The Interpersonal Metafunction of Clauses: Polarity and Modality
Proceedings of the International Conference Challenges in Language, Literature and Arts at the Beginning of the 21st Century”, Germanic Languages, volume 1, Alba Iulia, Editura Aeternitas, 2009
7 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2016
Date Written: 2009
According to systemic functional framework, language can have three metafunctions: experiential, interpersonal, and textual. The first one is used in order to talk about our experience of the world, to describe events or states and the components that help us express ourselves. The interpersonal metafunction allows us to interact with people, to create relations with people around us, to express our opinions about states or events. The third metafunction refers to the way we organize our messages in order to integrate them in other messages we say or receive, in larger contexts.
In this paper we are concerned with the interpersonal metafunction which analyses the communicative exchange. We have to mention that we follow Halliday’s systemic model, using the meta-language set up by him. The most fundamental purposes in any exchange are giving and demanding “commodities”. These commodities will be either information or good and services. Information implies the use of language while goods and services can be exchanged without accompanying language. The usual labels for these functions are the traditional speech functional categories of statement, question, offer and command. Statements and questions involve exchanges of information and are called propositions while offers and commands are exchanges of goods and services called proposals.
These semantic categories are realized by grammatical MOOD options. The MOOD element makes the clause negotiable and consists of Finite, Subject and sometimes Modal Adjuncts. The Finite makes the clause negotiable by coding it as positive or negative or by grounding it in terms of modality. Any Finite is inherently positive or negative in polarity. The negative forms have an additional element (n’t or not). Polarity may also be expressed through Mood Adjuncts such as hardly or never.
In order to understand the types of modality we have to mention that the exchange of information implies the use of probability or usuality. The exchange of goods-and-services expresses the speaker’s confidence in how successful the exchange may be. In commands this confidence is concerned with the degree of obligation the other person has in order to carry out the command. In offers this confidence is concerned with the degree of willingness or inclination of the speaker to fulfill the order. The first type of modality is called modalization, while the second one is called modulation.
Modality involves degrees and scales. It is possible to formalize this to some extend and to establish three basic values: high, median and low. We must pay attention to the fact that this scheme doesn’t work in all cases. However, they are useful labels which help us understand the speaker’s degree of commitment.
Another problem is represented by how far the speaker overtly accepts responsibility for the attitude being expressed. The speakers may express their points of view objectively or subjectively by using separate clauses.
We propose in this paper a brief overview of different possibilities for expressing polarity and modality, of types of modality, values and degrees of commitment and responsibility.
Keywords: polarity, modality, commodities, values, degrees
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