International Journal of Language and Linguistics
Volume 3, Issue 6, November 2015, Pages: 347-352

A Study of Topology of Behavioral Clauses in English and Vietnamese in the Light of Functional Grammar

Hoa Van Phan1, Trinh Thi Tu Nguyen2

1School of International Education, University of Da Nang, Viet Nam

2Department of English Language, College of Transport II, Viet Nam

Email address:

(H. V. Phan)
(T. T. T. Nguyen)

To cite this article:

Hoa Van Phan, Trinh Thi Tu Nguyen. A Study of Topology of Behavioral Clauses in English and Vietnamese in the Light of Functional Grammar.International Journal of Language and Linguistics.Vol.3, No. 6, 2015, pp. 347-352. doi: 10.11648/j.ijll.20150306.15

Abstract: The study of the relation between human behavior and language is probably the most fascinating interests that a scholar can undertake. Actually, human behavior and language have very close, mutual and complex relationships which need exploring more. This paper reports on an ongoing Ph. D research in the light of functional grammar raised by Halliday M.A.K [11]. It aims at presenting (i) the theoretical background of experimental meaning: the system of transitivity and especially behavioral clauses, (ii) the identification of English and Vietnamese verbs that realize process in behavioral clauses with a corpus of English and Vietnamese literary work of the late 20th century and the early 21st century, (iii) a topology of behavioral clauses in English and Vietnamese literary work. When we look at the experimental metafunction, we are investigating the grammar of the clause as representation. To achieve the set goals, descriptive method and functional analysis are thoroughly chosen. Finally, this paper also employs the framework of Martin, Matthiessen and Painter [15], Bloor and Bloor [2] and Eggins [8] to find out more about the subtypes of behavioral processes in English and Vietnamese literary genre.

Keywords: Functional Grammar, Topology, Experimental Meaning, Behavioral Clauses

1. Introduction

There have been two major distinctive existing approaches on analyzing Vietnamese clauses. One is influenced by European traditional grammar, especially French grammar. Its analysis is based on Subject-Predicator structure. Many Vietnamese linguists like Phan Khoi [21], Bui Duc Tinh [5] applied this traditional Subject-Predicate structure to analyze Vietnamese clauses. The other is based on Systemic Functional Grammar raised by Halliday[11]. This is a new trend in modern Vietnamese grammar which helps us deal with some difficulties in interpreting and analyzing a clause that traditional grammar cannot tackle. This analysis of the clause is based on Theme-Rheme structure (clause as message), Mood structure (clause as exchange) and Transitivity system (clause as representation). A considerable number of Vietnamese linguists like Hoang Van Van [13], Diep Quang Ban [7], Cao Xuan Hao [6], are completely dedicated to this trend. In addition, many studies have been carried out to explore the nature as well as the importance of experimental meaning in English and Vietnamese. In this paper, we focus on Transitivity system (clause as representation), especially behavioral clauses and their topology in English and Vietnamese. Less attention has been paid to Behavioral processes than other processes due to its complexity and ambiguousness.

2. The Theoretical Background of Experimental Meaning: The System of Transitivity and Especially Behavioral Clauses

How "meaning in grammar" is treated is an interesting question and many linguists and scholars are especially interested in it. According to Halliday [11], there are three types of meaning within grammatical structures namely: Experimental meaning, Interpersonal meaning and Textual meaning. Among them, Experimental meaning has to do with the ways language represents our experience of the world and the inner world of our thoughts and feelings. In other words, we have turned our experience of actions, happenings, feelings, beliefs, situations, states, behaviors and so on, into meaning and into wording. The people and things involved in then and the relevant of circumstances of time, place, manner and so on. Transitivity belonging to experimental meaning is the grammar of experience. It construes the word into a manageable set of Process types and of Participants. Halliday [11] has identified the encoding processes of the realities under discussion, and has also linguistically (grammatically) classified the various process types: material, mental, relational, and the classified other processes into three subsidiary process types: behavioral, verbal, and existential.

2.1. Material Processes

Material processes are processes of "Doing". They have an obligatory participant which is the Actor- the doer of the action. A second participant, the Goal of the action, is the optional participant to which the doing is done. There are still other participants which are Goal, Range and Beneficiary.

