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Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Subjunctively Telling God What To Do


Consider the following clauses (queried on sys-func) uttered by a priest as part of the Catholic mass:

The Lord
be
with you
Medium
Process
circumstantial Range
Subject: marked
Predicator
Adjunct
Mood
Residue

God
bless
you
Agent
Process
Medium
Subject: marked
Predicator
Complement
Mood
Residue

God
forgive
you
your sins
Agent
Process
Beneficiary
Medium
Subject: marked
Predicator
Complement
Complement
Mood
Residue

In terms of interpersonal semantics, these are instances of the minor speech function that Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 196) term 'well-wishing', which they group with salutations and valedictions as greetings.  (Subjunctive mood in English is theorised by Halliday & Matthiessen (2014: 143) as a system of the verbal group, subjunctive mode, rather than of the clause.)

As wishes, they are topologically closer to the major speech function 'proposal', than to 'proposition', because the process of wishing projects proposals, rather than propositions. And this is shown by the fact that the clauses are realised grammatically by imperative mood, the congruent realisation of the proposal 'command'.

How then to explain the marked Subject (Halliday & Matthiessen 2014: 194-5) of these imperative clauses, through which a lowly priest is demanding (goods-&-)services of his Supreme Being? One way to explain it is in terms of tenor.

In the service of the Catholic mass, the priest acts as the earthly representative of the Christian God.  In enacting this tenor rôle, he reassures the congregation, on behalf of God, with meanings that would be congruently realised as:
the Lord is with you
God blesses you,
God forgives you your sins
The Lord
is
with you
Medium
Process
circumstantial Range
Subject
Finite
Predicator
Adjunct
Mood
Residue
 
God
blesses
you
Agent
Process
Medium
Subject
Finite
Predicator
Complement
Mood
Residue

God
forgives
you
your sins
Agent
Process
Beneficiary
Medium
Subject
Finite
Predicator
Complement
Complement
Mood
Residue

On this interpretation, the clauses spoken by the priest are instances of interpersonal metaphor in which statements — which are congruently realised by declarative clauses — are realised incongruently as imperative clauses.

This explains both the presence of the marked Subjects in the imperative clauses, and the inappropriate tenor of a human giving commands to a deity.

[This analysis was privately sent to the inquirer, Gareth Gilbert-Hughes, on 12 August 2019.]


Postscript:

Note that if the priest says, instead:
  • May the Lord be with you
  • May God bless you
  • May God forgive you your sins
he risks losing the enactment of the superior tenor rôle of representing the Christian God, since these expressions can be exchanged by priest and parishioner alike; they are not necessarily wordings exclusive to the priest.

This explicitly identifies a further function of the metaphorical forms (implicit in the original analysis).