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We present a model to describe the origin of non-proportional dependence of scintillator light yield on the energy of an ionizing particle. The non-proportionality is discussed in terms of energy relaxation channels and their linear and non-linear dependences on the deposited energy. In this approach, the scintillation response is described as a function of the deposited energy deposition and the kinetic rates of each relaxation channel. This mathematical framework allows both a qualitative interpretation and a quantitative fitting representation of scintillation non-proportionality response as function of kinetic rates. This method was successfully applied to thallium doped sodium iodide measured with SLYNCI, a new facility using the Compton coincidence technique. Finally, attention is given to the physical meaning of the dominant relaxation channels, and to the potential causes responsible for the scintillation non-proportionality. We find that thallium doped sodium iodide behaves as if non-proportionality is due to competition between radiative recombinations and non-radiative Auger processes.