Mary sent her present to David.
Actor Pro: material Goal Beneficiary

2.2. Mental Processes

Mental processes encode the inner world of cognition, perception and affection. They tend to be realized through the use of verbs like think, know, feel, smell, hear, see, want, like, hate, wish, etc. There are two constant participants in a mental process: a Senser and a Phenomenon, even if the Phenomenon is not explicitly realized.

He loved his wife at first sight.
Actor Pro: mental Phenomenon Circumstance

2.3. Relational Processes

Relational processes are processes of "being": something is being said to "be" something else. That is to say, there are always two participants in relational processes which consist of two main modes: Attributive and Identifying

Attributive: " A is an attributive of X"

Identifying: "A is the identity of X"

Abraham Lincoln was very tall and thin.
Carrier Pro: attributive Attribute
Abraham Lincoln Was the 16th president of the United States.
Token Pro: identifying Value

2.4. Behavioral Processes

Behavioral processes are processes of psychological and physiological process, like breathing, coughing, smiling, dreaming, chatting, watching, etc. These construe human behavior including mental and verbal behavior as an active version of verbal and mental processes. Saying and sensing are construed as activity. Typically, the participant is a conscious being, like the Senser, but the process functions are more like one of doing. The participant is called as Behaver, such as:

I am listening to the radio.
Behaver Pro: behavioral behavioral circumstance

2.5. Verbal Processes

Verbal processes can be identified as the processes of saying which are expressed by verbs tell, say, ask, suggest, etc. Verbal process also includes modes of expressing and indicating, even though they are not verbal. There are two main typical participants in the process: Sayer and Receiver. The Sayer is the addresser, or the one who does the verbalization, and the Receiver is the addressed which the saying is addressed.

She Talks to him about her childhood.
Sayer Pro: Verbal Receiver Verbiage

2.6. Existential Processes

Existential processes represent experience by positing that "there was/ is something". Because the function of existential processes is to construe being as simple existence, there is only one participant known as the Existent.

Once upon a time there was  a little girl.
Circumstance   Pro: existential Existent

3. The Identification of English and Vietnamese Verbs that Realize Process in Behavioral Clauses

Behavioral processes construe human behavior, including mental and verbal behavior, as an active version of verbal and mental processes. I use "construe" to emphasize the role of texts play in making meaning – that is, knowledge- and this construes social context – that is reality. Therefore, behavioral processes are half-way mixes semantically among mental, material and verbal processes. Behavioral processes are like mental ones in that one participant is involved with human consciousness. That is the Senser in the case of mental processes. We can call it the Behaver in the case of behavioral processes. A question raised is that how to distinguish behavioral clauses with the other five ones.

In analyzing transitivity structure in behavioral clauses, attention must be paid to the description of three aspects of the behavioral clauses: Behaver, Behavioral process and Phenomenon or Circumstance or Behavior:

She smiled slowly
Behaver Pro: behavioral Cir: manner
He nodded at them with his smile
Behaver Pro: behavioral Phenomenon

These clauses involve three participants. It is safe to say that there is no confusion in identifying Behaver and Circumstance or Phenomenon but great efforts are made to recognize behavioral processes. In addition, the process of centre on that part of clause is realized by verbal but can also regarded as what "goings-on" are represented in the whole sentence. Therefore, it is crucially important to determine the process type and label it in behavioral processes. Process type is the resource of sorting out our experience of all kinds of events into small number of types. Each process is different from each other with regard to the Process itself and the number of participants involved. However, there is a troubleshooting regarding to determining the typical processes realized in behavioral clauses in transitivity system and labeling them accordingly.

According to Halliday [11], Behavioral processes are psychological and physiological processes, like breathing, coughing, smiling, dreaming, chatting, watching, etc. This helps us sort out verbs that can be labeled as behavioral processes. Nevertheless, semantically, some processes can be labeled as either behavioral processes or material processes. The following clauses are examples of them:

(1)You are looking at my cuff button.

(2)I didn’t see Daisy very often

In (1), we have a behavioral process "looking at" whereas the process realized by the verb "didn’t see" is a case of mental process. Especially, these types of processes are semantically complete. Let us consider the following examples:

(3)She shivers with cold

(4)She shivers with fear

It is certain that semantically, in (1) "shiver" belongs to physiological process whilst in (2) "shiver" is psychological one. It would be better to have identification criteria for behavioral clauses based on grammatical one instead of semantic. The two probes are suggested to label behavioral clauses as following:

(i)  The unmarked representation of present time is present-in-present (present continuous)

Behavioral clauses are unlike verbal and mental processes in that the behaviorals can take the present continuous tense while verbal and mental processes cannot.

