Complex fields

Activity, taxonomy and property systems provide the basic resources for construing field. But before we can return to mapping the explanation of seasons this chapter began with, there is one more system we need to introduce. This system makes room for interdependent variables that organize the complex constellations of meaning in technical discourses such as those of science. There are two basic ways of building interdependency: reconstruing and interrelating.

Reconstruing variables

Beginning with the reconstrual of field variables, we can return to the tilt of the earth that we mentioned is crucial for explaining seasons. In one sense, we can now readily account for this in our expanded model - tilt is a property of the earth and so can be arrayed and gauged. Indeed, our original text explaining the seasons does just that:

Seasons happen because Earth’s axis is tilted at an angle of about 23.4 degrees

In this form, where the Earth’s axis is specified as being tilted, this analysis is unproblematic. However, in the next sentence, the property realized verbally as tilted above is nominalized as tilt:

Earth’s axial tilt

In addition, the nominalized tilt is classified by axial. This positions tilt in a classification taxonomy; axial tilt is a type of tilt. This is problematic for the outline of field resources canvassed thus far as classification is a key feature of items, not properties. Moreover, in terms of Hao’s model of ideational discourse semantics (2020a, Chapter 6 of this volume), the nominalized axial tilt is not a quality, which is the typical realization of property. Rather, it is a measured dimension of the earth that can be reorganized lexicogrammatically as a FocusAThing structure:

Axial tilt of Earth

To reconcile these two seemingly conflicting analyses - tilt as a property and tilt as an item - what we will suggest here is that the property tilted is being reconstrued as an item tilt. This we will refer to as an itemized property. This analysis is based on the fact that axial tilt shows many of features of both properties and items: it can be arrayed and gauged like properties and can be taxonomized like items. And from the perspective of discourse semantics, it is not realized by a quality, which is the prototypical realization of qualitative properties, nor by an entity, which is the standard realization of items, but rather by a dimension of an entity.

Such itemized reconstruals are regularly used to ‘name’ broader sets of properties. Indeed, we have used a number of these throughout this paper to group together various properties. In the following examples, the underlined itemized properties are ‘names’ of the bolded properties:

The colours (of the flame robin) are slaty, whitish and sandier brown.

The shape (of the flame robin) is described as slender-looking.

Itemized properties comparable to these are the basis for symbolic variables in mathematics (see Doran, Chapter 7 of this volume). For example, in the following formula the acceleration of a moving body is symbolized as a, the mass of that body is m and the force on the body is F:

Like all properties, each of these can be numerically gauged - in this case through Newtons (N), metres per second squared (m/s2) and kilograms (kg):

But like items, they can all be taxonomized:

angular acceleration, linear acceleration; centripetal force, electrostatic force; relativistic mass, rest mass.

Reconstruals of properties as items is a regular feature of many fields. Under this interpretation, field is a resource not just for construing items, activities and properties, it is also a resource for reconstruing meanings. It enables multiple overlapping perspectives on phenomena to be realized in a single instance. This is emphasized by the fact that in addition to being itemized, properties can also be reconstrued as activities. Similarly, items can be dynamized by being reconstrued as activities, and activities can in turn be itemized. Each of these options have typical realizations in discourse semantics, as introduced below.

When properties are reconstrued as activities, such activated properties enable a dynamic unfolding of a property:

It vets hotter

In terms of property, this indicates an array of temperature (degrees of heat). But in terms of activity, it can be used to moment a larger activity:

It vets hotter л

And then eventually it melts.

This type of activation moves us into the realm of'becoming’, where properties are, in effect, dynamized.

Activating items very commonly involves them being positioned in a taxonomy. The following excerpt from a university physics textbook shows an example of this for composition (Young and Freedman 2012: 742):

... now we let the ball touch the inner wall... The surface of the ball becomes part of the cavity surface.

Here, the part whole relation between the surface of a ball and the cavity surface of a wall is activated, and becomes a moment in a larger activity:

We let the ball touch the inner wall


The surface of the ball becomes part of the cavity surface.

Finally, just as items can be activated, activities can be itemized.10 This regularly happens in the process of technicalization, as scientific terms are distilled as activity entities (see Hao 2020a and Chapter 6 of this volume for discussion of the discourse semantics of activity entities). One of our initial examples of a momented activity in fact showed a series of itemized activities that moment phagocytosis - itself an itemized activity; the itemized activities involved are underlined below:



hi vest ion


Phagosome forms л

Fusion with lysosome


Dm st ion



Like all items, these itemized activities can enter into a taxonomy. For example, phagocytosis is one type of endocytosis, along with potocytosis and micropinocytosis, which all contrast with exocytosis.

Table 5.1 shows various reconstruals and some typical discourse semantic realizations (from Hao 2020a). Note here that the order in which the reconstrual takes place is significant - an itemized activity is different from an activated item.

TABLE 5.1 Field reconstruals

Field reconstruals

Typical discourse semantic realization


itemized property

activated property

itemized activity activated item

measured or perceived dimension

occurrence figure

state figure

activity entity

state figure

The colour of skin It heats up It gets hotter Phagocytosis

You become part of the team

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