Volume 10, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1874-8767
  • E-ISSN: 1874-8775
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes


This paper explores the area of mismatches between the grammatical semantics of definite NPs and equivalent features actually operative in common ground in a given context of utterance. It does so with a view to examining the provision for accounting for their significance in terms of a Prague School approach and in terms of Systemic Functional Linguistics; and finds problems, of different kinds, with both these approaches. The rhetorical exploitation of such mismatching demonstrated by opening a text is discussed; and a third approach, that of “significance generation”, is proposed.

This approach of significance generation, which has previously been applied with respect to the meaningfulness of different sentence types, is proposed here as offering a new perspective on a confusing area of different kinds of meaningfulness in the treatment of theme. It involves a “change of gear” between features of meaning associated with the forms of language (linguistic semantics) and features operative in a context of their use. It is based on the claim that a single variable, such as ‘± given’, may have a different value according to whether it is derived from “context as is”, or from the semantics of the linguistic expression used in that context. For example, the linguistic semantics may indicate ‘+ given’, where there is nothing in context to validate this, and so the value as derived from context would be ‘− given’. By allowing for features from these two different sources to clash, this approach provides for a significance outcome, seen as a category in pragmatics which is the product of their combination, to be different from both of them: that is, here, “clash” , as opposed to either ‘+ given’ or ‘− given’. In so doing, I suggest that it provides a framework in terms of which to account for ways in which such opposition may be exploited for rhetorical effect.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Austin, J. L
    1970 How to talk: Some simple ways. InJ. L. Austin: Philosophical Papers, 2nd ed., James O. Urmson & Geoffrey J. Warnock (eds). London and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 134–153.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Daneš, František
    1966 A three level approach to syntax. Travaux Linguistiques de Prague1: 225–240.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Davies, Eirian C.
    2015 [1979]On the Semantics of Syntax: Mood and Condition in English (Routledge Library Editions: The English Language 8). London: Routledge. (Original edition London: Croom Helm.)
    [Google Scholar]
  4. 1985 On types of meaningfulness in discourse. InSystemic Perspectives on Discourse, Vol. 1, James D. Benson & William S. Greaves (eds). Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 229‑247.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. 1988a English questions: A ‘significance-generating-device’ for building in context. InPragmatics, Discourse and Text, Erich H. Steiner & Robert Veltman (eds). London: Pinter, 28‑45.
    [Google Scholar]
  6. 1988b On different possibilities in the syntax of English. InLinguistics in a Systemic Perspective (Current issues in Linguistic Theory 39), James D. Benson , Michael J. Cummings & William S. Greaves (eds). Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 155–184. doi: 10.1075/cilt.39.08dav
    https://doi.org/10.1075/cilt.39.08dav [Google Scholar]
  7. 1989 Sentence types in English discourse: A formal approach. InOccasional Papers in Systemic Linguistics, Dirk Noel (ed.). Nottingham: Nottingham English language and linguistics research group, 109–127.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. 2012May, might and degrees of positivity in four English sentence types. English Text Construction5 (2): 230–263. doi: 10.1075/etc.5.2.04dav
    https://doi.org/10.1075/etc.5.2.04dav [Google Scholar]
  9. Forthcoming. Elements of English Functional Grammar: A Set-Theoretical Approach (Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 280). Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Firbas, Jan
    1966 Non-thematic subjects in contemporary English. Travaux Linguistiques de Prague2: 239–256.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Firth, John R.
    1962 A synopsis of linguistic theory, 1930–1951. InStudies in Linguistic Analysis, John Rupert Firth (ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1–32.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Fries, Peter H.
    1981 On the status of Theme in English: Arguments from discourse. Forum Linguisticum6 (1): 1–38.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Givón, Talmy
    1978 Negation in language: Pragmatics, function, ontology. InPragmatics (Syntax and Semantics 9), Peter Cole (ed.). New York: Academic Press, 69–122.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Gómez González, María de los Ángeles
    2001The Theme-Topic Interface: Evidence from English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/pbns.71
    https://doi.org/10.1075/pbns.71 [Google Scholar]
  15. Halliday, M. A. K
    1967 Notes on transitivity and theme in English: Part 2. Journal of Linguistics3 (2): 199–244. doi: 10.1017/S0022226700016613
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226700016613 [Google Scholar]
  16. 1968 Notes on transitivity and theme in English: Part 3. Journal of Linguistics4 (2): 179–215. doi: 10.1017/S0022226700001882
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226700001882 [Google Scholar]
  17. 1970 Language structure and language function. InNew Horizons in Linguistics, John Lyons (ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 140–165.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. 1985An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 1st ed. London: Arnold.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. 1994An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 2nd ed. London: Arnold.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Halliday, M. A. K. & Ruqaiya Hasan
    1976Cohesion in English. London: Longman
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Halliday, M. A. K. & Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen
    2014Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar,4th ed. London: Arnold.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Huddleston, Rodney
    1988 Constituency, multi-functionality and grammaticalization in Halliday’s Functional Grammar. Journal of Linguistics24 (1): 137–74. doi: 10.1017/S0022226700011592
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226700011592 [Google Scholar]
  23. Langacker, Ronald W.
    1987Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Volume 1: Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Martin, James
    1992English Text: System and Structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. doi: 10.1075/z.59
    https://doi.org/10.1075/z.59 [Google Scholar]
  25. O’Grady, Gerard
    2017 Theme and prosody: Redundancy or meaning making. English Text Construction10 (2). doi: 10.1075/etc.10.2.05ogr
    https://doi.org/10.1075/etc.10.2.05ogr [Google Scholar]
  26. Pettigrew, John
    (ed.) 1981Robert Browning: The Poems, Vol. 1. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Poldauf, Ivan
    1966 The third syntactical plan. Travaux Linguistiques de Prague1: 241–256.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Trnka, Bohumil
    1966 On the linguistic sign and the multilevel organization of language. Travaux Linguistiques de Prague1: 33–40.
    [Google Scholar]
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error