Re: review Palmer 1995, II

From: Vincent DeCaen (
Date: Fri Nov 24 1995 - 22:45:02 EST

> Thank you, Vincent, for the review of Palmer's recent book. As one who is
> interested in linguistics and NT Greek from a functionalist perspective,
> and as one who has minimal knowledge of "generative" linguistics, I would
> be most grateful if you could add to your review some sense of how works
> such as Palmer's and your own projected work will contribute to exegesis
> of biblical texts. One thing I struggle with in my own work is how to
> convey to other NT scholars why they should bother with my linguistic
> work. Why should NT scholars be interested in Palmer's work?

first, I think the discussion of TMA in Greek demonstrated the
*potential* payoff of linguistic study. but that's semantics (at least
in Greek). I presume the question is directly about formal *syntax*.

second, we had to turn away people from a crowded room at the SBL
linguistics section on TMA in Hebrew. I think that was a fair
indication of how linguistics is being received, especially by the
younger scholars.

1. a simple enumeration of the facts is one thing, and not in itself
terribly interesting. *explanation* of the facts is something else
altogether: why this and not that, natural classes, unified
treatments, generalizations. a formal treatment like Palmer's attempts
to account for "this and not that", which might not solve exegetical
problems, but *does* have value in its own right as an intellectual

2. my own work is directed at the Hebrew clause structure. there are
two elements of a discourse/pragmatic nature that rely on formal
features: topicalization, and aspectual structuring of the narrative.
the formal analysis can provide a better basis for these "higher
level" pursuits. e.g., in my treatment, topicalization is obligatory:
movement of a constituent to the "specifier of IP (inflectional
phrase)". so you can track in principle "topic-comment" from clause to
clause (and the facts appear to be those obtaining in Germanic Verb
Second systems, right down to the statistics of which elements
topicalize as a %). so I would say this is not a trivial application.
2e.g., I also hitch verbal semantics to verb movement, which has
direct implications for the structuring of text. moreover, my TMA
model has interesting implications for the theory of aspectual
structuring of Hebrew narrative texts.

3. I assume a full-blown analysis of Greek structures would also have
similar payoffs. I spoke briefly to Palmer about extending formal
analysis to the whole range of structures, and we're agreed that the
potential payoff is enormous. but I remember a message to this list
indicating that someone was working on clausal ordering (presumably in
some other framework). it would be helpful to track that down and see
what's already been done.

4. my own feeling is that asking why linguistics is important is like
asking why Greek is important in the study of the New Testament. I
would argue that we've been doing linguistics for thousands of years,
maybe not good linguistics though. we have theories: ask someone what
a noun is, and you'll find a theory of grammatical category, as a
simple example. what is an aorist? again, theory of TMA. the choice is
to do things the same old way, or to try to further our understanding
of Greek grammar. I simply assume the importance of Greek grammar: period.

hope this helps.

Vincent DeCaen

Near Eastern Studies, Religion & Culture,
University of Toronto Wilfrid Laurier University

Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
                           --Oliver Goldsmith

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:32 EDT