Yes, we can! (or no, we can’t?): SFL, CL and patterns of conjunction
Geoff Thompson, University of Liverpool, UK
It is widely recognised that there is a tension in register analysis between, on the one hand, the desirability of identifying patterns of linguistic choices in as large a corpus as possible and, on the other, the need to include choices which the computer software available is not yet sophisticated enough to recognise automatically (see e.g. Matthiessen 2006). The study that I am engaged in points up this tension particularly sharply. My aim is to explore differences and similarities in the deployment of the resources of conjunction in different registers. The focus is on conjunctive relations between clauses (irrespective of whether or not the clauses form part of the same clause complex – cf. Martin 1992: 163-5). These relations may be signalled by closed-class items (conjunctions and conjuncts), but there are many less easily enumerable signals, including, but not restricted to, Winter’s (1977) Vocabulary 3; and, in addition, the relation may not be explicitly signalled.
What I will do in this presentation is, first, briefly outline the model of conjunction with which I am working. I then wish to address an issue that I see as increasingly urgent if corpus linguistics is to continue setting the research agenda as it has done in the past decades: that is, how far automatic recognition of fundamental features of discourse can be pushed, particularly in the direction of functional realizations. I will discuss analytical difficulties relating to the classification of the kinds of relationships found, and consider the implications of the SFL tenet that all meaning differences are construed by differences in wording (and vice-versa). In particular, I will explore the possibility of establishing reliable, automatisable tests for discriminating between instances of conjunctive relationships which are close in some way (such as where the same closed-class conjunctive signal realises different relationships). The possibilities and limitations of automatic analysis will be illustrated with examples from my data, focusing on the different patterns of use of because.
Martin, J. R. 1992. English Text: System and Structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Matthiessen, Christian M. I. M. 2006. Frequency profiles of some basic grammatical systems: an interim report. In Geoff Thompson and Susan Hunston (eds.) System and Corpus: Exploring Connections, 103-142. London: Equinox.
Winter, Eugene. O. 1977. A clause-relational approach to English texts: A study of some predictive lexical items in written discourse. Instructional Science 6: 1-92.