Thursday, October 24, 2013

Language stuff - process types

Verbs are "doing words". However, as I suggested in my discussion of lexical density, not every verb is a doing word all the time - sometimes verbs behave as function words. When a verb is a lexical verb - that is, when it's describing something that is actually happening, it can also be referred to as a process. In fact, we can divide clauses up into processes, participants and circumstances - and, with a clause being effectively an indivisible quantum of meaning, it usually has exactly one process.

Blerk again. What does that mean? Let's take some of the clauses above and break them down.
  • Verbs (participant) are (process) "doing words". (participant)
  • However (circumstance) not every verb (participant) is (process) a doing word (participant) all the time (circumstance)
  • sometimes (circumstance) verbs (participant) behave (process) as function words. (circumstance)
What happened to my suggestion, you may be asking? We can see, since it has exactly one process, that it is a clause itself:
  • as (conjunction) I (participant) suggested (process) in my discussion of lexical density (circumstance)
However, it doesn't make any sense without the context of the second clause above which surrounded it - hence it is a subordinate clause.

Also, why is "as function words" a circumstance, not a participant? Effectively the preposition followed by the noun is behaving like an adverb - it is describing how the verbs behave, not what they are.

There are different types of processes. In the OU course, we divided processes into five sorts:
  • material - a participant acts upon the material world or is acted upon in some way ("I ate sushi");
  • mental - processes of consciousness and cognition ("We thought it didn't matter");
  • verbal - processes of communication ("I told him so.");
  • relational - being, having, consisting of, locating ("He has no father.");
  • existential - indicating the existence of an entity ("There is a problem").
In grammatical terms, we can talk about subjects, direct and indirect objects and so forth. However, these different types of processes have been assigned different types of participants - it seems to make the whole thing pretty complicated, but in actual fact, when we reflect on what is going on in a sentence, the types of participant associated with a process help to clarify the sort of process we are looking at in some cases. This summary comes from here:

  • Material - actor, goal, scope, attribute, client, recipient
  • Mental - sensor, phenomenon
  • Verbal - sayer, receiver, verbiage
  • Relational - token, value
This provides us with a more comprehensive way of analysing processes.
  • Verbs (participant, token) are (process, relational) "doing words". (participant, value)
  • as (conjunction) (participant, sayer) suggested (process, verbal) to you (participant, receiver) in my discussion of lexical density (circumstance)
As the page I just linked to makes clear, it's also possible to go into more detail about different types of circumstance - but that's quite enough for one blog post!

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