Textual Persona and Identity: PRR White’s Friday seminar slides

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Here is the PDF of the slides Peter used at the Friday seminar on October 24th, 2014, at the University of Sydney for his talk on the matter of how tenor can accommodate the concept of ‘textual persona’.

The abstract for Peter’s talk apears below:

Identity and textual persona as type-of-person effects in mass-communicative, premeditated discourse

For the purpose of this paper I take the following to be largely uncontroversial. The ways in which we speak or write, and thereby make meaning, may reveal us to be, or construct us as being, particular types of people. These “type-of-person” categorisations or effects may be matters of social conditioning associated with “class”, “gender”, “sexual orientation”, “ethnicity”, “age” and so on. They may also be matters of social role such as those of “teacher”, “student”, “doctor”, “patient” and so on. Typically in the literature, such “type-of-person” effects are dealt with by reference to a notion of discursively performed “identity”, with the understanding that communicating individuals may adopt or perform different “identities” in different settings and for different social purposes. Equally, these type-of-person effects may be viewed as matters of the various and typically transient personal and interpersonal positionings that speakers/writers may deploy – for example positionings with respect to social standing, social distancing, attitudinal investment, axiological alignment and openness to alternative viewpoints. Typically in the literature, such type-of-person effects have been dealt with via notions of textual persona,with the co-settings of these various positionings resulting in the speaker/writer coming across as being a certain type of person.

The relationshipbetween “identity” and “persona”, as so formulated, is an interesting one. While it will not be my central concern in this paper, I will be proposing that personae (as communicative effects resulting from typically transient configurations of personal and interpersonal positionings) can be understood as acting to index or possibly even to realise the social grouping or “macro” type-of-person categories (e.g. those of “class”, “gender” and so on). In this my use of these terms is different from that of Martin (2010, 2013), where textually performed “personae” are defined as subtypes of the macro social-grouping identity categories. That is to say, while under my formulation, the relationship between persona and identity is one of realisation, under Martin’s formulation it is one of “instantiation”. (I’m not yet clear as to whether this is definitional matter – the use of the same term to reference different phenomena/categories – or whether the different use of these terms amounts to different claims about the nature of textually-based type-of-person effects.)

The paper will primary be directed at discussing how persona, as a type-of-person effect, can be modelled by building on previous accounts of the parameters by which the Tenor of a text may vary. I refer here, for example, to the work of Poynton (1989) and Martin (Martin 1992) and others in proposing that the Tenor of texts varies according to settings for “status”, “contact/social distance” and “affect”, and to more recent work by Don (2012) who has proposed that it is useful to identify two further parameters of variation within “contact/social distance” – namely those of “affiliation” and “axiological alignment”. In the context of written, mass-communicative texts of the type with which I am primarily concerned here, “axiological alignment” is a matter of the degree to which the writer constructs for her/himself an “ideal” or “intended” reader who shares the writer’s beliefs and values (i.e. a “likeminded” addressee), or alternatively a reader construed as likely to be at odds with the writer. I will be proposing thatinsightful account of textual persona can follow when this model of Tenor is extended by including a reference to (1) the nature of the value positions put at risk by the text and about which writer and reader therefore potentiallyalign – for example whether it is attitudinal or epistemic; whether or not it is ideologically charged, (2) the writer’s attitudinal disposition – i.e. whether alignment is construed as a matter of Affect, Judgement or Appreciation or some mixture of these, and (3) authorial communality – the terms under which the writer puts writer-reader rapport at risk.

The application of this model of persona will be explored in the context of both journalistic opinion pieces and the many and various reader comments which are now attached to online news reports, commentary articles, personal blogs, YouTube postings, political announcements and so on.


Don, A. C., (2012), “Legitimating tenor relationships: Affiliation and alignment in written interaction.” Linguistics and the human sciences no. 5 (3):303-327.
Martin, J., M. Zappavigna, P. Dwyer and C. Cléirigh, (2013), “Users in uses of language: embodied identity in Youth Justice Conferencing.” Text & Talk no. 33 (4-5):467-496.
Martin, J. R., (1992), English text: System and structure: John Benjamins Publishing.
Martin, J. R., (2010), “Semantic variation: Modelling realisation, instantiation and individuation in socialsemiosis.” In New discourse on language: Functional perspectives on multimodality, identity, and affiliation, edited by Monika Bednarek and James R Martin, 1-34. London: Continuum.
Poynton, C., (1989), Language and Gender: Making the Difference: Oxford University Press.

Comparing Models Of Stratification

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1) They do not mean the same thing by ‘register’.

For Halliday, ‘register’ means a functional variety of language (following the Prague School and Firth).

Martin, on the other hand, equates ‘register’ with Halliday’s ‘context’, which removes the notion of register as a functional variety of language from the model. This is because a higher stratum is not a functional variety of a lower stratum; eg lexicogrammar is not a functional variety of phonology.

2) They do not mean the same thing by ‘context’.

For Halliday, ‘context’ is what people do with language (H&M 1999: ix), the ‘semiotic environment’ of language (and other socio-semiotic systems such as image systems (p375), the “culture”, considered as a semiotic potential (p606). Halliday’s ‘context’ is a level of abstraction that is realised by language.

For Martin (1992: 496), ‘context’ (register and genre) are levels associated with ever larger ‘units’: just as the level of discourse-semantics tends to focus on an exchange or “paragraph”, the level of register tends to focus on a stage in a transaction, and the level of genre tends to focus on whole texts. To this extent, Martin’s ‘context’ refers to levels of abstraction of texts.

