Background on Text

Message in Text, Part 14

You have learned how the reader creates the text — it is primarily through use of the system Given-New. But still, that system must first be put in place; that is, without lines intended as text, not even the world's most powerful reader can create text. Therefore the initial construction of Given-New depends on the writer, and as you've learned as well, the writer constructs the Given-New by first constructing the Theme-Rheme. A lot depends on the systems a writer puts in place — the whole textual construction hangs on a writer's ability to sort and to inform. In fact, one definition of good writing might well be, It's lines where the writer has decided first on how to orient themself in all the information of the project, then to be able to weigh that information on the scales of Broad-Topic-and-Fine-Detail. Or, to flip that definition into advice to every writer: Sort your information by weights, and arrange the weights from light to heavy. That's what makes text good.

The system of Theme-Rheme is the writer's mechanism for information-selection. Now remember, I conceive of the writer as the holder of the information on a project. That position firmly puts the writer in control. However, with that control comes a burden: the writer needs to decide which information to include and which to exclude from the paper. And again, of the information to be included, the writer must also decide the order in which to put it all. In fact, it is in these action of the Message-construction that you witness the reason why we have a tougher time beginning a sentence than ending one. Basically, when a writer's decided on what to say, the writer's only got to go and say it — and it's in that decision-making process that the Theme comes in as help. The Themes of a text-span are the writer's framework — it is to the Themes that the writer tacks on the details. The Themes are what the writer finetunes, extends, complexifies, elaborates.

Picture it like this.

First the framework gets laid out, that is, the writer lines up the topic-level information on the project in a hierarchized listing. Next, the items on the list get arranged according to the connections between the topics — basically, the arrangement is the writer's way of thinking about these topics together. Here, in this thematic arrangement, lies the logic of one entire span of the text, and likewise, there lies too one entire part of the logic of the entire paper. Again, the arrangement is a framework, because it's across the Themes of the clauses that the topics are woven in place. The weave of the text, you might say, is stitched and spun; and the weaver of the text, that is, the writer — this is the person who knows the topics and so knows too how to order those topics and furnish each with the necessary rhematic detail. Because, as you know, the material in the Rheme really follows on whichever topic is in place before, so that basically, to have chosen the Theme is already to be beginning the Rheme.

Take the opening clauses of our example paragraph:

{ HTM allows for the efficient implementation of parallel algorithms [27]. }1  { It is commonly used to elide expensive software synchronization mechanisms [16, 63]. }2

Notice how in the Themes of clauses No.1 and No.2, the crucial decision really is just what to write about, because once Hardware Transactional Memory is in place as the topic, from there the details just follow.

For example, now that HTM is the topic, it's easy to anticipate the information that's provided on the technical design of HTM. Similarly, with this design knowledge of HTM in place, it's quite expectable that we'll read about how HTM is applied, as we then do in clause No.2. That is how the discourse progresses, Theme-selection determines Rheme, while Rheme-explication influences the next Theme-selection, which selection being once made, the Theme determines the Rheme, and so on.

Look, here is that weave I'm talking about — I've made it visible down the whole paragraph just by boldfacing every variation on the word transaction:

1 Hardware Transactional Memory
2 Hardware Transactional Memory
3 Informally, for a CPU thread executing a hardware transaction, all other threads
4 whereas, from the outside, a transaction
5 A transaction
6 In this case, all transactional changes
7 To be able to detect conflicts and revert transactions, the CPU
8 There, transactional memory
9 A transaction's read set
10 Concurrent read accesses by other threads to the read set
11 however, concurrent writes
11' and - depending on the actual HTM implementation and circumstances - likely
12 Further, any concurrent accesses to the write set necessarily

That is 14 out of 82 words which are either a synonym or a derivative of the word transaction. Just think, nearly one in every five words here are essentially the word transaction. That, let me tell you, is not a normal distribution of the word. However, here, in this short stretch of text, a reader won't even notice the exorbitant frequency of transaction because the word is performing its weave function, and if the word wasn't there, the paragraph would fray and begin to come undone.

The Theme, therefore, is there to help keep the text from going to bits. The New, on the other hand, is there to help the reader learn what he or she wants to know. The two systems, Theme-Rheme and Given-New, complement as systems in much the same ways that the two users of those systems, writer and reader, complement as roles. A writer weaves information into clauses unit by unit, and unit by unit, a reader discerns the weave-patterns from clauses.

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