Peter_Kirk at SIL.ORG
Peter_Kirk at SIL.ORG
Wed Jan 27 12:12:24 EST 1999
Thank you, Dave, for your interesting comments and your time taken on
this. I was of course not trying to say that there is no place for
understanding the word and clause level. But I hope no-one's
understanding of art stops at the brush-stroke level. Let me answer
some specific points below.
______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re: WP
Author: dwashbur at nyx.net at internet
Date: 26/01/1999 17:28
the real question is "what am I trying to accomplish when I listen
to/examine this work?"
PK: Well, if you want to study techniques of harmony etc maybe you
don't need to look at the higher level. But if you want to understand
the overall message of the composer, you need to examine the work as a
whole and not just its parts. The latter is the better analogy to the
interest I have in the Hebrew Bible.
PK: > Do you really understand real utterances in your own language,
say > what your family members say to you, on a word-by-word basis?
DW: Sometimes not even then ;-) The difference, of course, is that
the language they speak is also my native language and I've already
coded the intuitions about the rules it uses to generate clauses
into my brain cells. We don't have anybody like that with BH,...
PK: Well, I am assuming a basic knowledge of Hebrew grammar and
vocabulary in parallel with discourse studies; but not the sort of
argument I have heard in which we are expected to answer every
question at the clause level before even considering discourse.
DW: My goal is to find the rules for BH that generated all and only the
grammatical sentences in the language.
I don't think that we can analyze the larger discourse units properly
unless and until we understand the generating and filtering system
that excluded nongrammatical clauses from the native speaker's
PK: A great goal. I would rather say "discourses" than "sentences",
but of course that changes it from a very difficult task into an
impossible one! To my mind, the problem with this approach is that
the filtering system is not just within the clause but also comes
down from the discourse level. Maybe you are thinking of separate
clause level and discourse level filters. But in fact (thinking of
English) I suspect that if you try to filter out at the clause level
only those sentences which could not be valid in any discourse
context (including a conversation between people who have a very
high level of shared background knowledge e.g. between husband and
wife), you would be left with a very weak filter. (Or none at all if
you allow the context "The following sentence is invalid: ..." ;-) )
DW: Structural grammars are by nature overly complex and rather
whereas generative grammars seek ultimate simplicity and unity of
usage based on the (internal) rules that do the generating. Once
we have those, we can look at how variously-generated clauses are
put together into larger discourse units and used creatively; I don't
know how a generative approach would do the reverse.
PK: Maybe the generative approach is so inherently over-simplifying
here that it has to be modified.
DW: If I say "it's cloudy today" nobody needs a larger discourse
unit to understand what I mean.
PK: Rather, if you say this as a complete discourse (i.e. with a
zero discourse context e.g. you say this and nothing else to
someone next to you on a bus) people probably know what you mean.
But if you say this as part of a longer discourse on a different
subject e.g. about the water in an aquarium, the meaning may be
quite different. So you cannot determine the meaning apart from
DW: I tell my daughter, "Read!" And she doesn't need a clause to
figure out what I mean. She grabs her book.
PK: This is simply a one clause, one word discourse. The word
"read" does not always mean in other contexts exactly what it means
in this context e.g. it may be present tense or infinitive rather
than an imperative.
DW: It seems to me that the patterns you describe are based on the
exceptions rather than on the rule.
PK: But a rule which has many exceptions and cannot account for
them is a questionable rule. I would like to find a new set of
rules which have fewer exceptions.
A Bible that's falling apart means a life that isn't.
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