Process Type Classification in Systemic Functional Grammar-the Ambiguity Factor

Justine Bakuuro


Analysis of clauses in Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) is generally based on a classification of the clause into one of six process types. This allocation, although often portrayed as categorical or clear-cut, practically speaking, process distinction can be unclear, and a verb may satisfy the coding criteria of a number of categories. The chief goal of this study is to point out how challenging it is to draw strict typologies of processes within a transitive SFL analysis, by surveying experienced SFL users for their classification of twenty simple sentences. My key findings are three. These include; the inconsistency of analysis being very prevalent - only one of the critical clauses was found to be clearly explicitly categorised for process type; the major point of departure between analysts was the determination of material and of verbal processes since they appear same in most cases and contexts; lastly, the clauses with low consistency ratings appeared to include main verbs which express direct action (performative verbs). My findings are explained in the light of the semantic qualities of performance. This may likely contribute to the difficulty in process type determination. Additionally, possible amelioration or refinement of these challenges of determinacy are discussed to set the pace for a wholistic review of the syntactic and semantic rendition of the clause, in cases where these dimensions of meaning may differ. The student of SFL, by this study, will thus get to be advised on being meticulous in ‘rushing’ to place process types into categories without making room for multiple concession of process typologies in clauses. This opens up yet another window of academic dialogue on Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics.


process types; classification; systemic functional linguistics; process typologies; verbal processes.

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