Peel is pretty well-known isn't he?
I believe von can get it on the National Health, can't
I think Hoaarth drew some people with bow legs didn't he?
I suppose she's not your daughter, is she?
I believe we've discussed this woman before, haven't we?
That is, we do not get / suppose she's not your daughter, don't I as we
do in 'normal' projecting clause complexes such as they thought that the earth
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was flat, didn't they? Another indication of the status of the projected clause
in relation to the projecting one is the typical absence of the binder that,
elsewhere often used to indicate dependent status of the projected clause (cf.
Thompson & Mulac, 1988).

6. The textual -perspective on semiosis and ambivalence

I have discussed two metafunctional perspectives on semiosis — as
ideational theory and as interpersonal enactment — and I have shown how the
two may 'merge' through grammatical metaphor in reflecting on and enacting
the same semiotic centre. I have also explored the centrality of the 'token —
value' relationship, both within ideational grammar and as the basis for
metaphor in general and grammatical metaphor in particular. We can now
turn to the final metafunctional perspective and explore semiosis from a
textual point of view. The textual metafunction is probably the hardest of the
three to come to grips with ~ for a very good reason: in contrast to the
ideational metafunction, it is not concerned with representation so it cannot be
turned back on itself to represent itself (see Matthiessen, in press, for the
problem of interpreting the textual metafunction). Instead, we have to
represent it by ideational means just as we do with the ideational metafunction;
but since the textual metafunction is not concerned with representation it is
also quite different from the representational resources of the ideational
metafunction. As often happens with the ineffable, the textual metafunction is
construed in terms of (motion through) abstract space - for example as 'point
of departure'. This suggests that, put in ideational terms, the textual

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metafunction sees semiosis as motion — as waves with peaks of prominence

and troughs of non-prominence (cf. Halliday, 1979; Matthiessen, 1988, in
press). In the present context, it can be viewed as the resource for giving value
to ideational and interpersonal meaning as information being developed as text
in context; or, to put this the other way around, the textual metafunction is
concerned with the development of information as text in context, expressed
by the organization of ideational and interpersonal meanings.
Within the clause, the textual metafunction gives thematic status to one
or more elements of the clause structure and non-thematic (rhematic) status to
the rest (as illustrated in Figure 6 above). It is thus very significant that
THEME is a clause systems: its domain is precisely that of the clause; potential
theme candidates are precisely the elements of the clause. Theme selection is
'blind1 to anything that is not an element of the clause ~ e.g., to postmodifiers
of nominal groups or to parts of group/ phrase complexes serving as elements
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of the clause. This makes sense in an interpretation based on a functional

theory of grammar, where constituency is rank-based and constituents only
enter into structures in terms of the functions they play in the organic whole
of a given grammatical unit. Now, in the great majority of cases, the questions
of what constitutes a clause and what constitutes an element of a clause have
very clear answers in the grammar. But sometimes the grammar is
ambivalent. For instance, if we have the sequence of classes

verbal group A preposition A nominal group

the preposition might belong with the nominal group as part of a prepositional
phrase serving as a circumstance in the transitivity structure of the clause (as
in in the garden)\ or it might be part of a phrasal verb in the verbal group
serving as the Process of the transitivity structure of the clause (as in look
for). This ambivalence is brought out in Theme selection: alongside What are
you looking for, we have For what are you looking? And this ambivalence
which gives rise to two thematic alternatives then extends to ordinary
circumstances, as in This room we've had many dinner parties in : In this
room we've had many dinner parties. In these cases the ambivalence concerns
the status of prepositions as miniverbs in the grammar of English; but another
major area of ambivalence is, as we have already seen, the domain of semiosis.
More specifically, whenever an element of clause structure can be read
both as 'token' and 'value', the Theme of the clause might be selected to give
either the 'token' or the 'value' thematic status.15 In examples such as Henry

