Re: [xmca] Talking Science With Dr. Christie

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Sun Jan 21 2007 - 05:55:58 PST


I hope I didn't transgress any interpersonal boundaries by including
Fran Christie in the discussion. Just to add another dimension, I
have a response from Beverly Derewianka (below), my principal
doctoral supervisor and a researcher who has done a lot of work on
grammatical metaphor and its development in adolescents. She has some
interesting observations from a SFL perspective on rank/clause-
shifting and compacting information that provide good support for
claiming the difficulties that students face with many scientific

You write "Abstract constructions involve recognition that utterances
contain functional entities that have absolutely no real world
referents, such as "noun", "verb", "subject", etc." - I am intrigued
what you mean by "real world referents". Also, you mention Vygotsky
relating foreign language teaching to teaching scientific concepts -
A.A. Leontiev in Psychology and the Language Learning Process pdf
takes Vygotsky's ideas much further in terms of communicative
language activity. We had a discussion here a while back that
included that chapter by A.A.L. as well as others > see June/July



Bev Derewianka wrote:

A quick response to David re grammatical metaphor:

David wrote:
An electron moves in an orbit-->The orbital motion of the electron
It's absolutely the case that a process (moves) turns into an entity
(motion). But isn't it also the case that an entity (orbit) turns
into a quality and another entity (electron) turns into another
quality? Or am I confusing "quality" with "modifier" here?

Your analysis is pretty much in line with the Hallidayan notion of
grammatical metaphor (though terminology might differ somewhat). The
major shift is from a clause ('an electron moves in orbit') to a
nominal group ('the orbital motion of the electron'). Halliday refers
to this as 'rank-shift', where a process configuration (in this case,
a participant ('an electron') which is engaged in an activity
('moves') accompanied by a circumstance of place ('in an orbit')) has
been shifted to the rank of simply a 'bit player' in another clause
(eg 'The orbital motion of the electron changes due to the external
magnetic field'). In the process of down-grading, the participant
('the electron') and circumstance ('in an orbit') have lost their
status as major players in a clause and have become simply elements
of the nominal group ('the orbital motion of the electron'). Halliday
notes some 26 such shifts in status/function in his taxonomy of
grammatical metaphor - including the shift from a fully-fledged
participant in a clause (eg 'an electron') to a modifier in a nominal
group ('of the electron'). The effect of the downgrading/rankshifting
is to compact information - it is now taken for granted and used as a
springboard for the next proposition. It is this density and
cumulative reasoning that makes it hard for many students to cope
with scientific texts.

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