[xmca] Subject Line

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Tue Apr 29 2008 - 15:58:46 PDT

I think the issue of whether the use of the concept "subject" is "conscious" or not (for every day language learners, whether they live in forests or cities, and whether they are young or old) is a false issue on two counts. First of all, unconsciousness of language is not like unconsciousness of libido; it's readily accessible without taking a medical degree or undergoing psychoanalysis. Secondly, all our consciousness about "subjects" is false consciousness in one way or another.
  When you ask a child if "I bite you" is the same as "You bite me", you tend to get remarkably accurate answers (and may even receive a demonstration if you are not careful). Why can't we call the child's practical understanding "conscious"? Why not?This should incline us all to Vico rather than Freud: these "subjects" are made by humans, and they can be understood by them.
  I also think that the "scientific" understanding of the (grammatical) subject is, exactly as Sasha suggests, not as adequate as the practical one. Halliday points out that the grammatical subject contains at least THREE separate notions: the psychological subject (the "theme", that is, the topic of the message), the grammatical subject (the "subject", that is, the thing responsible for the predication), and the logical subject (the "actor", the doer of the action, the thing responsible for the action expressed in the verb).
  So, in Halliday's favorite example:
  "This teapot my aunt was given by the duke!"
  "Teapot" is the theme, "aunt" is the subject, and "duke" is the actor. Now, this sentence rings ungrammatical in most anglophone ears unless it is contexutalized, like this:
  So where'd you get that dinky little teapot?
  This dinky little teapot, as you call it, my aunt was given by the duke--himself!
  Anyone who speaks a topic-comment language will recognize the grammar immediately: it is perfectly natural in Chinese and Korean.
  One of the real DELIGHTS of Halliday is that he analyzes the English as being a rather ungainly form of Chinese instead of the other way around, as even Chinese linguists often like to do. And so we see WHY so-called "scientific" concepts about the "subject" are not as good as practical ones; they are often simply Standard Average European ones! (That's white folks talk for 'white folks talk'!)
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Tue Apr 29 16:00 PDT 2008

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