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

she isn't painting there is no structural difference between the two

alternatives; the token-value relation is completely transparent and the value is
thus directly accessible to the textual metafunction, but in examples such as
Two pictures of my friend I have seen : My friend I have seen two pictures
of, there is a difference between Value1 as Theme and 'token' as Theme. The
nominal group two pictures of my friend can be interpreted along the same
lines as groups with measures and facets (Halliday, 1985: 173-5). There are
two simultaneous ideational analyses, one logical and one experiential, as in all
nominal groups; but here the usual congruence of the logical and the
experiential analyses (with Thing/ Head) is violated: in the experiential
analysis, a picture of is Predeictic and friend is Thing and in the logical
analysis picture is Head (<x ) and of my friend is Postmodifier (p); see Figure
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picture my iriend

Predeictic Deictic Thing «3 'value'

p as 'token*

Fig. 16: Ambivalent structure of symbolic nominal group

This says that a picture of and other symbolic expressions constitute a

selection of some aspect of the Thing, just as a measure (glass, cup, pint) or
facet (part, top, side) would. This general notion of selection has been
suggested by Robin Fawcett and includes other categories such as kind (type,
kind, make) and aggregate (flock, school, gagglé) as well.16 The two analyses
of a picture of my friend correspond to the two readings of it as 'token' or as
'value' in the symbolic relationship between symbol and what it symbolized.
The important point is that the ideational metafunction has created an
ambivalence that is brought out by the textual metafunction: either the 'token'
(a picture of my friend) or the 'value' (my friend) can be given thematic
status. In the latter case, there are in fact two possibilities; either my friend
serves as Theme or of my friend:
Mv friend I've seen two pictures of
Of mv friends I • ve seen two pictures

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

The 'token1 part (two pictures [of]) is non-thematic, still 'standing for1
its thematic Value*. (Note that this can also happen anaphorically by means of
'bridging' — Have you ever met Henry? No, but I've seen a picture ~ just as
with for example side, top and other physical facets. In the case of physical
facets, note also the connection with complex prepositions such as on top of:
this building I've never been on top of; here we make connection with the
analysis of This room we've had many dinner parties in discussed above.) As
can be expected, as soon as the Head of the nominal group is treated more as a
material object rather than as a symbol of one, it is much harder to thematize
the Postmodifier:
Anne I've sent them Henry's three old framed pictures of
Anne Henry shredded his photo of
Anne Henry burnt his beautiful drawing of
Duhrer Henry bought a drawing by
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In such cases it is much less likely that the experiential and logical
structures of the nominal groups are incongruent; and the examples are just as
unlikely as those involving ordinary nouns serving as Head/ Thing:
Anne I met a good friend of yesterday
Anne's I met three good friends of yesterday
Rarotonga he's never been to the island of

The ambivalence between 'token' and 'value' interpretations just

discussed is internal to the ideational metafunction; more specifically, it lies at
the intersection of the logical and the experiential subtypes of the ideational
metafunction. Let's now turn to one of the types discussed in Section 5 above
that lies at the intersection of the logical and the interpersonal. As was noted in
that section, a projecting clause may serve as a metaphor ('token') for a
modality ('value'). The Theme of the projecting (a) clause may be selected
from the projected one (ß), giving the appearance that the Theme is not an
element of clause structure but instead comes from outside the clause that is its
point of origin:
Yes. I l i a This I think I I 'ß Oscar f e e l s also II or so
I gathered from Alec on the phone. I ! I

The thematic resources are part of the projecting clause, / think inthe
example, but the Theme is selected from outside this clause, from the
projected clause,17 Oscar feels [this] also. The structure is diagrammed in
Figure 17.

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

This think Osctr also

.\ n ii
Phenomenon Senser Process Senser Process
Theme Rheme Theme Rheme

Fig. 17: Theme selection from projected dependent clause

The theme selection is restricted to cases of projecting clause complexes.

Furthermore, the projecting clause has to be interprétable in terms of
modality or evidentiality for the projected clause and this is where the familiar
grammatical ambivalence along the lines of the 'token' — Value' relationship
comes into the picture: as an interpersonal metaphor, the projecting clause
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('token') expresses a modality of the projected clause (Value1). Alongside the

'token' interpretation of This I think Oscar feels also as a clause complex there
is thus an alternative 'value' interpretation, according to which / think
functions as a modal Adjunct in the clause This Oscarfeels also on the model
of This probably Oscar feels also as shown in Figure 18.