Martin’s Cline Of Instantiation Applied To Martin’s Stratification

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For simplicity, I’ll just use:
the strata genre and register
and the instantiation points: system, genre/register, and text type.

So, this region of the instantiation cline for each stratum is:
(1) genre: system — genre/register — text type
(2) register: system — genre/register — text type

You’ll observe that:
a genre/register of the genre stratum
is realised by
a genre/register of the register stratum

Or, if you prefer:
the genre stratum of a genre/register
is realised by
the register stratum of a genre/register

Realisation Vs Instantiation

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Instantiation: this guy is an idiot = Carrier ^ Attribute (ascription: Token ^ Type)

Realisation: he‘s the idiot = Token ^ Value (identification)

The Difference Between Context And Register


Context is realised by language.

Registers are types of language (that realise types of context).

The context-language relation is value-token.

The register-language relation is carrier-attribute.

(Textual) Tonality And The Realisation Of Logical Relations


What the HAL9000 computer said in 2001: A Space Odyssey
I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that. …
I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.

What the HAL9000 computer meant in 2001: A Space Odyssey
I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid. I can’t do that. …
I’m afraid. That’s something I cannot allow to happen.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999) On Abstraction

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Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 4, 385):
Language, therefore, is a resource organised into three strata differentiated according to order of abstraction. These strata are related by means of realisation. …
The strata are ordered in symbolic abstraction …

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 25):
Every scientific theory is itself a stratal-semiotic system, in which the relation among the different levels of abstraction is one of realisation.

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 144-5):
In other words, the elaboration sets up a relationship either of generality (delicacy), of abstraction (realisation), or of token to type (instantiation).

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 565):
The relationship between these two orders of abstraction, contextual and semantic, is a stratal one;

Halliday & Matthiessen (1999: 615, 616):
General terms are not necessarily abstract; a bird is no more abstract than a pigeon. But some words have referents that are purely abstract — words like cost and clue and habit and tend and strange; they are construing some aspect of our experience, but there is no concrete thing or process with which they can be identified.

Why the notion of a monostratal semiotic system is nonsensical


By definition, a semiotic system has at least two levels of symbolic abstraction.
By definition, a symbol is something that means something other than itself.

Here is what I take to be the logical error.
The claim is that because content is paradigmatic and expression is syntagmatic,
there is only one stratum (& by this logic there is only one axis).

This is like saying
all my squares are blue and all my triangles are red,
therefore there is only one shape (and only one colour).

If content conflates with paradigm and expression conflates with syntagm, then:

content/paradigm is realised by expression/syntagm.

This conflates
content is realised by expression
paradigm is realised by syntagm.

There are still 2 strata and 2 axes in this conflation.

Distinguishing Realisation From Instantiation

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Realisation and instantiation are clearly defined by being characterised in terms of the two types of relational processes.

(1) realisation is an [intensive] identifying relation:
the lower stratum (Token) realises the higher stratum (Value).

The difference is one of (symbolic) abstraction or signification.
eg coin as Token represents two dollars as Value.
These are two levels of abstraction of the same phenomenon.

(2) instantiation is an [intensive] attributive relation:
a text as Carrier (instance/member/specimen) of English language system as Attribute (class).

eg Tony Abbott as Carrier (instance/member/specimen) of Homo sapiens as Attribute (biological category).

Here’s a way to check usage:
If the relation being described crosses strata, then it is realisation.

Instantiation does not cross strata:
the system of semantics is ‘instantiated’ by the semantics of the text;
the system of lexicogrammar is ‘instantiated’ by the lexicogrammar of the text;
the system of phonology is ‘instantiated’ by the phonology of the text.
And at the level of context:
the system of context of culture is ‘instantiated’ by the context of situation.

a question of realisation


i was commenting on a student’s work the other day and i happened to make a remark regarding her discussion of appraisal.
i said:

“Also, do not forget that appraisal is not grammar, it is discourse semantics. It is not part of the interpersonal metafunction – this, I believe.”

to which she replied:

B-b-but Martin and White (2005) opens with the sentence: “This book is concerned with the interpersonal in language…”, and at the bottom of the same page, they say: “Our purpose in the book is to develop and extend the SFL account of the interpersonal by attending to three axes along which the speaker’s/writer’s intersubjective stance may vary.” (those being Affect, Engagement and Graduation). Do you mean: appraisal is an extension (rather than a part) of the interpersonal metafunction (which is concerned with grammar) into the domain of discourse semantics? I.e., is it just a question of formulation?

hmmmm. i was running out the door, but i just had to at least confirm a distinction between “the interpersonal in language” and the interpersonal metafunction. there’s more to say, but i’m worried i will muddy rather than clarify, when an MA is being written-up.

the issue was, for me, that we cannot say attitude is realised by the interpersonal grammar. this suggests a way of ‘reading off’ attitude from the grammar, and the system…
what we are really doing is classifying instances of attitude when we do an appraisal analysis – classifying these instances as representative of a number of common categories. the categories are in effect ad hoc: they of borne out of previous analysis and an intuition regarding the conventions (system?) of language that we have experienced.
because of this, i cannot bring myself to say that the grammar – in these instances – actually realises the attitudes – i.e. the term ‘realisation’ and its variations have a more specific meaning.
i thus pose my question of realisation for comment

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