Transitivity Analysis of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s First Television Debate

Yichao Zhang


Halliday holds that all cultures reflect some universal meta-functions in the languages and proposes three such meta-functions: ideational, interpersonal, and textual. This paper employs the transitivity theory in Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics to analyze the first television debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Specifically, through a quantitative analysis, this paper tries to find the answers for the next two questions: First, what are the distributions of six processes used by the two candidates; are there any similarities and differences or some rules in the distribution? Second, what are the reasons of such distributions, and what are the functions of the distributions of different processes and main participants in helping the speakers to convey their intentions? The main findings show that material processes, relational process and mental processes are relatively dominate in both candidates’ speeches; while compared with Hillary, Trump tends to use more existential processes. In political discourse, the speakers measure their words with special caution to interact with people, to expresses their attitudes and judgments, and to influence the viewpoints and behavior of the audience, which is mainly the realization of the interpersonal function.


Transitivity; Political Speech Discourse; Function; Process

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