Transitivity Processes English language Literature Review Essay

A Literature Review on Transitivity Processes


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The transitivity rules in English grammar dictate that when a verb takes a direct object, the verb is referred to as transitive and intransitive when it does not. However, there are cases where a verb takes a direct object or does not, creating an extension of the concept referred to as a ditransitive verb. However, Halliday, the scholar that developed the theory of systemic language functions, suggests that verbs that both take and do not take direct verbs are not assigned a prime consideration in transitivity processes. He described three primary transitivity processes, which are Process itself, Circumstances, and Participants. Various sources have explored the application of the three processes to develop other six types of transitivity processes. They are verbal, relational, behavioral, existential, material, and mental processes. Based on a review of four sources, the material process was the most frequently noted transitivity process used in language expression among participants and in textual presentations.

The first source by Robertson and Jung (2009, p. 25) collect data from literature review rather than research methods to investigate rhetorical patterns exhibited in the structure of transitivity processes. They gathered data using researching research article abstracts and compared results they found using the CARS model. They isolated research statements of scholars discussing transitivity processes to evaluate the application of transitivity processes in language teaching and found transitivity processes provide optional syntactic resources for explaining how Participants represent themselves. They identified three forms of presentation of experience, namely outer, inner, and generalization experiences. The article indicates the three forms of presentation are observed in material processes, mental processes, and relational processes. Table 4 from the five-process distribution revealed that verbal processes were behind the next by 15.5 percent, while relational processes are taking the third position by 14 percent. The percentage of mental functions in both cases ranked fourth in the international set ranking, which was almost of similar rank with verbal processes that were indexed at 11 percent. Existential approaches were observed to be irregular in both sets by scoring a distribution set of 2 percent (Robertson and Jung (2009, p. 33). They concluded that material processes play a critical role in providing alternative syntactic resources for explaining how Participants express themselves through language.

Vathanalaoha and Tangkiengsirisin (2018, p. 644) analyzed data on behavioral processes to determine how students applied the transitivity process when practicing the impersonal writing style. Generally, they explored how students used the verb "be" in expressing their human behaviors that were uncommon to scientific writing, which included laughing and smiling. The research involved collecting datasets from 21 experimental research articles from biology, physical, and social science disciplines. They focused on the level of persuasion involved in every discipline to understand how students, developed an impersonal writing style through mental processes. The table containing the dataset revealed the impersonal style of writing relied on students’ choice of transitivity, with relational processes, scoring the highest percentage where writers tended to maintain maximal distance from the text (Vathanalaoha & Tangkiengsirisin, 2018, p. 644). Concerning ranking clauses, they observed material processes were frequently noted in the experimental research articles, suggesting students were explicit in expressing verbs connecting goal and actor (Vathanalaoha & Tangkiengsirisin, 2018, p. 651). They concluded that the presence of material processes noted by material verbs, such as “used: characterized students’ impersonal style of writing in expressing their goal of the research, and not the actor.

Banks (2002, p. 2) conducted mini-corpus research to analyze the semantics strata of systemic functional linguistics. The researcher outlined the structure of the transitivity process using two texts to identify the differences between them that were brought about by the analyses. Banks arranged data in a table having a group of verbs to analyze transitivity processes that take place in a physical environment. Results indicated the vocal group was scattered within the two texts and deduced it was a presentation of the material process. Banks noted the vocal group was frequently in the passive voice and was fairly affected in the subject position. The behavioral technique which Banks found to be partially expressed accompanied the material process (Banks (2002, p. 8). Banks noted that the material process was frequently applied in representing the subject group of clauses, indicating the process was a significant component in clauses constituting topical themes.

Al-Behadily and AL-Sheikh (2019, p. 344) conducted descriptive research to investigate relations found in the transitivity system. The researcher’s literary text from Halliday explains the application of transitivity processes from semantic and grammatical perspectives. They found three significant processes that appeared most times throughout the text. They were material, relational, and mental. They noted the material process was used to present a participant as an actor, which was more frequently used than the rest of the transitivity processes (Al-Behadily & AL-Sheikh, 2019, p. 348). Material action clauses were the central focus of Halliday’s work, whereby they seemed to apply both intransitive and intransitive action clauses.

Based on a review of the four sources, material process accounted for the high number of processes in texts as depicted by Al-Behadily and AL-Sheikh (2019), Banks (2002), Vathanalaoha, and Tangkiengsirisin (2018), and Robertson and Jung (2009). This indicates a common similarity that material processes are the most frequently used transitivity processes in language expression. Non-material processes were infrequently in-text presentations, an observation that presupposes that most non-material processes were applied when individuals were expressing a happening or action. This finding was noted by Vathanalaoha and Tangkiengsirisin (2018), who found that the behavioral process was prevalent in the impersonal type of expressions. All the sources showed the mental process was infrequent in language expressions, indicating individuals tended to frame actions happing within settings through direct speeches.


Al-Behadily, S. H. M., & AL-Sheikh, S. A. (2019). A Stylistic Analysis by Halliday’s

Transitivity System in a Literary Text. Dirassat in Humanities & Social Sciences, 331-350.

Banks, D. (2002). Systemic Functional Linguistics as a model for text analysis. Asp, 2-14.

Robertson, P., & Jung, J. (2009). Part-of-Speech Tagging for Grammar Checking of Punjabi. The

Linguistics Journal, 4(1), 1-111.

Vathanalaoha, K., & Tangkiengsirisin, S. (2018). Transitivity Analysis Of Rhetorical Moves In

Dental Research Article Abstracts: Thai And International Journals. Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Studies, 18(3), 639-662.