This think Oscar Jfeels %lso

et ..,, ._—___— \ ft A

Phenomenon 1 Senser Process Senser Process
* 1

Complement Modality Subject Finite Adjunct

'probably' /Pred
Phenomenon Senser Process

Fig. 18: Projecting clause as modality

In the congruent version, where the modality is a modal Adjunct, there

is just one clause and the domain of theme selection is thus the normal one.
The metaphorical status of a projection of the type illustrated above is

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

indicated by the nature of the Moodtag. In the case of This I think Oscar feels
also, it would be
This I think Oscar feels also, doesn't he

The Theme may be the Wh element in a wh-interrogative or a structural

one in a relative clause, conflated with the Wh.
How much do you think you've forgotten since you left
school of what you knew?
and there were a certain number of characters I (a:) who I
think (ß:) were waiting to sell some sheep or some c a t t l e
or something]! 'who were probably1

He has been accused of committing ethics violations I (a:)

that he says (ß:) have long been common practice among
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lobbyists in the nation's capitall. 'that according to him have

The above Note does not say something I 1 (a:) that I have
heard (ß:) Hockett say 2 and (a:) which I believe (ß:) he
has printed somewhere where I can't find i t at the
moment! (but see also the f i r s t sentence of 10.2 on page
' 107 here).
But i t ' s one 6£ the small attempts being made here to turn
back tomorrow, (a:) which most experts say (ß:) holds more
rapid ecological decay, more frequent draughts and even
more severe famines. 'which according to most experts'

The projecting clause may be mental, verbal, or impersonal relational:

verbal projection: who did you say I should ask?
mental projection: Who do you think I should ask?
impersonal projection: Whodoes i t seem I should ask?

When the projection continues beyond the first projected clause, the
thematic domain may extend along projection chain:

S h e ' s t h e only person I I knowl I (a:) who I d o n ' t think (ß:)

I ' v e heard (y.) say ' I wonder whether ' I

(a:) who d i d you say (ß:) Henry says (y) Anne t h i n k s (8:)
shot t h e ugly duckling?

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

The domain of theme selection is the clause in which this theme

selection is made - that is, the Theme candidates come from the same clause
as the Theme itself — and the domain of theme selection only extends beyond
this clause under specific conditions. Unless the projecting clause complex is
also interprétable in terms of interpersonal metaphor with the projecting
clause as a modality, the projected, dependent clause does not constitute an
extended domain for theme selection.
Cases of rankshift (embedding) are thus automatically excluded, since
the rankshifted clause is not related to another clause through projection in a
clause complex; for example, (restrictive) relative clauses and fact-clauses
serving as postmodifiers in nominal groups are inaccessible to theme selection.
Thus the following examples with a relative clause do not work:
Hong Kong I've met my old friend I who works in I
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Where did you meet my old friend I who works I ?

Similarly, rankshifted clauses serving as Subject are inaccessible to

theme selection:
Hong Kong I that Henry still lives in I is
Hong Kong the claim [that Henry still lives in ] is
Hong Kong I for Henry to live in ] is hard18

The interpersonal metaphor of modality can only arise if the process of

the projecting clause can have modal significance. Projecting clause
complexes where the process of the projecting clause is a behavioural one
rather than a straight verbal or mental process are thus excluded:
who did Henry grumble / groan / frown he had to meet ?

Here we have moved into a material construal of (potentially) symbolic

processing (see Section 3); and just as with pictures and paintings the token-
value duality disappears when the material is foregrounded at the expense of
the symbolic. This is not the normal environment for a behavioural process in
any case; it has been made to serve verbally.
Also excluded are clause complexes where the projected clause is
interrogative, since these are harder to interpret as metaphors of modality.

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

Thus while the following projection with an indirect declarative can be

interpreted as a metaphor of modality and is perfectly fine —
This problem j think has come up before 'This problem has
probably come up before'
— a similar projection with an indirect interrogative clause cannot be
interpreted as a metaphor of modality and is thus not acceptable:
This problem I wonder whether has come up before.

