[b-greek] Re: Discourse Analysis - Already but Not Yet

From: Mike Sangrey (mike@sojurn.lns.pa.us)
Date: Mon Jul 31 2000 - 11:20:40 EDT

David McKay <musicke@ozemail.com.au> said:
> Pardon my ignorance, but could you explain what discourse analysis is,
> simply, please Clay? Why is it important and useful? How will it help
> me to understand the message of the New Testament?

Since I'm a student, I'll start by letting Louw answer the question[1]:

  "People living in societies where reading is part of daily life often
  tend to think of reading a text as a fairly uncomplicated procedure.
  Once a person has accomplished the basic skills of literacy,
  it seems natural for many that the only further impediment to a
  proper understanding of a text is knowing the meaning of all the
  words and having a good dictionary at hand. Popular appeals to
  'what the Bible really says' are usually comments on word meanings.
  Even Bible commentaries and sermons focus to a large extent on word
  meanings. [Interesting correlation to Clay's point! --MJS]....

  "There is yet another popular aspect to reading a text, especially
  Scripture. All people have their own...convictions. These convictions
  reinforce each other to impose a set of presuppositions so deeply
  rooted that we hardly question their validity. Our understanding of
  a text is thus enlarged beyond the word level by reading a text from
  preconceived perspectives. Even though people may agree that it is
  important to be aware of not being misled by their subjective opinions,
  sociological, marxist, capitalist, catholic, calvinistic, pentecostal,
  evangelical, and other orientations do offer a framework for reading
  a Bible text.... [Note the SUBJECTIVE framework. --MJS].

  "Readers who try to be objective often insist that presuppositions can
  be controlled or at least moderated by strict adherence to the exact
  wording of the text, that is, by reading it 'just as it stands'...
  It usually comes as a surprise to learn that there are various levels
  of meaning: word meanings (whether lexical or contextual), phrase
  meanings, sentence meanings, and discourse meanings. The worst comes
  when linguists insist that the meaning of a sentence is not merely
  the sum total of the meanings of the words comprising the sentence
  and, similarly, that discourses are not a matter of sentence meanings
  strung together.... [Note that a sentence, and higher constituents
  have their own meaning. --MJS]

  "Reading is, in fact, a very complex process."

And that's the problem. Or to put it differently, it seems to be of
particular difficulty for we Bible interpreters to "not go beyond what is
written" (I Cor. 4:6) Which, BTW, is a clause within the context of the
topic of unity. One need merely glance at the number of interpretations
of the passages of Scripture to conclude we, as a team, really don't
know what the Bible says. Even the unbeliever sees this: "Well,
you can make the Bible say whatever you want." In-[cite/sight]-ful!
Each of us too easily slides into building (or protecting) a theological
framework and not on exegeting the text. We are so intense on the words,
we don't see the framework.

The text (largely) provides the framework and Discourse Analysis (DA)
provides a way to objectively uncover that framework, thus attempting
a solution to our myopia.

As an analytical methodology it brings a disciplined structure to
interpretation. There have been other attempts at this, too. But,
most, and I am specifically referring to the analytical methodology, do
not recognize the priority and prominence of the larger constituents of
communication, such as--paragraph, section, in deed, the entire document
the author has penned. Grammars have been one such attempt; they do not
get above the clause (perhaps sentence) level, however.[2]

DA recognizes that communication can be characterized by Unity, Coherence,
and Prominence. That is, that it is composed by various elements (at
various levels), that the elements are related in a coherent way (also
at various levels), and that certain elements are made prominent (various
levels, again) by certain features of the language. The author uses these
three factors to convey his or her intent.[3] DA seeks to uncover them,
making them explicit so they can be talked about and referred to.
However, please note that these features are not too hidden; that's
the whole point of discourse analysis is to make prominent what is
prominent in the text. It tries to TAG what is already there.

There is an interesting interplay going on between the ease at which
the mind understands communication and the difficulty it seems to have
when confronted with the complexity of that communication. We intensely
want to know what that Bible says. Ironically, it is this intense focus
which sets us up for failure. We become myopic. So, DA describes and
provides the tools to methodically analyze the text in terms of these
three features stated above. What are the structural members of a text?
What are their constituents? How do the constituents relate? How do
they fit into their hierarchical relationships? What constituents are
prominent and why? How do the answers to these questions help us
understand the original intention of the author?

DA helps us step back from the text and analyze its larger semantic

Well, from one student to another (with all these Professors
watching), I hope that helps.

[1] Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse
Analysis, ed. by David Alan Black with Katharine Branwell and Stephen
Levinsohn. The quote above is taken from the first essay entitled
"Reading a Text as Discourse". The book is a series of essays on
Discourse Analysis in two parts. First is new methodological approaches
and the second gives specific examples applied to NT texts. Authors are
people such as Louw, Levinsohn, John and Kathleen Callow, Longacre,
Ernst Wendland and Randall Buth, among others.

[2] IMO, this is why Linguists have focused on the structural meanings of
DE, GAR, KAI, OUN, K.T.L. Speaking as a student, this is one area where
Greek Grammar teachers could start to incorporate DA into their courses.
That is, define these words not just as conjunctives, but as performing
a structural function. Defining DE as "and" or "but" has confused me
for years. Not until Buth's article and Levinsohn's discussion did it
make sense to me. (Thanks Dr. Buth!)

[3] BTW, the three features--Unity, Coherence, and Prominence--are universal.
Look out your window; you see Unity, Coherence, and Prominence. Look at
your company or institution and how it works. Same thing again. In fact,
these three elements are the three UNITS which work together (COHERENCE)
to communicate the author's intent. Coherence being the most PROMINENT.
In short, they form a self-describing framework so they are fundamentally
axiomatic: they really are universal. (This reminds me of Rom. 1:20.)

Mike Sangrey
Landisburg, Pa.
       Every Christian library should have a plaque which states:
              "There is one book which explains all these."

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