Re: Discourse Spans (hierarchy)

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Tue Mar 09 1999 - 00:49:26 EST

Cindy Wrote:
> The issue of starting point for structure is very intriguing, and a case can
> probably be made for many different starting points.
> Using the teleological level as a starting point bothers me because in
> comparison to the other three categories (grammatical, lexical, and
> informational), purpose is most intuitively determined--and I've seen such
> approaches becomes quite circular. You need an indisputed statement of purpose
> to use it as a starting point. More than half the time, this is the very thing
> that I'm trying to discover in the analysis. However, treating genre and
> purpose as givens is common in 'top-down' analysis.
> I like the informational approach (Young says: references to the same
> participants, concepts, events, setting or the like). This tends to work well
> with narrative as a starting point. I see deixis as being pretty instrumental
> here.


I have no problems with the statements you make here. I grouped
informational and teleological together because they are both semantic
and not "formal" structures. It is precisely because I have had nothing
but trouble doing analysis starting out with "formal" patterns that in
desperation to make something actually work I have decided to give
semantic patterns a try. Semantic patterns, once detected are often
reinforced by formal patterns. But using formal patterns to find the
semantic patterns just got me nowhere at all. One of the reasons is
there are too many kinds of patterns to look for and they are often used
in really complex ways that make them difficult to spot.

> Actually, there is a
> lot of cross-over between the lexical and informational approach as defined by
> Young if lexical 'repitition' is defined broadly.

Yes, agreed. A Lot of cross over.

> Nevertheless, I still see the analysis of the grammatical indicators as vital.

No argument here either.

> The grammatical 'spans' are extremely useful in detecting how the author
> breaks up (or shifts) and presents the material--it can function like
> paragraph indentation. And what is good about the grammatical features is that
> they are formal indicators

To this I would say it depends on which author and which genre. I am not
quite convinced by the actual examples I have seen that grammatical
'spans' are a universal method used for structuring a text. In actual
exegetical practice, what do you look for? You don't know in advance
what sort of pattern to look for so you end up looking for some sort of
pattern. Looking for some sort of pattern can be a frustratingly vague

> .
> Once I saw how some analysts overrode grammatical 'spans' on the basis of
> their intuitive notion of topic, I realised how important it was to respect
> them, and even use them as a starting point of anaysis (I'll give one
> example--it is quite common to place a break between Hebrews 1:3 and
> 1:4--which breaks up a periodic sentence that the author unified
> structurally).

How "intuitive" are topic or information or purpose? Once you can read
the language reasonably well, so you can sit down and go through large
sections of a text over and over, then the semantic structures based on
the categories like topic, information and purpose are not just wild
guesses, if that is what you mean by "intuitive". The semantic
structures are intuitive in the sense that your mind is able to process
the text in ways that defy your analysis to nail down. But that does not
mean that the results of this process are not real or of no value. This
is getting into the whole epistemological side of this question which I
alluded to in my private post. This is not an epistemology list so I
will drop it.

Thanks Cindy,

Your reply was most thought provoking!!

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

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