teaching top down

From: Bryan Rocine (brocine@earthlink.net)
Date: Wed May 03 2000 - 23:10:18 EDT

Dear Carl, you wrote:

> Perhaps I ought to put this question off-line, but I think
it may really be
> of general interest. As one who started learning Greek
half a century ago
> and who found it awesomely challenging at that time to
master the detail of
> morphology, diction, and syntax (just those simple
matters!), I'm wondering
> just how it is proposed that incorporation of Discourse
Analysis should be
> done at the beginning level.

Maybe it's not efficient or desireable to some of us to
learn the ALL the details of morphology, diction, and syntax
before learning SOME of how the details relate to discourse.
After all, we have neat computer programs to help us with
some of the nuts and bolts stuff.

I suggested in a recent post entitled "discourse analysis"
that DA offers beginning studies a method of organization
that is familiar to the student because of it universal
properties but also inherent to the target language. Let me
explain three discourse issues other than discourse boundary
markers and participant refererence tracking that some
others have mentioned, I think, for Koine.

First genre. In my brand of DA (ala Longacre, Pike and
tagmemics) genre does not refer to literary genre such as
fairy tale, parable, or mystery but to an objectively
identifiable kind of text that performs a certain
communication task. Typical genres in the NT (as in any
other language) would include (among others) historical
narrative in which a story is told that is set in the past,
hortatory discourse in which the speaker tries directly to
alter the behavior of his audience, and expository discourse
in which the speaker explains reality statively. These
tasks--tell a story, exhort, explain-- are universally
attested communication goals.

In each genre there is a mainline clause type particular to
it that carries the main line of the genre. In Koine aorist
clauses are the mainline of historical narrative and relate
the series of over-and-done-with events that make the
backbone of a narrative. The imperative clauses are the
mainline of hortatory discourse, and I suppose clauses with
EIMI would be the mainline of expository discourse. Within
a particular genre, non-mainline clause types are
off-the-line. The off-the-line material serves the mainline
with elaborative, contrastive, and "set-up" information.
Off-the-line material sort of fleshes out the backbone.

Then there is the issue of genre embedding. One or more
discourses of one or more genres may be embedded in a host
discourse that controls them. When charting a discourse we
will notice layers of embedding of different genres.
Between the mainline/off-the-line distinction and genre
embedding, a kind of enlightening discourse profile emerges.
I teach this charting in my first year course in Hebrew.

BTW, one Hebraist, David Dawson likens the
genre-to-mainline/offline relationship to using suits to
help find out if a deck of cards has anything missing. It
systematizes the search. He advocates the inclusion of
discourse issues in introductory studies in any language to
systematize the student's search for a "whole language."

A second issue related to DA is pragmatic marking. By
analyzing the statistical distribution of a certain
linguistic structure we can determine what morpho-syntax is
marked and what is unmarked. Marked structures are marked
for a function such as focus or topicalization, which is
irrelevant if we cannot broaden the scope of our studies
above sentence to paragraph and discourse. The idea is that
we become familiar with the native speakers options and then
how he utilizes those options within certain contexts.
Until we enter into this kind of analysis, I am tempted to
say we are not reading the language yet. The woman at the
well says OUK ECW ANDRA. Christ replies, KALOS EIPAS hOTI
ANDRA OUK ECW. Discourse analysis/pragmatics might be able
to analyze why ANDRA moved is Christ's quote.

A third issue related to DA is socio-linguistics. This is a
bit more subjective perhaps because of its heavy use of
anecdotal evidence, but I think it's important. Here we
would analyze formality and register. We might analyze
linguistic effects of social ranking. Since this type of
stuff is often hard to translate, it is the very thing we
want to learn when we learn Greek or Hebrew rather than buy
a couple more English translations.

These types of analysis are more objective than literary
criticism because they utilize distinct grammatical signals,
as opposed to semantic signals, that a writer/speaker uses
to guide his audience through his text. Honestly, however,
I prefer to label this exercise "discourse analysis" rather
than "text linguistics," which has a decidedly more
scientific and objective ring to it. I prefer the label DA
because I still do like to use some principled poetics as
part of my analysis how ever I may be risking the claim that
I am again deteriorating into literary criticism.

> Discourse Analysis; I expect to be reading more of it and
about it, but
> what has impressed me thus far is the seeming subjectivity
of it (I should
> also add, perhaps, that I am one who is very skeptical of
> methodologies and claims to be "scientific" in their
analysis of human
> behavior). I continue to feel (although I am willing to be
> otherwise) that one doesn't get on toward fluency in
reading ancient Greek
> prose very well by any means more succesfully than by
reading, reading,
> reading, oodles of ancient Greek prose

Your criticism is being heard. At least in Hebrew studies I
know that the push is toward cold, hard linguistic
statistical analysis. The anecdotal and poetic are being
dismissed. As for "reading, reading, reading"--take off one
"reading" and add "with a teacher." DA is simply trying to
smooth the road to understanding by telling readers what to
look for, what kinds of questions to ask. Why should they
always have to find out by themselves through long
experience how a change in syntax functions? Even when the
DA model over-generalizes it still works, because at least
it gives the student a system from which to work. The ship
is moving; now we can steer it. Besides, fluency may not be
a prerequisite for close reading/exegesis.


B. M. Rocine
Associate Pastor
Living Word Church
6101 Court St. Rd.
Syracuse, NY 13206

(office) 315-437-6744
(home) 315-479-8267

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