A Systemic Functional Linguistic Differentiation of Theme-idea and Theme-subject

Antoni M. Keya


The closeness in sound between the literary theme-idea and nonliterary theme-subject has blurred the difference between the two that they are treated similarly in Tanzanian academic literature. Examples of theme-idea are grammatically realized in phrases as those for themesubject, and this limits the enjoyment and appreciation of literary works. This study is an attempt to make explicit the difference between the two. The question leading this study is: how do theme-idea and theme-subject differ in their grammatical realization? The data were collected from various secondary schools and universities in Tanzania, and from lecturers during the meeting where this work was presented for the first time. The Hallidayan Systemic Functional Linguistics was used to help set the two apart. The results show that the examples given for theme-idea in this study are in the form of noun phrases and they lack process types for them to construe doings, happenings and experience. These are examples that should have been given only for subjects or topics. An idea is grammatically expressed in a clause, which none of the respondent’s supplies in this study. Finally, I argue that this mismatch is detrimental to the understanding and enjoying of literary works.


Key words : Theme-idea, theme-topic, theme-subject, Systemic Functional Linguistics, Tanzania

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