(ii) They cannot project

Involving the role of a conscious being but being unable to project like material. PROJECTION is an option for mental and verbal clauses. They can project a clause as the 'content' of the mental or verbal processing and the projected status of this clause is marked by think, say or state. For instance, the following example is a combination of two clauses, a projecting mental one of thinking and another one representing the idea projected by thinking: I think I will go by bus.

The comparison of the suggested probes can be described and summarized in table 3.1.

Table 3.1. The significant differences among the four processes.

Two suggested probes Material Behavioral Mental Verbal
Present-in-present + + - -
Projection - - + +

4. A topology of Behavioral Clauses in English and Vietnamese

At transitivity level, there are five major process types – material, mental, verbal, relational and behavioral that cover the grammatical and semantic space of happenings, doings, sensing, saying, being, having and so on. There are prototypes cases of all the five major process types and these are the core types of these processes. However, there are more peripheral cases of each process. As a result, it is impossible for us to interpret a clear borderline among these processes. At behavioral process itself, in addition to its prototype cases of psychological and physiological process such as sneezing, dreaming, breathing, stuttering, etc. There are a lot of peripheral cases that mix characteristics of with material, verbal and mental processes. Therefore, behavioral processes also include more mental-like, verbal-like and material – like subtypes. Table 4.1 illustrates the subtypes of behavioral processes.

From this perspective, the subtypes of behavioral processes can be shown in figure 4.1.

The four main subtypes of behavioral processes and its typical participants will be considered promptly. Fortunately, it is possible for us to recognize these subtypes. The first type, Behavioral process includes processes such as yawning, crying, coughing. The second type, Material-behavioral processes includes process such as doing, happening. The third type, Verbal-Behavioral processes includes process such as saying. The fourth type, Mental Behavioral processes includes process such as liking, seeing, thinking, wanting.

Table 4.1. Subtypes of behavioral processes.

Behavioral processes Material-Behavioral processes Verbal-Behavioral processes Mental Behavioral -processes
Psychological Physiological Physiological Social Physiological Social Perceptive Cognitive Emotional
smile cough twitch kiss stutter chat look at ponder smile
laugh yawn shiver embrace   talk gossip watch puzzle frown
frown sneeze tremble dance     stare work out laugh
sigh breath sweat play     gawk   gasp
sob sleep   hug     view   scowl
snarl shit         look over   shudder
cry hiccup         observe   grim
stare burp              
whine faint              

Figure 4.1. Subtypes of behavioral processes.

4.1. Behavioral Processes

Considering the following two clauses:

(5)The five miners sighed, bowed, and, trembling with the struggle. [14]

(6)Her hands trembled slightly at her work. [14]

These two clauses belong to Behavioral processes that they both describe human’s behavior. In addition, each clause has a Behaver which performs or does an action. This is consistent with the Behaver-Behavioral process- circumstance type of analysis of Behavioral processes that has been adopted so far, for example:

The five miners sighed, bowed, and, trembling with the struggle.
Behaver Pro: behavioral Phenomenon
Her hands trembled slightly at her work
Behaver Pro: behavioral Cir: manner

Behavioral process is also exemplified in the following clauses

(7)He started up, glaring at her. They stared at each other [14]

(8)He glanced at me and frowned slightly. [9]

Most behavioral clauses have only one participant role, the Behaver. However, there may, in some instances, be candidates for a second participant role like in examples (7) and (8) "glaring at her", "stared at each other", "glanced at me".

Let us consider further examples of behavioral process in Vietnamese:

(9)Chí Phèo bỗng nằm dài không nhúc nhích rên khe khẽ như gần chết. [18]

(10)      Lão ngẩn mặt ra một chút,rồi bỗng nhiên thở dài. [17]

(11)      Cụ bá cười nhạt. [18]

In examples (9), (10), (11), the behavioral clauses are constructed employing the behavioral processes in the form of "intransitive verbs" "rên" ("moan"), "thở dài" ("sigh") and "cười nhạt" ("sneer"). In particular, "rên" ("moan"), "thở dài" ("sigh") and "cười nhạt" ("sneer") are the most common psychological signals of man. There are three main issues raised that – (i) the question of what psychological signals express – (ii) the notion of psychological signals and (iii)- the universality of psychological signals. We will discuss these issues in another paper. In this paper, we would like to focus on Fridlund’s view. Fridlund [10] emphasized the use of behavioral signals for communicative purposes. He also asserts that behavioral signals should be viewed as communicative signals. For example, when you see person sneering, we can encode that the person is behaving in a very obvious way that he is showing no respect for somebody.

