Monday, 20 February 2012

How To Identify Theme

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 85):
… the Theme of a clause extends from the beginning up to, and including, the first element that has an experiential function — that is either participant, circumstance or process. Everything after that constitutes the Rheme.

Theme Summary

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 85):
(i) Initial position in the English clause is meaningful in the construction of the clause as message; specifically, it has a thematic function.
 (ii) Certain textual elements that orient the clause within the discourse, rhetorically and logically, are inherently thematic.
(iii) Certain other elements, textual and interpersonal, that set up a semantic relation with what precedes, or express the speaker’s angle or intended listener, are characteristically thematic; this includes finite operators, which signal one type of question.
 (iv) These inherently and characteristically thematic elements lie outside the experiential structure of the clause; they have no status as participant, circumstance or process.
(v) Until one of these latter appears, the clause lacks an anchorage in the realm of experience; and this is what completes the thematic grounding of the message.

Scale Of Markedness

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 85):
We could set up a paradigm as follows, showing the effect of different initial selections in the clause:
  1. no non-topical Theme, 
  2. with inherently thematic non-topical Theme,
  3. with characteristically thematic non-topical Theme;
it will be seen that the marked topical Theme becomes as it were more and more marked at each step.

Argument For Thematic Status

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004: 84-5):
The fact that we do find clauses such as unfortunately protein you can’t store, with marked topical Theme in such an environment, shows that the experiential element following the interpersonal Adjunct still carries thematic status — otherwise there would be no sense in fronting it. This in turn means that an ordinary unmarked Theme under the same conditions is just that — an unmarked topical Theme.