Ideational Meaning

Some Linguistic Tools
Linguistic features are analysed at the sentence level
often to explore:
Interpersonal meaning
Ideational meaning
Textual meaning
Interpersonal meaning
• How language in texts creates particular social relationships
between the writer and reader, and expresses judgments and
attitudes of the writer
Ideational meaning
• How texts construct particular representations of people, events
and ideas
Textual meaning
• How texts are organised (method of development) to carry
different meanings
Representations of people, events or ideas
A particular view of people, events or ideas can be
spread through the system of transitivity – i.e. a set of
choices for representing different aspects of “who
does what to whom in what circumstances?”.
Thus, the use of language in relation to different views
of people, events or ideas constructed by a text can be
explored through an analysis of transitivity elements
(who, what, whom, what circumstance).
The following table shows basic transitivity elements
and their realisation by lexical categories.
Realised by
Process (what)
Verb / Verbal group
Participant (who, whom)
Noun / Nominal group
Circumstance (how, where,
when etc.)
Adverb / Adverbial group /
Prepositional phrase
For example:
The student reads the book quietly in the library.
The student
the book
in the library
Circumstance Circumstance
Elements represented in the subject and object of the
clause can be referred to as the participants. The
number and type of participants depends on the kind
of process that is realised by a verb or verbal group.
The following table explains the basic process types.
Process Type Meaning
Actor -> Goal
The child opened the
Senser ->
She hates cats.
I realised that…
Did you see the picture?
Carrier -> Attribute
Token -> Value
The performance is
Mr Nathan is the
Manipulation of transitivity elements (process,
participants, circumstances) gives a number of options
for representing events or ideas in different ways. In
other words, events or ideas can be expressed by a
text in different ways of manipulating patterns of
processes, participants, and circumstances.
These patterns include:
Selection of
process type
Use of passive
As the type of participant depends on the type of
process, dominant use of a particular process type in a
text can reflect a certain representation of ideas or
people involved in the events.
For example:
In the representation of different characters in a story,
a prominent use of material processes with the
character as the actor acting upon some goal may give
a notion of power to that character. It may represent
the assertive and confident personalities of the
The subject participant is essentially the ‘actor’ in the
process and the object participant is the ‘acted upon’
(i.e. the person or thing that the action happens to).
But the use of passive form changes the positioning of
‘actor’ and ‘acted upon’ in a clause: e.g.
The army attacked the rioters.
The rioters were attacked by the army.
Different view of events or ideas can be presented by
manipulating the participant positions. For example,
by using a passive form, the role of the actor can be
left implicit when presenting an event. E.g.
The rioters were attacked.
The choice whether to include or omit the actor from a
process may constitute an important part of message
construction. It can foreground or background the
involvement of the actor. It then reflects a particular
way of seeing / presenting events.
Nominalisation is substituting a noun for a verb (or an
adjective). A process expressed by the verb can
alternatively be expressed by the noun. E.g.
Subject (noun) + Verb
Subject (noun)
He departed
His departure…
She spoke concerning
Her speech concerning
Each side accused
Accusations from each side…
Nominalisation is a common feature of academic
writing as it allows authors to compress a lot of
information into a few words. Through this feature of
nominalisation, things rather than actions can also be
Organization / Method of Development of a Text
Different meanings can be created by different ways a
text is organised. Methods of development or patterns
of relation between clauses in a text carry meanings
both in the text itself and in relation to the context.
This can be explored through an analysis of the
grammatical feature – Theme, Rheme.
Theme is the element which serves as the point of
departure of the message; the remainder of the
message is Rheme.
(i) The library
has installed self-service fines payment booths for
(ii) For students
the library has installed self-service fine payment
It is more likely for the subject to be in the first
position. Therefore, if the theme is the subject of the
clause, it is Unmarked, e.g. “The library” in (i). If the
theme is non-subject, it is Marked, e.g. “For students”
in (ii).
The first positions of a clause can give the information
particular prominence. Information in the first position
has two important functions:
It links up with the previous text, and
It guides readers’ comprehension of subsequent
With the possibilities of placing information in
different places, placing of particular information in
the first position can be a significant matter to
communicate the message effectively. It will involve
and manipulating
the readers’
expectations. Thus the selection of themes can reflect,
for example, the purpose or the target audience of the
Themes at the clausal level can include more than the
first content element. The first content element (e.g.
“The library” and “For students” in the earlier examples)
are topical theme of the clause. It may be preceded by
elements whose function is:
Textual (organisation or development of a text)
Interpersonal (creating
language users)
Some examples of textual and/or interpersonal
themes preceding a topical theme are given in the
following table:
have finished their work.
And yes,
the letter
has been sent.
taking vitamins
affects our body system.
your name.
On the other hand,
An analysis of theme can be done not only at the
clausal level but also at the levels of paragraph or even
whole text. For example, it can be done for an
interpretation of the design of a text including the
language and accompanying visual elements.

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