4.2. Material-Behavioral Processes

Behavioral processes also include more material-like subtypes and therefore, the clause can be probed with "what did the Behaver do?"


He hugged himself in his brown blanket
Behaver Pro: Material-behavioral Cir: Location



Daisy and Gatsby danced
Behaver Pro: Material-behavioral



Xuân nhồm nhoàm nhai mía
Behaver Pro: Material-behavioral participant


Material-behavioral processes are covered by two main types, namely social processes - kiss, dance, embrace, hug etc. – and physiological processes – twitch, shiver, chew etc. In addition, from transitive perspective (12) and (13) are kinds of intransitive material clauses which embody only one nuclear participant known as the Behaver while (14) belongs to transitive material one with the second participant. The Behaver "Xuan" is doing something consciously that is chewing.

4.3. Verbal – Behavioral Processes

Here are some examples of Verbal – behavioral processes


Colonel Dent and Mr. Eshton Argue on politics
Behaver Pro: Verbal – behavioral Participant (Verbiage)



Hắn chửi ngay tất cả làng Vũ Ðại
Behaver Pro: Verbal – behavioral Participant (Receiver)


In (15) the participant is the Verbiage while in (16) the participant is the Receiver. The Verbiage and Receiver are typical participants of verbal processes. So it is safe to say that Verbal – behavioral processes share the characteristics of verbal and behavioral processes, they also represent process of saying, telling, stating, and so on. Besides, depending on the semantic features of the process, they are divided into two main subtypes, namely – physiological and social processes.

Let us consider further examples of Verbal- behavioral process

(17)      ‘They’ll be ‘beginnin’, the boy half cried, half shouted. [14]

(18)      ‘Is there immediate danger?’ murmured Mr. Mason. [4]

(19)      Bà Phó Đoan lầu nhầu. [23]

4.4. Mental – Behavioral Processes

It is very difficult for us to find out the clear border between behavioral processes and mental processes because there are complexities that we have not explored yet, in this section, we concentrate on discussing some differences between them. Firstly, as we pointed out in 3.1 above that mental processes can project but behavioral processes cannot project. This is another important difference between behavioral processes and mental processes. Therefore, it is easy to make us confused. Secondly, Halliday notes that one significant difference between them is in their unmarked present tense. In mental processes, the unmarked present tense is the simple present but in behavioral processes, the unmarked present tense is the present continuous. Last but not least, semantically mental processes encode meanings of thinking and feeling while behavioral processes are processes of behaving or performing an action. The blending Mental – behavioral processes inherit some characteristics of these two processes, as in the following examples:

(20)      ‘It makes me feel blind,’ she frowned. [14]

(21)      she laughed with thrilling scorn. [9]

(22)      I laughed at him as he said this. ‘I am not an angel,’ [4]

(23)      lão lừ mắt nhìn trừng trừng vào mắt nó [17]

(24)      Lão hu hu khóc [17]

Like mental processes, the blending Mental – behavioral are classified into three classes: perception (verbs of seeing and hearing), cognition (verbs of thinking, understanding, knowing) and emotion (verbs of liking and fearing).

5. Conclusion

Several attempts have been made to analyze some features of behavioral clauses, especially a topology of behavioral clauses in a corpus of 20th century novels and short stories in English and Vietnamese. It deals with two basic problems. One is pointing out a topology of behavioral clauses. These processes accommodate an intermediate type with mixed characteristics. That explains why there is some confusion in recognizing them. Behavioral processes consist of four subtypes: Material-behavioral processes, verbal – behavioral processes, mental-behavioral processes and behavioral processes. The others figure out some verbs that realize process in behavioral clauses in English and Vietnamese. It is hopeful that this paper has made some contributions to analyzing clauses in accordance with the system of TRANSITIVITY.


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