Monday, 10 February 2014

Language And Technology: Theory, Metaphor And Transcategorisation

Halliday (2008: 152-3):
Technology is based on things: complex things, whose parts are measured and consolidated into wholes. Grammatically, these things are construed as nouns and organised into taxonomies, on the principle of meronymy. Measuring and taxonomising are steps toward scientific theory; a theory is a designed construction of meanings (a piece of semiotic technology!) in which the grammar is being used to construe more elaborate and more abstract models of experience: cosmologies, geometries, theories of the socio-political and moral order. For the first two, at least, you need to theorise about generalised processes and qualities: [how] big things are, how fast and in what directions they move, how they change from one state to another; so the grammar turns these processes and qualities into pseudo-things, virtual objects like length, motion, speed, distance, proportion. To do this the grammar uses the resources of transcategorising, which is part of its architecture: it makes verbs and adjectives into nouns, the category which construes phenomena that can be measured, and that are stable and persist through time. Transcategorising is a syntactic operation; it may use formal marking, morphological and phonological, but there may be no formal variation at all.