[b-greek] Re: (somewhat long), Re: Mk 10:21

From: Wayne Leman (wleman@mcn.net)
Date: Sat Sep 02 2000 - 11:04:49 EDT


There are empirical tests that can be conducted that help determine what
speakers (and hearers) regard as foregrounding and backgrounding. If we can
move study of classical languages toward some of the advantages that come
from taking a more scientific view of language, we can often break out of
the logical circularity that afflicts some discussion of communicative
concepts like foregrounding, backgrounding, etc. By logical circularity I am
referring to the problem some discourse analysts have run into with their
own work, where, with good intentions they feel they have identified some
form of Greek, say, DE, to be "a developmental marker, in the sense that the
information it introduces builds on what has gone before and makes a
distinct contribution to the argument ór narrative]" (Levinsohn, Discourse
Features of NT Greek, 1992, p. 64). Then, ever after, whenever they spot a
DE, they say that the discourse has now experienced contrastive
sequentiality. (BTW, I am not suggesting that Levinsohn is practicing
circular reasoning in discourse analysis. I simply quote him on DE. But I
have observed a number of linguists who do discourse analysis who believe
they identify the function of a language marker, and then, ever after,
whenever they find it, they say they have that function. But language is
often not that simple--markers often are multi-functional, and sometimes our
analyses of language markers are only partially true. But we don't have
anything objective to help us determine how true our conclusions are if we
approach the text too subjectively.

I'm all for discourse analysis, having had a fair amount of graduate
training in it, but I also believe, like you, a mathematician, that we
need to try to bring as much objectivity to our investigations and
conclusions as possible. Otherwise we are in danger of circular reasoning.
Our conclusions may or may not be right, but we have no way of proving it
one way or the other.

There are some linguistics departments which now emphasize breaking out of
this epistemological dilemma and help students set up experiments with human
speakers that bring a greater measure of objectivity to our attempts to get
at the meaning of discourse functions like foregrounding and backgrounding.
When native speakers are not available, as is the case with Biblical Greek
(unless we can all go sit under Professor Buth!), there are other ways to
bring empirical checks and balances to the investigative process. One
linguist who has done such work with text studies is Talmy Givon at the
University of Oregon.

For further reading about some of this work that attempts to help us become
more objective in our research about language, see books and articles by
Talmy Givon, Russ Tomlin, Wallace Chafe, and then branch out from there (see
their bibliographies).

In the process of gleaning the advantages of such interdisciplinary work,
we, of course, want to avoid the gibberish and ingrown jargon that is part
of the academic game. Carl was right to vent his frustrations about the
jargon barriers.

Wayne Leman
Bible translation site: http://bibletranslation.lookscool.com/

How do you know that aspect is only a point of view in Koine Greek? How do
you know that Foregrounding and Backgrounding are what the writers intended
to do with these morphological choices? If there is some objective basis
for these ideas, I would love to hear them, because I am delighted to think
about Aspect in these terms. It seems too explain many difficulties, and
provide a push toward the goal of understanding just what the Greeks meant
by they're choice of tenses.
But I have an uneasy feeling that I'm in a fairy land and not in touch with
the "guts" of the language. I am a mathematician by training, so you may
see how this viewpoint could appeal to me, but can you put me on a more
solid footing with some objective evidence?
Thank you,
Dave Reigle
Elizabethtown, PA

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