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Theme: The point of departure of the message


Encoded in the grammar in terms of participants, processes and circumstances.


Encoded by the mood structures.

Theme- Rheme textual structure and its relation to Topic.

Textual meaning The order of constituents in the clause and how the normal order may be altered to achieve different textual effects.
The distribution and focus of information - coherence and undestandability

Theme and

Theme (comes first) + Rheme (what follows) = thematic structure of the clause.
Theme is the clause constituient which, whatever its syntactic function, is selected to be the point of departure of the
clause as message.
While the Theme lays the basis of the message, the Rheme says something in relation to it.
Typically, important new information is presented in the Rheme.
We'll reach Toledo, but not Seville, before noon. - Neutral unmarked choice in a declarative clause.
Before noon we'll reach Toledo but not Seville. - Marked (Circumstantial of time, syntactically an adjunct)
Toledo, but not Seville we'll reach before noon. - Marked (Object participant, normal position after the verb)

Theme and
Marked Theme
in Declarative

Marked constituent orders - always signal some additional meaning and have to be motivated.
Thematised Objects - tend to express a contrast with something said or expected by the hearer.
The Theme of a clause represents a choice, both as the absolute point of departure of a discourse and also that of each
subsequent clause and of each paragraph. It gives us the choice of:
1. taking as point of departure one or other participant in the situation described, or something else, as a circumstance.
2. It can serve to link up with what has gone before in the discourse and.
3 It helps to push the message forward.

Interrogatives and imperatives have unmarked Themes derived from their respective clause type.
Theme is marked when any other but the expected one is placed in initial position.
Marked themes in non-declarative clauses are relatively uncommon.
Unmarked Themes
Marked Themes
Theme in nondeclarative

Are we going to Toledo? (operator + subject in We are going where? - Non wh-subject in a whyes/no question)

When will we get there? (wh-word in whinterrogative)

Have your tickets ready! (base form of verb in

2nd person imperative)


Do hurry up, all of you! - Empahtic do in an imperative.

You keep quiet ! - Subject in an imperative

Let's go for a swim instead (Let's in 1st person


Topic, Theme
and Subject

Topic is a discourse category which corresponds to "what the text, or part of the text, is about". Three kinds:
1. Global topic - A topic which coherently organises a whole piece of language.
2. Episodic topic - On an intermediate level, paragraphs or sections in writing and "episodes" in talk each have their
own topics.
3. Local topics - Utterances and sentences have topics which contribute to the episode and help to build up the
discourse as a whole.
All three levels of topic are integrated in normal texts and discourses.
Local topics are usually the only ones that have a direct grammatical realisation. They are associated with the main
referential entities represented in speakers' sentences and utterances.
Sentence and utterance topics are the most relevant to the study of grammar, because this is one area in which
discourse interfaces with a "pragmatic grammar".

First - the topic entity is inherent to the event describe and it initiates the action.
Second - The topic entity is typically high on what is called the empathy hierarchy.
Speaker > hearer > human > animal > physical object > abstract entity
features of the

Third - definiteness: This is a subjective factor since it depends on whether speakers and hearers have established
empathy with the topic. When contact has been establish, the topic is easily accessible and is definity.

Four - The topic is the most salient partcipant on the scene of discourse
From the point of view of cognitive salience, all these features are closey associated with the Subject function in English.
This features are not necessarily associated with Theme. Theme and Topic are quite different types of category.
Topics are what a text, section or clause is about, and are alwyas conceptualised as an entity or a nominalisation.
Theme is what the speaker or writer chooses as the point of departure for the message in any one clause or sentence.
It may be an entity, a circumstance or an attribute.

Themes which conflate with Subject are participants in the transitivity structures and typically refer to persons,
creatures and things. > they are the most likely candidates to fulfil the discourse role of Topic or "topical Theme" at
clause level.
Important Theme-Topic-Suject referents set up referent chains which can transcend clausal boundaries, maintaining
topic continuity as long as the speaker or writer wishes.
Topic and
We can track referent chain, which can also be seen as an identity chain, of a major referent as it is repeated across
Subject as Theme
several clauses by:
1. an anaphoric pronoun.
2. an alternative NG
3. by repetition of the name or proper noun.
Indefinite, and therefore unidentified, but specific referents as Subject Themes are also found in English.

New referents have to be introduced into the discourse in order to be discussed. Ways of presenting new referents:
1. The subject of an intransitive clause (also copular clauses) can present or identify a new entity.
2. When the Subject is known, the direct object often introduces a new entity: I saw a most extraordinary person in
the park this afternoon.
3. Unstressed there with be - appear - can introduce a new referent: There was a good programme on television last
Introducing new
potential topics night.
into the discourse
4. A statement can explicitly inform the hearer what the Topic is going to be: Today I want to talk to you about
genetic engineering.
5. Inversion of a copular clause can introduce a new Topic: Worst of all was the lack of fresh water.
It must be emphasised that not every entity introduced into the discourse is maintained as a major topic with its
own identity chain.