Similarly, we would not expect examples such as the following:

who did you ask whether Henry had promoted ?
This awful portrait I wonder why Henry has painted .
Next Friday I seriously doubt whether Henry is coming
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With the exception of the inability of the Subject of the projected

interrogative clause (as in the first example above), there may, however, not
be a clear-cut line.
Symbols and projections. To round off the discussion I will note
that there is a similarity between the situation with projecting clause
complexes and that with postmodified 'symbolic facet1 Heads in nominal
groups. In both cases, there is a grammatical ambivalence which involves the
reinterpretation of the Head, either as modality or as facet; and both modality
and facet specify something about the interpretation of the remainder, either
interpersonally (modality) or experientially ('facet'); the 'epistemic status' of a
proposition (probability, evidentiality) or of a thing (symbol) as shown in
Figure 19. Or, in terms of the earlier stratal diagram (as in Figure 15), given
in Figure 20.
The very general logical structuring as a ß is common to both
environments; and they are both concerned with the relationship between a
'token' and a 'value' (the image represents Oscar : my thought/ the possibility
is that Oscar also feels this).

7. Conclusion
Semiosis is a highly complex phenomenon and the grammar of English
reflects this complexity in very sophisticated ways. It interprets semiosis both
as action and as reflection and it reflects on semiosis both as something
symbolic and discursive and as something material. Since these dualities are

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

built into the grammatical system itself, they provide alternatives for that
grammatical function which is concerned with the semiotic reality brought
into existence by language itself ~ the textual metafunction.
êftimêçe of Use*r

facets: Facet Thing experiential

—» P logical

projections: Modality (proposition)


I think Oscar faefs this s/so


Fig. 19: Facets and projections (i)

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Value [Thing]

Oscar also
f o l s this

Fig. 20: Facets and projections (ii)

To say that the 'grammar interprets* and so on might seem to go too far
in personifying language and creating a false dichotomy between language and
people; but it is important to keep emphasizing that the sophisticated theory
and enactment of semiosis embodied in the grammar is not consciously
designed by language users, nor is it the result of unconscious decisions by
individual users. The grammatical system is truly intersubjective -- it is a
record of countless negotiations by language users over the millenia. And if an
important aspect of consciousness is interprétable as symbolic processing, then
we can begin to see how the shared grammatical system is also a shared
consciousness. Just as the grammar's theory of consciousness is extended

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Language on language Christian Matthiessen

through language to the domain of saying to yield a general ideational centre

of semiosis in the constnial of the world, so the grammar's enactment of
semiosis orchestrates the extension of consciousness from the subjective, the
domain of cognitive science, to the intersubjective, the domain of social
Department of Linguistics
University of Sydney,
Sydney 2006


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* This paper has benefitted considerably from comments on an earlier version by M.A.K.
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Halliday (1985) shows that the Token + Process + Value configuration applies not only to
identifying intensive clauses, but also to possessive and circumstantial ones. This analogy is
important but I won't pursue it here.
It is also important to note that language is a tristratal system: semantics and lexicogrammar
are in turn realized by phonology. In other words, the two strata of the traditional theory of the
sign - content and expression or signified and signifier - characterize a semiotic system such
as proto-language (Halliday, 1975) but not adult language. In adult language, the 'content' is
stratified into semantics and lexicogrammar. Consequently, to understand how a semiotic
system of the complexity such as that of language (as opposed to proto-language) we need a
grammatics or theory of grammar, not just a traditional theory of the sign or indeed Saussure's
version of it (what we might call a proto-semiotic theory). Saussure did not really present a
theory of grammar -- and this is important to bear in mind in the present context since so much
semiotic work is oriented towards Saussure's discourse.
In the ergative interpretation of Token-Value clauses, it is the Token rather than the Value that
is the Agent -- see Martin (1991).
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In (b), the two interpretations correspond to two different types of thing that can serve as the
Sayer of a verbal clause -- either (i) a speaker/writer or (ii) some other symbolic source such as
a document; cf.: (i) Greene shows good and evil are different from right and wrong : (ii)
Greene's novel shows good and evil are different from right and wrong.
This does not mean that normally non-conscious phenoman cannot be endowed with
consciousness; on the contrary, they can be construed as conscious sensers (see Halliday,
1985: 108). This is what Jerry does in the following passage as he is indicating the
pervasivenss of knowledge (from Pinter's Betrayal): I love you. Everyone knows. The world
knows. It knows. But they'll never know, they'll never know, they're in a different world.
Such an extension along a scale of animacy or potential for independent volitional action is
also relevant but it is defined within the domain of doing & happening in the first instance,
where human consciousness as participant (senser) is endowed with potency (behaver).
This formulation is intended to cover both cases of projections embedded as fact (he regretted
[the fact] "that he had let the staff go early') and projections created by a projecting verbal or
mental clause, in a projecting clause complex (he assumed II that she had let the staff go early).
Projection extends to relational clauses. However, relational projection is (i) impersonal (it
seems [to be the case] "that the rain has stopped'), (ii) embedded as fact identified with a name
of a mental or verbal projection (the belief/suggestion was "that we would all meet at noon'),
or (iii) a relational version of a mental clause (I'm happy "that I can help you today ' 'I
This extends also to semiosis construed as being or having, but, significantly, not to
semiosis construed as activity (cf. below).
The distinction between the two types, (i) and (ii) above, is similar to some extent to a
distinction we find in material clauses between a creative and a dispositive type: they built a
house : they dreamed that they were in St Lucia :: they painted their house : they regretted (the
fact) that they had gone to St. Lucia.
p aratactic projection corresponds to direct speech and hypotactic projection to indirect
speech. The extension of the grammatical potential at this point to allow behavioural process to
project direct speech is based on the token-value model: some kind of behaviour — frowning,
grimacing, smiling, sobbing, wincing, grunting, sighing, etc. — comes to stand for an act of

