I would like to conclude by returning to the knotty issue of the relation between TP and MOD. I have discussed mostly TP in this paper but it will be recalled that there seem to be two positions on the relation between TP and MOD, crudely paraphrasable as:
(a) MOD correlates with patterns of homogeneous Constant TP or
(b) MOD correlates with patterns of homogeneous TP of any type.
Fries’s (1981, 1995b) position would appear to be position (a). Martin’s account of MOD appears to take this position, although metonymically Martin conceptualises MOD as a textual property rather than a reader perception:
of all the experiential meanings available in a given field, [MOD] will pick on just a few, and weave them through Theme time and again to ground the text (Martin 1992:489)
Consistent with previous research on argumentative texts, in my data Constant TPs form the smallest proportion of TP types; fewer than a quarter of TPs in NES texts are Constant. Moreover, paragraphs with patterned Constant TP account for only 10% of paragraphs in high quality texts. If MOD-perception is held to correlate with Constant TP, the findings of this paper suggest that most argumentative text could not be perceived as having an MOD.
The other, more catholic, position (b) seems to be Halliday’s position when he writes of MOD's "fundamental" role in discourse organisation (Halliday 1985:62). The research described above into patterning suggests that most argumentative text could not be described as patterned, and the extent of such patterning as there is suggests that it is inversely proportional to writing quality. If MOD-perception is held to correlate with TP patterning of any type, the findings of this paper suggest that most argumentative text could not be perceived as having an MOD. Note that psychological testing would resolve little. If such research were carried out on reader responses to the Expert argumentative texts (or segments therefrom) analysed above, for example, necessarily the texts would be perceived either as (a) not having an MOD or (b) having an MOD. In the case of (a), MOD is proven not to be associated with judgements of textual quality. In the case of (b), MOD-perception is proven not to be based on Thematic selections. In either case, the claim of correlation between Theme and ideal text structure is not substantiated.
To summarise, on the basis of the research described here, using either interpretation of MOD, neither the descriptive claim that all or most texts have a Theme-based MOD, nor the prescriptive claim that all or most high quality texts have a Theme-based MOD seem to me to be tenable. In particular, consideration of the four predictions discussed above (§§3.2-3.5) suggests that TP/MOD is not sufficient to account for many actual Thematic selections in argumentative genres, that TP/MOD patterning is present in only a small minority of text-segments, that the levels of such patterning are not unique to Thematic phenomena, and that perceptions of rhetorical competence or quality are only seldom associated with conformity to the kind of TP/MOD patterning proposed as ideal for argumentative text.
Let us return to Fries’s (1981) original hypotheses (§2.2): step 1, that TP correlates with text structure; step 2, that thematic content correlates with MOD. The term ‘correlation’ implies systematicity, complementarity, and completeness. Step 1 thus implies that all types of TP are systematically, and therefore predictably, related to all types of text structure. The research described here suggests that this is not the case. Constant TP may be related to narrative text structure but there is little evidence of complementary relations between other TP types and the structure of other text-types. Step 2 implies that all types of thematic content are systematically related to all types of MOD. If there is basically a two-term system for MOD – MOD texts and zero-MOD texts – then the correlation of MOD and thematic content has nothing more to tell us about the content of Themes in zero-MOD texts than that they do not favour the perception of an MOD. The finding above that the majority of the texts sampled appear to be zero-MOD texts means that even if the step 2 hypothesis is correct it is largely uninformative.
The research described here has considered only argumentative prose. It seems clear that in such texts thematic content is more complex and dynamic than in some other text-types (e.g. spoken news broadcasts - Gomez 1994; obituaries, narratives for children - Fries 1995b). Regarding the epistemological problem discussed earlier, as to whether TP/MOD should be conceived of as textual universal or a contingent property of texts, the evidence from the data described here suggests that MOD is not a textual universal. From the perspective of applying textlinguistic theory, given that much composition instruction, certainly in the ESL domain, is instruction in argumentative or expository prose the fact that MODs appear to be scarce in argumentative prose severely qualifies the MOD concept's usefulness to composition theory.
As an aside, it appears from other research that where MODs exist they are associated with narratives. Narratives are generally monologues. I am not aware of any research claiming to find evidence of MOD in dialogic spoken texts. The facts that in spoken dialogues thematic selections are made by at least two individuals and that many spoken dialogues are relatively unplanned and unedited would make such a claim prima facie implausible. Although the argumentative texts analysed here are written monologues, it seems likely that the structure of such texts will be modelled to some extent on spoken dialogues. Indeed, it is usually suggested that it is natural to look for the principles of discourse organisation in spoken rather than written discourse and in dialogue rather than monologue: "interactive talk is seen as having a privileged position as a source of explanation for language structure and change" (Cumming and Ono 1997:114-115). Sinclair (1994) argues that differing analytical practices, in particular the tendency for written text analysis to emphasise retrospective cohesive patterning and for spoken text analysis to emphasise prospective interactive structure, may have obscured the fundamental similarity of text structure in written and spoken language. These considerations might help explain why there appears to be little evidence of MOD in the argumentative texts considered in this paper.
Regarding future research, the TP research described here focused largely on the two types which occupy the limelight in Fries (1981), Constant and Linear. Derived TP, for reasons explained in (§4.1.4), was used as a default category. For any future research on TP, it would be useful to attempt to distinguish between Themes which could plausibly be regarded as derived from previous text and those which could not, which we could perhaps for convenience term unanticipated Themes. I would estimate, and this is partly supported by Hawes and Thomas’s (1996) figures for ‘breaks’, that the proportion of the unanticipated Themes is not negligible. Such findings might in part be explicable by the phenomenon of RP as a possible parallel strategy of textual development.
The more general implications of the research discussed here for the interested parties mentioned at the beginning of this article seem to me to be the following. Syntacticians interested in the SFL claim that syntactic Theme has a consistent textual meaning might want to look for different and more universal textual evidence than that offered by TP/MOD. Meanwhile, it seems to me that both discourse analysts and composition theorists would be correct to look outside Theme, both linguistically and probably extra-linguistically, to discover the principles by which discourse is developed and structured.
* I should like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their comments and suggestions.
The Louvain Corpus of Native English Speaker texts (LOCNES) was kindly supplied to me by Professor Sylviane Granger, Centre for English Corpus Linguistics, Université Catholique de Louvain.
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An example of TP analysis. The extract is from the Apprentice subcorpus (3NA).
A lot of what has changed women's roles
is the feminists.
are groups of people that have defended women over the years
have shown the modern world what women in the work place can do.
is that these feminists have not looked at all women.