Adjuncts as

Among the marked Themes, Circumstantial Adjuncts - time and place - are the least unusual. They are thematised or
We did a lot of sightseeing in London last year.
In London last year, we did a lot of sightseeing.
The function of such circumstantials is to set the necessary temporal and/or spatial coordinates of the text world
within which the participants move, establishing a time-frame or place-frame for the rest of the message.
Initial circumstantials of time constitute a useful device for structuring lengthy stretches of text on a chronological
Time and place adjuncts do not initiate cohesive chains, although they can be referred to anaphorically in subsequent
clauses by the adverbs there and then.
We went to the theatre there, too, and it was then that I learned some Cockney slang.
There is competition between subject and adjunct Themes for initial position:
- If chronological sequencing is adopted as a method of development of the text, Temporal Themes are chosen to
mark crucial points, while the topic takes second position, although it is Subject.
- Temporal adjuncts wich are not thematic can signal important temporal landmarks such as turning points, shifts
and the end of a previous time-span.

Motivations for thematising direct objects:

1. Contrast
2. Retrospective linking to something in the previous sentence or context:
Moussaka you ordered, and moussaka you've got.
Janet asked me to bring her some tea from London . This I did.
When Subject Complements are thematised they tend to occur as evalutative comments made spontaneously in
Objects and
Complements as context, often in response to another speaker.
Identifying clauses are reversible. When reversed, they look both backwards and forwards, linking to something just
said, but also marking a shift to something new.
How did the meeting go? - A complete wast of time it was.
Was the festival a success? Not bad. The best was the music.
Fantastic I call it!

Less common thematisations in the declarative clause

Never in initial position - we seem to be resonding to a communicative human need to foreground and emphasise the
Never! - can be used as a one-word full negative response in conversation, thematised negative constituents are much
less easy to use in English than in some other languages.
Thematised negatives have emphatic, marked effect and it is best to reserve fronted negative elements for emphatic
statements or directives.
The negative adjuncts never and under no circumstances, fronted semi-negatives such as hardly, scarcely and only +
and adverb of time all have marked effect when fronted. Their unmarked position before the main verb avoids this
Negative adverbs
problem: I have never seen... You must under no circumstances leave...
The positive and negative elements most commonly thematised in everyday spoken English are so and neither or nor
as substitute words. They behave like initial negatives, provoking operator-subject ordering, but they have no rhetorical
All my friends passed the driving-test and so did I.
Never have I seen such a mess!
Under no circumstances must medicines be left within reach of children.
Only then did I realise what he really meant.
These produce the same inversion, but are much less common. Negative subjects do not produce inversion.
Negative Objects Not a thing could the patient remember - Object.
Nobody could remember a thing - Subject

followed by
verbs of motion

Initial adverbs such as up, down, in and deictics such as here, there and then are commonly used with verbs of motion
such as come, go , run.
In short spoken utterances they accompany or signal actions - In you get!
There is no inversion when the subject is a pronoun.
With a full nominal group the verb and the subject invert:
Down came the rain and up went the umbrellas.
There goes my last dollar!
Here comes the bus.
Only simple tenses are used in this structure, not the progressive or perfect combinations.
Thematised verbs rarely occur in the declarative clause in English. When they do, it is the non-finite part that is


They are units headed by a noun, an adjective or a participle.

They are closely tied to the subject but, instead of occupying a position after the verb, they are fronted, and have the
status of supplementives, with an adjunctive function:
A Saxon princess , she was born at Exning near Newmarket aronund AD 630, the daughter of Anna, King
the East Angles.
These fronted phrases are common in such generes as fiction, history, advertising and tourism, where they provide an
economical means of packing information around a main topic entity.
When Thematic, they are retrospective, linking up with the immediately preceding text.
When they are placed after the subject, they add extra details about the topic entity as in the daughter of Anna, King of
the East Angles.

Detached themes: Absolute theme, dislocations and double themes

A very basic way of presenting a "newsworthy" piece of information is by means of a detached lexical NG standing
outside the clause.
This "Chinese-style topic" is always a definite NG or proper name which does not function as a constituent of the
Absolute Theme clause which follows it.
The construction, here called Absolute Theme, is common in the spoken registers of many European languages.
Absolute Themes in English occur sometimes in spontaneous talk; they do not occur normally in written text.
Now Manchester United , their players have been holding up a banner.

