[b-greek] Re: Discreet vs prototypical categorization

From: Kimmo Huovila (kimmo.huovila@helsinki.fi)
Date: Sat Oct 21 2000 - 03:19:50 EDT

Thanks for your response. It clarified your view. We are much
closer than what appeared at first. I quite agree that scalarity is not
a panacea for all grammatical headaches, but on a more ontological
level, there is much to it. Yet, I would amplify it with prototypes.

I guess the "quick fix" fallacy using scalars (if I may call it such) is
not so much wrong language ontology, but an inadequate or incorrect
application in the methodological or applicational level.

clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:

> >This is a
> > problem I feel many theologians often fall victim to (just my opinion).
> Why pick on theologians? I think that NT scholars are probably just as
> guilty of this as anyone.

You are probably correct. I think most NT scholars have a background in
theology (rather than in linguistics). In this sense I did not exclude
them. My purpose was not so much to pick out the culprits, as to
describe what I have seen as problematic. I think that linguists do not
fall into this quite as often. But this is not to be taken as a
generalized condemnation of a group. There are good and bad scholars in
all fields, and a linguistic criterion is in no way a measure of all
things. Rather, I wish to encourage exegetes to enjoy general
linguistics (and also the study of
living languages), since I think there is so much that linguistics could
contribute to all kinds of exegetical research.

> Yes, but isn't this either/or a bit hasty? Should we not challenge this
> either/or? This is the problem I am addressing. The syllogism:
> If your categories or multiplying out of control you must be dealing with a
> scalar language phenomena. I don't think this is beyond dispute.

Scalars without prototypes can get very confusing when dealing with this
kind of phenomena. But if you have prototypes, you have scalars. I am
definitely not advocating an approach where you just name a few scalars
and try to use them as parameters to solve every problem.

> Returning to Greek exegetical problems:
> How do you make exegetical decisions based on hypothetical position on a
> cline or a scalar range? We are not just talking about one range. We are
> talking about a single constituent in context, say a genitive substantive,
> having multiple semantic/pragmatic properties all of which fall on a
> different scalar range.
> So we end up with having to think about our genitive substantive in context
> as a point of intersection in a space with N dimensions where all of these
> scalar ranges meet. How on earth are you going to do exegesis with a model
> like that?

Now I think I see what you mean. Scalars do sometimes get confusing if
you throw prototypes out! I am not trying to torture myself doing
exegesis with mere scalars without prototypes.

> Fuzzy categories, with all their limitations are useful for the purpose of
> discussion. I cannot see how we can even discuss a genitive substantive in
> context using a scalar model. This is a pragmatic objection.

Well, if we allow prototypes, it is relatively easy. You look at
prototypical uses and the context, and evaluate how far that particular
genitive substantive is from different prototypical uses.

> We also need to ask the question if genitive substantive in context really
> has all these scalar properties. We could pose this as a question: Is the
> Greek genitive case a scalar or non-scalar phenomenon? The obvious answer to
> this is that Greek cases really don't fall into categories such as
> scalar/non-scalar but are located somewhere along a cline between these
> points. In other words scalar/non-scalar is not a discrete category.

This is an interesting theoretical point. In (my version of) the
prototype theory I see a scalar that deals with how large the area of
unclear categorization is. I think what you just said is the same thing
in different words. (I would still see scalarity in the Greek genitive,
but I think this has more to do with the way we want to word this.)

> I hope this suggestion is sufficiently horrifying to help some people get
> the point I am making here.

I think I did.

> >but I cannot see why it
> > would be an intellectual suicide to realize the scalar (or prototypical)
> > nature of language, and come fully to grips with it
> Again, the word "WHOLESALE" is being over looked. I am objecting to the
> uncritical acceptance of the scalar solution as a cure all for our problems
> with discrete categories. When we find a category has fuzzy boundaries we
> should not just leap immediately to the conclusion that we have encountered
> a scalar language phenomenon.

Fuzziness implies scalarity, right? I am not sure what you mean here.

> I am not accusing you of doing this, but it
> seems that "scalar" has become an axiom and I don't think it deserves the
> status of a axiom. Every time someone suggests that we see some language
> phenomenon as scalar I think we should demand a defense of that statement,
> not just accept it.

I guess that much of the trouble is that calling a phenomenon scalar is
not all there is to say. It in itself is not really the final answer if
analysis stops there. You are right in that justification is needed, but
isn't the area where the need for justification is more pressing dealing
with HOW it is scalar, not WHETHER it is scalar? If the analyst is not
careful with the HOW, he may easily end up mixing apples and oranges on
the same scale.

One more point on the number of categories. We are dealing with
different levels of abstraction. There is no one right answer to how
many categories we should use. You could have the most abstract
prototype (often called schema in cognitive grammar) that is an
abstraction of what all instances bear in common (sometimes not so easy
to find) in the one end and an individual use in a rare context in the
other end. (We have a scalar of abstractness; the borderline between
semantics and pragmatics gets very fuzzy in this model, too - but I
think it reflects linguistic reality and is not therefore to be
shunned.) There is a level which feels psychologically somewhat real in
terms of grammatical description (no doubt not always the same with
different speakers). But this does not make the study of other levels
irrelevant. Sometimes studies of hairsplitting distinctions at the level
of the more concrete end of the scalar (where we have multitudes of
categories) can reveal interesting patterns (that may not even be quite
obvious to the native speaker, but recognized when pointed out). But to
find these patterns requires a good corpus study, not just a whim of the
grammarian. And the study of the more abstract end may reveal how
different lower level prototypes are related, as well as help see where
more novel uses fit. It also helps determine what are the most central
features of the prototype category.


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