SFG – How speakers take a position: Exploring interpersonal meanings further

How speakers take a position: Exploring interpersonal meanings further.

In this chapter we explore the two main resources through which speakers take a position in their messages:

  • Adjustment of the Mood Block (the nub of the message available for argument or discussion)
  • Positive or negative appraisal of experiental meanings.

Speakers can position themselves in an argument or discussion by taking a definite stand or by adjusting their stand to a position between a definite yes and an equally definite no.

The main topics for fiscussion in this chapter are the speaker’s resources for definiteness and adjusment (although we also explore meanings that are not available for argument or discussion)

Exchange of information

Taking a definite stand

Whenever speakers assert their propositions they put them up for agreement or disagreement by their hearers. When are speakers are definite about their propositions, the Finite encodes information about whether an Event has occurred, is presently occuring, or is yet to occur. If we want to disagree with speaker’s positive proposition, we simply add a negative such as not or n’t into the Mood Block afther Finite for the clause negative and changing the polarity of the message to positive if the original proposition was negative.

The analysis of the first exchange id:

Tom                 was (positive polarity)             beaten

Tom                 was not (negative polarity)       beaten

Subject Finite (past) Predicator
Mood Block Residue

Meanings that are not available for argument or discussion

If clause does not have a Mood Block, there is nothing on which to base an argument.

Example of non-finite clauses

Shaken             at last               out of his complacency

Predicator Adjunct Adjunct

Eating              an apple

Predicator Complement

An infinitive verb is the most basic form of the verb which signifies the event without specifying a Subject and without indicating ani time or duration of the event. Without a Finite, a clause has no clear-cut place in the arguability of things. It is difficult to argue with Going upstair, or to err or to forgive, or even with having been sacked. Each has an Event but not a real Finite or Subject and it is the Subject/Finite relation, the Mood, which allows discussion.

Adjusting one’s stand: probability, usuality, obligation, inclination, typicality and obaousness.

Sometimes speakers want to signal that they are not definite about their messages, that is, they are looking for a position between a definite yes and no. they do this by changing the configuration of the Mood Block in some way. And this is known as MODALITY and it has its own metalangua.

There are three ways of doing this:

  • By a Modal Finite
  • By an adverbial group or prepositional phrese here known as Mood Adjunct.
  • With an interpersonal grammatical metaphor.

Interpersonal grammatical metaphor

Sometimes we use a whole clause in a text to express our opinion of the proposition in a neighbouring clause. We are using the grammar metaphorically when we say, for example, I think when we mean probably; or, I believe when we mean almost certainly; or don’t you think? When we mean definitely.

Just as an ideational grammatical metaphor uses the experiental resources of the grammar to shift meaning, so interpersonal grammatical metaphors shift meaning from a separate mental process clause to an expression of modality in the projected clause.

Take for example the following sentence:

I think he’s coming to the party.

We would of course analyse this as a projecting clause (I think) followed by a projected clause (he’s coming to the party)

Exchange of goods and services

Demands realised in declaratives with modals of obligation

In chapter 4 we noticed that the imperative mood is the most staightforward and easily recognised way of demanding goods and services and that imperatives may be positive or negative. In most positive imperatives there is ni Subject and no Finite in the clause. In spite of this absence we still describe the verb in imperatives as a finite verb because we can recover the Subject and Finite in a Mood tag. What is interesting is that the Finite in the Mood tag always expresses modality rather than time:

Open                the door                       will                  you?

Can’t                you?

Can                  you?

Predicator Complement Finite (modal) Subject
Mood Block Residue Mood tag

Offers realised in declaratives and interrogatives with modals of inclination.

What is at stake here is whether the offer will be accepted or rejected and this may explain why there is no special from for giving goods and services as there is with demanding goods and sevices or giving or demanding information. However, there are two pointers to the fact that they are offers – one in the making of the offer and the other in its reception; that is, the Finite in this type of exchange is usually a modal and, rather than simple yes or no, the sesponse is usually yes, please, if the offer is accepted, and no, thank you, if the offer is rejected.

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Modality in context

The following three text have different purposes. Text 2 (Cherie’s text) is written by a primary school child afther a session on how to write an exposition. She has been taught that this text type should include a point of view. Text 3 is from the conclusian of an investigative report. The writer knows that, after being objective about his purpose, methods and result in the body of the report, it is now appropriate to make recommendations. Text 4 from a courtroom cross-examination in which the scond speakers is trying to avoid giving definite answers.

In each text we recognise that the speakers and writers are including their own opinions. This is a very useful device because it sometimes allow a speakers to stand apart from the action as if to say, ‘Well, it’s only my opinion. You don’t have to agree with me. I could be persuaded otherwise’. In other situations, it allows a speakers to apprear openly persuasive, or even downright bossy, about how the world could, or should, or ought to be arranged.  We can see from Text 3 how useful modality is at the end of a discussion text because it allows the writer to conclude with an opinion or recimmendation.


The resource of APPRAISAL is one of the ways speakers position their audience. In other words, their choice of lexocogrammatical patterns influences the audience’s personal reaction to the meaning in a text. We have only to think of the positive or negative spin put on the ‘same information’ by opposing sides of a debate to see how this positioning works. However, if the colour of flavour of the text is very strong, the audience may interpret the text as being very emotional, judgemental or critical, so lexicogrammatical resources for creating and interpreting appraisal and attitude are important tools in our exploration of text.

Much recent work, notably by J R Martin (Christle and Martin 1997) and Peter White (www,grammatics.com/appraisal/), has focused on the different lexical and grammatical systems available to speakers and writers for including their emotions (affect), judgements of people’s behaviour, and their appreciation of phenomena in the world. In spoken texts, speakers can also position themselves by using such phonological systems as voice quality.

This recent work is a vast cintribution to the way we understand texts,  although its details are beyond the scope of this book. However, even though we are wartering them down, they are worth mentoning because of the exciting way different appraisal motifs build up patterns across a whole text. These patterns align speakers with listeners around a set of values to produce a sense of belonging and community. In other words, effective speakers and writers are able to spread appraisal meanings across a whole text so that the audience is drawn to a particular point of view or interpretation if the content which seems natural. Effective listeners and readers ne