Dislocations are different from Absolute Themes in that the "dislocated" element is a constituent of the clause,
frequently subject and is repeated by a co-referential pronoun in its normal position within the clause.
The conection is therefore encoded grammatically, not established inferentially
That letter , was it from Bruce? (left dislocation)
Is it new, that top - No, I bought it last year (right


Corresponding to: Was that letter form Bruce?

Non-dislocated form: Is that top new?

One explanation given of left-dislocation is that the speaker presents the main person or thing s/he wishes to talk
about without having worked out the structure to be used.
A more positive view is that by "detaching" the salient referent and putting it first, the speaker side-steps grammatical
complexity, presenting a "topic-comment" structure that is more easily grasped than the normal one.
Interrogatives and relatives are complex structures in English, and it is in these cases that we can find left-dislocation.

Right-dislocations are more problematic to analyse as Themes, as they are not initial, but instead are placed after
the clause as a full NG, whose referent had been previously introduced as a pronoun.
The traditional view is that the final nominal is an afterthought, which again, implies a construction failure on the part
of the speaker.
A cognitive-functional explanation - that of making explicit a referent which was accessible to the speaker in the context,
but perhaps not so obvious to the hearer, or not in the speaker's mind at the moment.
Affectivity may provide a different kind of motivation.
He's a cool dude, Sam.
It's a nice place, this.

Two detached Themes may occur together, the first an Absolute, the second a left-dislocation.
And Ben, his sister , she has disabling osteo-arthritis.
And this consultant, what I like about him is that he doesn't pass everyone on to his underlings; he attends to you
Double detached
The white house opposite, the woman who lives there, her dog , he's had to be put down.
The function of multiple detachments is to "anchor" the final referent to other referents, which are presumed to be
accessible to the hearer.

The Theme of an utterance is essentially a constituent of the transitivity structures. It is possible to allow for a number of
non-experiential Themes, which precede the experiential Theme.

Interpersonal Themes

These include there main subtypes:

Continuative Themes (or discourse markers) Oh, well, Ah, please

Adjuncts of stance - Include three main subtypes:


1. epistemic - certainly
2. evidential - apparently
3. evaluative - surely, surprisingly
4. style adjuncts - frankly, honestly
5. domain adjuncts - legally, technologically

Vocatives - Doctor! Mun!

Appellatives - ladies and gentlemen

Textual Themes
Include a variety of connectors or connective adjuncts such as
however, besides, therefore, now, first, then, next and
These connect the clasue to the previous part of the text by
indicating relations such as addition, concession, reason,
consequence, and so on.
All these elements - part of the Theme as long as they are place
before the experiential theme (Subject, Circumstantial, Object or
Coordinators such as and, but and or, conjunctions such as
when and relative pronouns such as who, which, that are
inherently thematic and do not have alternative placements.
Non-defining relatives, because they are analysed as
supplementives, may be considered as having Themes and
Rhemes in their own right.

By including the many different classes of items within the Theme category, it is possible to claim that the three macrofunctions of language, the experiential, the interpersonal and the textual, can be represented by items within the
Well now Mrs Jones, what can I do for you?
Continuative, interpersonal
Connective, Textual
Vocative, interpersonal
Experiential, Experiential

Clauses as

We can say that in a unit composed of two or more clauses, the first clause acts as Theme to the rest.
Coordinated clauses joined by "and" reflect the chronological order of the events described. The first clause is therefore
the natural temporal and factual starting point of the sequence. For this reason not all coordinate clauses are coherently
The lone rider got on his horse and rode into the sunset.
Even when the clauses are reversible, the resultant meanings are likely to be different; for, as well as chronological
sequence, other meanings such as cause and effect are implied:
He bought an oil-tanker and made a fortune.
He made a fortune and bought an oil-tanker.
Subordinate clauses impose no obligation to maintain chronological sequencing. However, an initial subordinate
clause takes as starting-point the meaning it encodes, such as reason, simultaneity and condition.
As you weren't at home , I left a message on your answer-phone.
As she stepped off the kerb, a cyclist crashed into her.
If you don't like it, you can probably change it for something else.
Such initial clauses also set up expectations, which obviously doesn't happen when the subordinate clause is final:
To cure stress , try a Jacuzzi whirlpool bath. - set up a purpose frame and names the goal to be achieved.
He braked hard to avoid hitting the cyclist. - The purpose clause is in final position.
Taking advantage of his present popularity, the Prime Minister called an election - active meaning and expresses
an action or state dependent upon the main situation.
Thwarted in the west, Stalin turned east. - passive in meaning and is retrospective.
Speakers adjust their choice of Theme to the context, "attending first to the most urgent task".
Context is understoof here to include potentially:
1. the situational context in which the participants interact, including the palce, the time and the participants
2. The textual context, or "co-text", which covers the previous spoken or written discourse.
3. Cognitive features such as the participants' knowledge, beliefs and assumptions.