Discourse Analysis (computer model)

CWestf5155 at aol.com CWestf5155 at aol.com
Wed Aug 2 14:47:53 EDT 2000

In a message dated 8/2/00 7:41:15 AM Mountain Daylight Time, 
rmatlack at juno.com writes:

 BTW, I am not sure I have followed all the discussion on DA, but it seems
 to me that this is similar to much that I was taught in seminary 20 years
 ago. Back then we called it the hermeneutical spiral -- moving from whole
 to parts and back and forth -- developing statement of authorial intent
 for each section of the book from paragraphs up which had to account for
 all aspects such as grammar, syntax, structural markers, literary devices
 such as inclusio, historical setting, lexical analysis, etc. If it didn't
 fit you had not properly interpreted. I think it is considered bad form
 by many on the list, but I find sentence diagraming and gramatical
 layouts to be a helpful part of this.
 Am I way off or are we in the same ballpark?

Dear Rob,

Let me see if I can reply to you and Eric's observations on Romans in the 
same long-winded post.  Most scholars who discuss structure are rooted in 
other disciplines (regardless of how much they throw around Chomskyan terms 
like 'deep structure') such as Rhetorical Criticism, Literary Criticism and 
most commonly (and traditionally) 'Content Analysis' which attempts to 
analyze the flow of thought, produces outlines, etc.  The hermenuetical 
spiral refers more to the interaction of contemporary interpreters with the 
Biblical text, so it is slightly different (see GR Osborne, The Hermeneutical 
Spiral, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1991).

Shreiner's Baker commentary on Romans is not DA--he does show attention to 
diagramming and context however. 

NT Discourse Analysis involves a conscious effort to interact with and apply 
contemporary studies and theories of linguistics and specifically the branch 
of Discourse Analysis, which is a fairly hot topic.

Any given work is as good as its methodology and linguistic model (or lack of 
one).  All methodologies and models are driven by presuppositions, but they 
should feature presuppositions about language as a starting point, rather 
than theology, and in an ideal study, they should be articulated.

One strength of DA is that it is multi-disciplinary and has the theoretical 
ability to incorporate the strengths of other disciplines such as Rhetorical 
Criticism, Literary Criticism as well as historical and social scientific 

Here's a brief sketch on how I would approach the problem on Rom. 8:12-17 
that Eric raised--and please note that I'm not giving you an exhaustive 

I begin to study the logical relationships within the passage noting the 
discourse markers/connectives/signposts that the author uses (in this passage 
APA, OUN, GAR and DE as intersentential conjunctions, hINA and hOTI, etc.) 
and patterns of finite vbs vs. participles.  (at this point, I may disagree 
with other scholars on, say, what the connective OUN means--but I will tend 
to attribute the same meaning in other contexts).  For our discussion, I 
consider that GAR signals explanatory or expansion material that is normally 
associated with background, though if it appears  with marked constructions, 
it can occur with foregrounded material.

I look at the topic of the passage in terms of the interaction of semantic 
chains--this involves patterns of lexis (including ellipsis), case and verb 

I study the patterns of prominence, taking into account marked grammatical 
features, semantic prominence and the repetition of formal patterns (I don't 
think the latter two show very well on the computer, Clay).  Of these three, 
semantic prominence involves more interpretation and subjective judgment, but 
the other two are formal.  What intrigues me about this passage, besides the 
way v. 12 is heavily marked (ARA and OUN, vocative, & 1st person plural plus 
as semantic modal of obligation), is the interpersonal structure of the 
passage: how Paul shifts between 1st p. s., 1st p. pl., 2nd p. pl. and 3 p. 
s.  These patterns represent various grammatical techniques that involve the 
reader in the text and contribute to prominence and backgrounding.  Bear in 
mind that people are most interested in themselves and things 
spatially/logically/emotionally close as opposed to distant.

I study cohesion patterns of continuity and shifts.

After I sift through the above info, then I start to put together a model of 
the 'flow of thought' that best incorporates the features, prioritizing the 
formal patterns.

This may sound similar to say, what James Dunn does in Romans 1-8, p. 447, 
but in application, I'm drawing on discussions and findings inside and 
outside of NT Study (linguistics particularly) to describe things such as how 
discourse markers operate, what indicates topic & prominence, and the 
relationship of prominence with mainline material.

Now, I'll tentatively interact with Eric's observations with apologies to 
Rob, freely admitting that I could use more work on the entire discourse.  

Eric writes,
<<But it seems to me from reading that Romans 8:12-13 breaks the flow of what 
precedes and follows.  8:12-13 describes behavior, whereas 8:14-17, and what 
precedes 8:12 (i.e. 8:1-11) describes state - i.e., who we are in Christ 
based on what God has done.>>

Eric is describing a problem with coherence.  His reading of the text reveals 
that 8:12-13 doesn't really 'hang together'  with its context, so it is a 
deviation and v. 14 returns to topic.

Going 'off-topic' happens (just look at the Gospel of John), but not usually 
with all the bells and whistles that accompany vv. 12-13 (people who are 
competent in communication tend not to scream their off-topic statements, 
though schizophrenics do!).  When I see material with this kind of prominence 
labelled as a deviation, I tend to look again at the topic designation, and 
suspect that it is incorrect.  That is, it seems that Eric thinks that the 
topic is 'the state of who we are in Christ based on what God has done', so 
that the shift to behavior is off-topic.  But I suggest looking for another 
topic that incorporates both state and behavior.  The shift from state to 
behavior can actually have the reverse effect of foregrounding, according to 
some studies.

Is there a shift at v. 14?  Well, there's relatively no prominence at the 
paragraph level, and I think Paul uses prominent signals to indicate shifts.  
On the other hand, v. 14 initiates a semantic chain on 'sonship' (childship? 
:)  Eric has some good scholarly company that can't see the relationship with 
vv. 12-13.  Here's where interpretation starts to take a predominant role--so 
you argue for or against.  For: Maybe he's starting a new but related 
sub-topic on sonship--it deserves a shift-designation.  Against--one of DA's 
presuppositions is that sometimes an apparent lack of coherence or cohesion 
occurs because the participants share information that isn't available to us 
(or we don't see in the immediate context).  Now we could plug in Dunn's 
observations (Romans 1-8, pp. 449-450) that the participants shared 
theological views that logically linked vv. 12-13 to v. 14.  

Contextual patterns of shifts lead me to go against 'paragraph level' shift, 
but I could be swayed.

What is the sound of one list sleeping?  

Sorry this is not briefer--and the sad thing is that I could have said so 
much more...

Cindy Westfall
PhD Student, Roehampton  

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