[xmca] Talking Science with Dr. Christie and Dr. Derewianka

From: David Kellogg (vaughndogblack@yahoo.com)
Date: Sun Jan 21 2007 - 08:12:23 PST

Dear Phil:
  No transgression at all. I really AM grateful that you passed things on; I was just pointing out how sloppily my own mail had been written.
  If I sound awkward, it is partly because I'm not exactly sure how to address well-known scholars who I have often had the pleasure of reading but never actually met. Given names don't seem quite right here, but we don't use titles on XMCA (and in fact I don't have one).
  Dr. Derewianka has managed to sort me out on quality and modifier (as I thought, "of an electron" is a modifier and not a quality). A number of other examples of grammatical metaphor in the opposite direction do come to mind (e.g. "to impact", which goes from entity to process) but they are not exactly scientific English.
  But Dr. Derewianka's reply appears to assume that grammatical metaphor is the same thing as rankshift. In other words, when we change "the electron moves in an orbit" to "the orbital motion of the electron" we are performing the same kind of action as when we change "the electron moves in an orbit" to "That the electron moves in an orbit is the main point of our lesson today." I am not sure about this.
  In one case, as Dr. Derewianka points out, the grammatical subject/theme/actor moves to the role of "bit player" in the clause and becomes a modifier (not a quality as I originally thought). In so doing, it is reconstrued, from one kind of semantic object to another. That is why Halliday (Dr. Halliday, in case he shows up!) calls this grammatical metaphor. And as Dr. Derewianka argues the overall effect is to compact the information.
  But rankshifting does not appear to involve this type of reconstruing. When we say "That the electron moves in orbit is the main point of our lesson today" the initial clause is not deconstrued and reconstrued: the process is still there as a process. So it seems to me that there is a difference between rankshift and grammatical metaphor.
  Why is this difference important? Well, Halliday says there are two important consequences of grammatical metaphor for scientific discourse, and it seems to me that neither one applies to rankshift.
  First of all, grammatical metaphor (but not rankshift) allows us to form a taxonomy and a classification of "motions": 2s orbital motions, 2px orbital motions, 2py orbital motions, suborbital motions, elliptical and semi-elliptical orbital motions. Secondly, grammatical metaphor allows us to treat the whole of one clause as the theme of the next, and develop it, like this.
  "The electron moves in an orbit. The orbital movement of the electron creates an electron shell."
  This is possible without grammatical metaphor, using rankshift, but it takes a lot of ink:
  "The electron moves in an orbit. That the electron moves in an orbit is what creates an electron shell."
  When we reconstrue the major clause as a minor clause, we get something that is noticeably different from adult scientific English.
  "The electron moves in an orbit. The electron moving in an orbit creates an electron shell."
  The difference here is precisely what Dr. Derewianka points to: the compacting of information and the loss of the information provided by semantic roles do not take place. When we say "the orbital motion of the electron" we no longer really know that the electron is an actor (when we say the bouncing motion of the Tiger Woods' shot, the golf ball is not exactly an actor).
  In my view, there is a third consequence of this information compacting that Halliday does not comment on. It is make English sentences that look like mathematical equations.
  "The orbital movement of the electron is what creates the electron shell."
  "(Orbital movement of the electron) = (Creation of electron shell)"
   This would account for both the intensive use of nominalization and for the pervasive use of the copula in scientific English.
  Now, what is the advantage of this? Well, it seems to me that it allows something that is more important than the kind of syntagmatic development we get with:
  "The electron moves in an orbit. The orbital movement of the electron creates an electron shell."
  When we get sentences to look like mathematical equations, we can develop th discourse paradigmatically as well as syntagmatically. We go up one level of abstraction. Instead of just saying A = B, we can put together sentences that say (A + B) = (X + Y) or (A/B) = (X/Y) or (A: B) = (X:Y). For example:
  "(The orbital movement of the electron creating the electron shell) is (what gives the atom its specific chemical properties)"
  I believe that it is this third capacity of scientific English, the ability to make English sentences that resemble mathematical equations, that allows us to create what Jay would call metaredundancy in our description of processes. It is now possible to put relational processes within relational processes and talk about the relationship of different kinds of relationships.
  This is what Vygotsky points to when he says that foreign languages and scientific concepts allow us to see our own language and every day concepts as only one instance of more generalized and abstract concepts, just as arithmetic is merely one case of algebra.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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