This paper is a part of the research project entitled “Transmission of ‘Sen Huen’ ritual as an intangible cultural heritage of Tai Dam ethnic group”. The Sen Huen ritual is a significant aspect of the Tai Dam’s ancestor worship. This ritual has to be conducted in a room set for ancestral spirits called

and the ritual is required to be done every 2–3 years to avoid bad luck and receive good fortune and blessings, otherwise the descendants will suffer misfortunes such as illness, hardship and adversity. The theoretical framework applied to this study is Systemic Functional Linguistics, in particular the description of the system of transitivity, which is part of the ideational metafunction. The paper aims to investigate how the Tai Dam perception of local ecology is construed grammatically in the transitivity system. The system of transitivity is a resource for construing human experience of change or goings − on in the flow of events inside and around us. A quantum of change in the flow of events is construed as a configuration of a process involving one or more participants and attendant circumstances. The data were drawn from six Sen Huen ritual manuscripts which were collected from six Sen Huen ritual shamans residing in four provinces of Thailand: Phetchaburi, Ratchaburi, Nakhon Pathom, and Suphanburi provinces. The study reveals that there is a connection between the process and circumstance configurations expressing the Tai Dam ecological perspective. It illustrates a clear correlation between the semiotic model of time (month by month) and space (geographical space) that is construed by language and the material actions that are carried out by different participants (both human and non-human).

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Tai DamFootnote 1 are Tai-speaking people. It is believed that their original homeland was Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam. The Tai Dam have also settled in Nghia Lo, Yen Bai. Both settlements are located in the heart of the Sip Song Chu Tai between the Red and Black rivers in northern Vietnam (Lebar et al. 1964: 220). Yimrewat (2001: 7–8) suggests that Sip Song Chu Tai means “the twelve lands of the Tai” (Sip Song means ‘twelve’, Chu is derived from the Vietnamese word

meaning ‘area’, and Tai refers to the Tai).

Trong, a well-knownTai Dam scholar, (2007) wrote a book entitled

. He reports various aspects of Tai Dam living in Vietnam including traditional and modern agricultural activities (pp. 1–15). Lebar et al. (1964): 221–222) described Tai Dam’s economic activities including features of cultivation, fishing and hunting skills. The Tai Dam residing in Vietnam rely on an agricultural culture with occasional hunting-gatheringFootnote 2.

The Tai Dam are predominantly wet-rice cultivators. They live in mountain valleys. Some Tai Dam also cultivate upland rice on the slopes using the swidden method. Once cultivated, the fields are abandoned after three years to lie fallow for eight to ten years before being recultivated. Buffalo are used as draft animals. The Tai Dam are good hunters and fishermen using hunting weapons such as crossbows and traps. Hunting and fishing activities provide necessary supplementary food, in addition to which the Tai Dam gather vegetables including bamboo shoots gathered in the forest (Lebar et al. 1964; Trong, 2007).

In Thailand, the Tai Dam are an ethnic group residing in the western region of Thailand (Burusphat et al., 2011). Their ancestors migrated from Muang Thaeng (or Dien Bien Phu located in northwestern Vietnam). Written evidence indicates that the Tai Dam were captured and relocated to Thailand as prisoners of war a total of six times from the late 18th to 19th century (see Yensamut, 1981: 25–30; Buranasing, 1988: 15–18; Dechapratumwan, 2015: 16–17 for further details of the six settlements). The first Tai Dam migrants settled in Phetchaburi province in 1779 during the reign of King Taksin of Thonburi. At later stages, Tai Dam moved to nearby provinces including Ratchaburi, Suphanburi, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Songkhram, Samut Sakhon, and Kanchanaburi provinces in the western region. They are found in Loei province in the northeast as well as, Pichit, Phitsanulok, and Sukhothai provinces in the lower northern region, Nakhonsawan, Saraburi, Lopburi provinces in the central region and Chumporn and Suratthani provinces in the south (Udomwej, 2004; Burusphat et al., 2011).

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This paper reports on a preliminary exploration of the transitivity system of a particular registerial domain, namely domestic procedural texts; to be precise ‘domestic ritual procedural texts’ (cf. Martin and Rose, 2008). These particular texts are seen as an influential discourse in Tai Dam community. The domestic ritual procedural texts investigated are ancestor worship or Sen Huen ritual manuscripts. These Sen Huen ritual manuscripts record many aspects of Tai Dam’s way of life and beliefs.

Tai Dam people residing in the western region of Thailand practice a number of rituals that are transmitted from generation to generation (Burusphat et al., 2011). One of these significant rituals is the Sen Huen ritual. Tai Dam people have a strong belief that the ancestor worship or ‘Sen Huen’ ritual is the key ritual conducted for patrilineal ancestors (

Footnote 3 means offer or sacrifice whereas
, as pronounced in Tai Dam phonological system, means house or household). The persons who are worshipped are ancestral spirits. Based on Tai Dam’s social classes, there are two groups of Tai Dam people: aristocratic surname group (or
) and commoner surname group (or
) (cf. Aroonkit, 1987: 23, Phosan, 2009: 294). Each group has its own ancestor worship practices. Therefore, the Sen Huen ritual manuscripts involve a spiritual procedure and an interaction between the Sen Huen ritual shaman and the ancestral spirits. They are chanted by shamans during the Sen Huen ritual, which lasts 7–8 hours depending on numbers of ancestral names written on the genealogical book called
. The ancestral names are called by the shamans during the process of making offerings to the ancestral spirits.

The paper draws on Systemic Functional Linguistics to investigate how the Tai Dam perception of natural perspective, as it is manifested in Sen Huen ritual manuscripts, is construed grammatically by means of the transitivity system.

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Previous researches

Previous studies on Tai Dam have focused on both the anthropological and linguistic fields. In anthropological oriented research, most studies have been concerned with Tai Dam’s way of life, social structure, and rituals; there have been studies under the scope of sociology (Aroonkit, 1986, 1987; Wadkeaw, 1978; Muanjancheoy, 1999) and cultural studies (Pittphat 1978, 2002; Janthasoon, 1995; Kongyimlamai, 2003; Panalai, 2008). In linguistic oriented research, many studies have focused on various aspects of the linguistic system but also on the language in its socio-cultural environment: phonological systems (Anantrawan, 1978; Decha, 1987; Maneewong, 1987), phonological variation (Wattanaprasert & Liamprawat, 1988; Thavorn 2013; Yooyen, 2013), morphological systems (Yensamut, 1981; Buranasing, 1988), grammatical systems (Panich 1994; Jiranuntanaporn et. al., 2003), sociolinguistic research (Dechapratumwan, 2015), and folklore (Subsook et al. 1980; Klinubon, 2009). Discourse studies on Tai Dam include work on phonological strategies in Tai Dam poetic discourse by Hartmann (1994), and work on participant reference in narrative discourse by Edwards (2011). Recent Tai Dam discourse studies in Thailand have concentrated on narrative discourse, folktales and Generic Structure Potential, and thematic progression of folktales (Patpong 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2013), but rather less attention has been paid to procedural discourse. There has been only one study of Tai Dam ritual procedural discourse, viz. Osiri (2013). However, it was focused on procedural discourse of various rituals retold step by step by ritual shamans. After reviewing a number of existing studies on the Tai Dam, it appears there remains a need for a study on Tai Dam ritual procedural discourse focusing on ritual manuscripts.