Participants andProcessesFrancesca Helm,University of Padova, Italy
Different syntactic organisation can give more or less emphasis to certain people and actions, or even remove them completely. Sentences and clauses can be broken down into the participants in the action, and the state or action itself, that is processes, which are expressed by a verb and may be qualified by circumstances. The examination of how participants, processes and circumstances interact, ie. “who does what to whom (and how, why, when etc.)” is called Transitivity
In Halliday’s concept of transitivity there are three components of what he calls a transitivity process: (i) the process itself (ii) participants in the process (iii) circumstances associated with the process The process is realized by a verbal group, the participant(s) by (a) nominal group(s) (although there may be exceptions here), and the circumstance(s) by (an) adverbial group(s) or prepositional phrase(s),
Transitivity Analyse the participants and processes in the following and the different meanings: USA and Iraq at war USA invades Iraq Iraq is invaded USA at war
Participants These are the people or entities involved. Participants can be: the ‘doer’ of an action (agent, actor) the ‘experiencer’ or ‘senser’ of a state or feeling the ‘sayer’ of something The ‘carrier’ of an attribute something/someone which is impacted on, affected by, ‘done to’ or ‘receiver’ of an action
Agent or victim? When a participant is presented as active in an event, as an actor or agent, they are seen to be responsible in the event. When a participant has a more static or passive role they can be seen as the ‘victim’ of an event
Processes Participants are linked by processes, which are realised by verbs. Halliday identified 6 process types Material – processes of doing (work, arrest, erupt, climb, elect…) Relational – processes of being and having (be, have, stand …) Mental – processes of sensing and feeling (feel, think, wish, believe …) Verbal – processes of saying (say, tell, report, write, command, deny…) Behavioural – processes of human behaviour (sleep, cough, look, listen…) Existential – processes which are signalled by there, such as there is/there are
Transactive or non-transactive? In transactive processes – there is an actor as well as someone/something affeted by the action eg. Cook murdered six women Non-transactive processes – there is nobody/nothing involved in or resulting from the action eg. The car thieves fled
Behavioural and existential processes have only one participant each. The other processes may have two. We can also note that the second participants of material and relational processes may or may not be present.2
Identify the types of processes He was unrepentant He admitted making mistakes They sent the troops into Iraq He breathed deeply He does not have the integrity … He slipped quietly out He believed Saddam Hussein had weapons There were no weapons of mass destruction
Nominalisation Events or actions can be presented as participants rather than as processes through nominalisation eg. Destruction, creation, investigation Nominalisation involves the ‘loss’ of some semantic elements of clause, notably tense, modality and often participants Who destroyed? When? He witnessed tanks driven by the army destroy people’s homes He witnessed the destruction of people’s homes
Nominalisation Nominaliation is a resource for generalizing and abstracting, which is indispensable in science, for example, but it can also obfuscate agency and responsibility. (Fairclough 2003)
Why are participants andprocesses important? Through analysis of transitivity we can understand the evaluative slant of a story or statement. People and regimes can be presented as actors or as receivers of actions; in terms of their qualities or of their mental processes or what they say. This is how the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the ‘innocent’ or the ‘guilty’ are constructed
The relationship between participants (actor/do-er and receiver/victim) can be further considered by looking at ‘voice’. Choice of active or passive voice leads to different information being ‘fronted’ and thus provides a different perspective or interpretation of an event
Fronting The first part of a clause or sentence in English is the most important part of the message, therefore it is what speakers/writers want to highlight that is placed at the beginning of the clause.
Active voice The active voice, whereby the verb is preceded by the subject and may be followed by an object, focuses our attention on the actor and on the process. Who or what was affected by the action is secondary. The effect is to stress what is done and by whom, the actor thus has full responsibility and the receiver none, remaining a ‘passive’ participant in the event.
Passive voice The passive voice places the focus on the receiver of an action or process and backgrounds, and can remove the actor or agent altogether. It is thus used when the agent is unknown or redundant or, more importantly for CDA, when there is a deliberate choice to hide the actor or remove ‘blame’.
Why is voice important? The choice of voice has a direct effect on how an event is presented. The choice of active or passive affects who or what is emphasised in sentence construction by being placed at the beginning. It also affects a reader’s interpretation. If the writer wants to distance an agent/actor from a process the passive will be used allowing deletion of the agent.