Participant Reference and Narrative Cohesion

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Tue Mar 07 2000 - 16:05:05 EST

<x-charset ISO-8859-1>I have been taking another look at Gustavo Martin-Asensio's article
Participant Reference and Foregrounded Syntax in the Stephen Episode.
Martin-Asensio* presents a breakdown of participant reference into four

#1 Full Explicit Subject (proper noun used)
#2 Abbreviated explicit subject (pronoun or article used)
#3 Non-explicit subject (e.g., verb inflection for person)
#4 Non-subject participant (e.g., direct or indirect object)

Martin-Asensio suggests that the more important and/or more central
characters in a narrative will appear more often as Full Explicit
Subject (#1) or Abbreviated explicit subject (#2). He suggests that
less prominent characters will appear more often as #3 or number #4. He
then goes on to talk about how Steven and the other characters in Acts
6-7 are encoded according to these four categories and what this means.

The statistics on Steven given by Martin-Asensio are:

1 occurrence of #1 Full Explicit Subject
2 occurrences of #2 Abbreviated explicit subject
10 occurrences of #3 Non-explicit subject
6 occurrences of #4 Non-subject participant

On page 243 Martin-Asensio suggests that what we have here "might be
called the incapacitation of Stephen through linguistic means." He
starts his discussion of Steven by saying "his presence 'on stage' is
strong from the outset' but then continues to present evidence that
Steven is not a mover and shaker in this narrative according to the
criteria of participant reference encoding as well as transitivity
issues such as participant agency in processes which have an impact on
the material world.

While at first glance this looks like a paradox it is not.
Martin-Asensio in the conclusion to his article suggests why the author
of Acts might have used these linguistic means to push his major
characters into the narrative background.

****Questions and Observations ****

Martin-Asensio employs several linguistic criteria to demonstrate how
the author of Acts puts his his major characters into the narrative
background. I have a question about the first criteria, his levels #1-#4
of participant reference encoding.

I have read elsewhere that participant reference for prominent
participants normally follows a pattern of beginning with #1 at the
outset of the narrative and then declining to #2, #3 and sometimes #4.
It is considered a mark of narrative cohesion that major players DO NOT
reappear within the narrative with a level #1 encoding of participant
reference except when it is required to remove ambiguity. Furthermore,
the more persistently reference is made to a major player the more
likely they will appear with a level #3 encoding. The issue of narrative
cohesion raises a big doubt in my mind about the way these participant
reference categories are being used in this article as a measure of

I also have a question about the distinction that Martin-Asensio draws
between agents in material processes and agents in speech acts where
Steven's speech (p. 242*) does not qualify him as a "dynamic
protagonist" since he is only talking and not doing anything. It seems
like there is a little bit of what we (on the west coast) call the
cowboy philosophy evident in this analysis, where speech acts don't
count but if Steven were to pull out an HK MP5 (machine pistol) and
blaze away at his adversaries then he would be a real "dynamic
protagonist." I am not accusing Martin-Asensio of this philosophy since
he has drawn these criteria from other sources. However, Steven's speech
gets rather nasty and pointed towards the end and I would see his speech
acts as being a form of very aggressive behavior. For this reason I am
rather unimpressed by the argument that Steven is being put in the
background because he does not act physically upon some material object.

Having raised two questions about Martin-Asensio's excellent article, I
must now return the book which is bound back to a library at the
University of Oregon. So my ability to field follow up questions on this
topic will be limited by lack of access to the book.

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

*pages 240ff in Porter, Stanley E. & Jeffrey T. Reed „Discourse Analysis and the New Testament, Sheffield Academic Press, 1999

--- B-Greek home page: You are currently subscribed to b-greek as: [] To unsubscribe, forward this message to To subscribe, send a message to


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:41:00 EDT