Re: Qualitative and Indefinite (grandmothers, eggs & questions of salience etc)

From: John Kendall (
Date: Sun Sep 07 1997 - 10:50:35 EDT

Dale Wheeler wrote:

>John Kendall wrote:
>>Sorry if part of this post is, as we say, 'teaching my grandmother to suck
>We have confusion between linguists and non-linguists; now we have it between
>American and Commonwealth speakers of English... Am I the only American who
>has no idea what "...teaching my grandmother to suck eggs' means ?? John,
>could you clarify ??

Sorry folks. Put a little less colourfully, to "teach one's grandmother to suck
eggs" is to (intentionally, or unintentionally) instruct one's seniors in that
with which they are perfectly well acquainted. Further down the digest, I see
that Paul Evans has put it nicely:

>The expression means something like speaking words of wisdom to the wise,
>or trying to educate the already educated.

My use of the idiom signalled a certain embarrassment at emerging from
long-term lurker status only to offer some fairly basic comments regarding the
use & non-use of the article and associated terminology.

In view of Dale's request to Rolf to explain any linguistic terminology,
perhaps I should make amends for my unexplained use of the term "salient".
Briefly, as I understand it, it's a term used in discourse linguistics.
Different languages have different ways of drawing the readers'/hearers'
attention to particular participants or items which are of special significance
or relevance at points in the discourse. When a participant or item is marked
out in this way, it is said to be "salient".

For folks who might be wondering about the relevance of this for biblical
Greek, I'd point them to the workbook of Stephen Levinsohn of SIL, _Discourse
Features of New Testament Greek_ (Dallas: SIL, 1992) which has an interesting
chapter on the article, focussing particularly on its significance with respect
to proper nouns and participant reference/status in NT narratives. Also
interesting is his suggestion that, in certain cases, non-articular
substantives (which are in context clearly definite) are being marked out as
salient by the omission of the article.

Anyway, that's the brief (and probably not entirely accurate) summary of a
non-linguist. I think someone like Micheal Palmer might be best at taking these
issues up if they are of interest to anyone. I'd certainly be interested in any
comments he might have on Levinsohn's work.

John Kendall

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