[b-greek] Re: forground & background, boundry markers-Longacre'sModel

From: c stirling bartholomew (cc.constantine@worldnet.att.net)
Date: Tue Nov 06 2001 - 14:49:51 EST

on 11/6/01 7:53 AM, Kimmo Huovila wrote:

> c stirling bartholomew wrote:
>> On page 100 Heimerdinger* concludes his critique of R. Longacre's
>> treatment of foreground and background in narrative with a statement which
>> should strike terror into the hearts of a few Ph.D. candidates:
>> ". . . the notion of foreground cannot be seen as grammaticalized in Old
>> Hebrew."
> That is probably true, if you are looking for one single grammatical
> element reliably describing grounding. But what needs to be borne in
> mind is that grounding _correlates_ with _various_ grammatical elements.
> It should indeed be possible to study grounding based on grammatical
> indicators.


Let's take a look at the question of Topicality, which is related to but
distinct from foreground.

Heimerdinger demonstrates with a statistical analysis of Topicality in Gen.
22 that there is a high correlation between the topical prominence of a
discourse participant and the grammatical role of Subject (where the subject
is the semantic agent).

He does not however consider the grammatical role of Subject (semantic
agent) as a means for marking topicality. He argues that topical prominence
is marked "cognitively" (I would call this semantic marking). This means
that the marking of topic takes place at the level of ideas not at the level
of syntax.

He further demonstrates how the topical prominence of a participant is
indicated by referential density to that participant. The more references
made in an episode to a participant the higher the level of topical

The main point here is that correlation does not indicate causation. Even if
we can demonstrate that the grammatical role of Subject (where the subject
is the semantic agent) is statistically more likely to have a high level of
topical prominence, this does not permit us to conclude that Subject marking
is also a marking of topical prominence.

If we look at subject marking across the entire episode and see that the
most prominent participant is also the most frequent subject, we need to
keep in mind that we are also measuring the referential density of that
participant. The referential density is the key indicator. A very prominent
participant may in fact be the victim in the story and not be frequently
found in semantic role of agent (grammatical subject).

Thanks for the dialogue,



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

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