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There are no verbs that allow us to treat the projected as the point of departure and the
projecting as the destination in the move between the orders of abstraction. Similarly, all verbs
of symbolization, such as represent, are in the direction from Token to Value the exception
would be define as in Integrity defines Henry. In the pair of semiotic terms encode/ decode,
decode is probably only likely to occur in another type of structure, with a decoder as agent
(e.g., they decoded the message).
1 2
Interestingly enough, the grammar makes a distinction between linguistic and visual
semiotics here. The act of creating these non linguistic symbolic objects is construed as doing
rather than as semiosis. We draw, paint, produce pictures. In contrast, the act of creating
linguistic symbolic objects is construed as symbol processing: we tell stories that, ask
questions whether, etc.. Thus we cannot say he painted that an innocent student isdreaming
about colourless green ideas; but we can say he said that an innocent student is dreaming about
colourless green ideas', similarly, we cannot say he produced the picture that an innocent
student is dreaming about colourless green ideas; but we can say he made the the statement that
an innocentstudent is dreaming about colourlessgreen ideas.
1 3
Both the logical and experiential subtypes of the ideational metafunction are at work here;
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see further Halliday & Matthiessen(in prep).

1 4
There are languages where quoting is accomplished modally rather than by projection, by
means of some kind of quotative marker (particle, affix).
1 5
Examples of the type discussed below have received a good deal of attention in the
generative tradition; but since the modes of interpretation and explanation are very different
from those adopted here I will not compare the approaches here.
1 6
These constitute what I think are other 'themes' in the grammar, their significance shows up
for instance in the collocational bonding between the 'selector' and the Thing (cf. gaggle +
geese, brand + car). With some of these, noun serving as Thing can come to represent not
only the thing itself but also a selection, just as with symbols. Thus with mass nouns we may
get the reading of 'types of or 'measures of; thus three beers may mean either 'three
measures (pints, for example) of beer' or 'three types of beer'.
1 7
In this example there is no phonological indication that the projecting clause is simply
included within the projected one, β < < α>>; but this is obviously a possibility, as in the
following example: I offer as apology that Chomsky's public role no doubt looms especially
large on the American scene, (β:) where. < < (α:) I believe, > > it has significantly influenced
the character of the profession. When the projecting clause has selected for wh interrogative
mood type, it is always clear that the Theme/ Wh is part of the projecting clause: where do you
believe it has significantly influenced the character of theprofession?
1 8
The clause Hong Kong is hard for Henry to live in is not an example of a Theme selected
from a rankshifted clause. Rather, its structure is:
Hong Kong is hard [[for Henry to live in]]
Carrier Process Attribute
Theme Rheme

Social Semiotics, Voi.l, No.2, 1991 111

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