Workshop Notes no. 9
The traditional definition of transitivity has been discussed in previous workshops (for example: , , , ). You may also want to take a look at the entry Transitive versus Intransitive Verbs in Jack Lynch's electronic book Grammar and Style Notes or What Is Transitivity from the Summer Institute of Linguistics' Glossary of Linguistic Terms.
Transitivity is normally understood as the grammatical feature which indicates if a verb takes a direct object. By now, you should know very well that if the verb
The concept of transitivity which is found in Halliday's Introduction however, represents a further development of the concept. In Halliday's conception in his Introduction to Functional Grammar, whether a verb takes or does not take a direct object is not a prime consideration. Halliday's conception is also useful for stylistic analysis, and will be explained further in this and the next workshops. However, the traditional conception of transitivity does continue to be useful in stylistic analysis, and it may thus be worthwhile to indicate the connection between the two approaches to transitivity, which I have done in today's workshop.
In the concept of transitivity found in Halliday's Introduction, there are three components of what Halliday calls a transitivity process:
(i) the process itself
(ii) participants in the process
(iii) circumstances associated with the process
|type of element:||typically realized by:|
adverbial group or prepositional phrase
In relation to the above, it may also be useful to view the
elements of the clause not only in terms of groups and phrases,
but also in terms of the S-P-C-A structure, as illustrated below:
|the student||reads||the book||carefully||in the library|
As you may know from my previous workshops, the subject and predicator are the most likely elements to appear in a clause. We may also note that the existence of the complement depends on the usage of either a transitive verb or an intensive verb which requires a nominal group or adjective / adjective phrase following it.
The presence or absence of the complement may in turn determine whether there are one or two participants in the clause, in the sense that (in most cases)
The possibilities in the conventional distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs, in relation to Halliday's analysis of transitivity are illustrated in the examples below. (N.B.: '(i)' indicates an intransitive verb, whereas '(t)' indicates a transitive verb. If a number is added to a participant, '' refers to the first participant, whereas '' refers to the second participant).
|the boy||kicks(t)||the ball|
|Participant ||Process||Participant |
|the boy||runs(i)||on the road|
|the boy||kicks(t)||the ball||on the field|
|Participant ||Process||Participant ||Circumstance|
The six processes involved in Halliday's approach to transitivity
are best illustrated in Table 5(27) from the third edition,
which is reproduced with a slight modification below: the round
brackets indicate that the second participant which they
enclose is optional.1
|Process type||Category meaning|| Participants,
||Actor, (Goal)|| Recipient, Client;
|verbal||'saying'||Sayer, Target/Recipient||Receiver, Verbiage|
Note on learning the above table → For the sake of simplicity, you may want to concentrate on the first column initially, followed by the second (which in a way explains the first), then the third. You should go to the fourth column only when you are clear about the two earlier columns.
One of the things one can notice when one looks at the above table, is the number of (direct) participants involved for each of the processes:
As you know, most clauses with transitive verbs may be passivised. For our purpose here, passivization changes the roles of the participants:
|a) Active Voice||b) Passive Voice|
|the boy||saw||the ghost||
||the ghost||was seen||by the boy|
It should be mentioned here that behavioural processes stand between material and mental processes. Partly as a result of this, some of you may find it difficult to distinguish
We should also note that a mental process is either
Material process verbs, like mental process verbs, can either be transitive or intransitive. If a verb which describes physical action is transitive, it is virtually definite that it is a material, and not a behavioural process verb. For intransitive verbs, one way to determine whether an action is a material or behavioural process is to look at the actor:
1. The final column in the corresponding Tables 5(7) and 5(6) from the earlier editions of Halliday's Introduction is not found, and is added from the third edition to the above table . Although there are some difficulties in the first edition on whether the attribute in attributive relational processes is a participant, Halliday does appear to regard it as such in the second and third editions. Back to earlier position..
2. With regard to material processes, cf. the examples 'the lions sprang' and `the lion caught the tourist' found in Halliday's book. Both of them are material process clauses; but the former has one participant, whilst the latter has two. Back to earlier position..
Texts to Analyse
Passage from Katherine Mansfield's 'Feuille
Carl Sandburg's 'A.E.F'
Emily Dickinson's 'The Soul Selects Her Own Society'
Hart Crane's 'North Labrador'
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18 May 2017
© Ismail S. Talib 1995-2017.