New Topics

Paul Zellmer zellmer at
Fri Aug 27 04:36:59 EDT 1999

Matthew Anstey wrote:

> GDay Bryan & Paul,
> >Matthew, as I look at it further, for this to be a "new topic,"
> >shouldn't there be an old topic?  I don't see one.  Or does Dik not
> >differentiate between introduction of topics and change of topics?
> Yes and more. He differentiates New Topic (first introduction). It is
then a
> Given Topic. The Given Topic usually triggers anaphora rules and other
> things like that. If this topic is changed to another Topic or
Sub-Topic it
> can be picked up again as a Resumed Topic. The total number of topics
of a
> discourse includes all the Topics introduced in the story, but also
> information shared between author and reader. Topics are also
> hierarchically within each level of the discourse from book down to
> So a discourse contains a topic-store which grows and shrinks as the
> discourse continues. Some topics exist only very briefly (eg Jonah's
> while others (YHWH in Torah) exist for a long time (in the discourse
> is!). What Dik and others have done is to show the cross-linguistic
> tendencies for handling these various topics. New Topics, tend to move
> the end. They are also introduced by formula "Once upon a time there
was an
> X", existential constructions using dummy subjects  "In a jungle there
> an elephant..." and other ways.
Okay, this helps define the terms.  I believe that BH generally uses
WAY(Y):HIY, W:HFYFH, or the S-P verbless clause to introduce topics,
although we do see X-HAYAH in Exodus.  And occasionally Y"$ is used.
> >
> >I won't argue your definiteness position, but it does seem strange to
> >to call the first part of this definite without any article being
> >indicated.
> I take the construct chain as a single syntactic unit, and it is
> since "the man" is definite.
Matthew, you're right.  I confess I was taking the easy way out and did
not look the text up myself.  And I completely missed the "HA" in your
transcription.  In fact, I just went back a few digest to make sure that
you actually did have it in there!

With that definite article, and with the inclusion of $EM, I agree that
this is indeed the expected S-P order normally used for identification.
But, given that, how could this be considered a "right dislocation,"
since it is ordinary--not is "dislocated"?  You wrote to Bryan about a
"drifting to the right."  But nothing is drifting here.  Do we consider
every identification clause to be a new topic?  I, for one, am going to
want to look at that before I adopt this concept.  Or is there another
context that biases parts of clauses to the right?  After all, something
has to be left, and something has to be right.

How do you see Ruth 2:1, which is the actually introduction of Boaz?
Where is he actually made a new topic?  It seems to bear out your
hypothesis, but I would put the actual introduction at )Y$ GBOWR, with
the verbless clause at the end being further specification.  And you
also have to go relatively early in introduction to find the first
mention of the other GO)EL in 3:12, although it does indeed come to the
right of Y"$--


So I come back to my previous problem: How do we know if something is
right because it is being introduced, or right because that's the normal
clause order?  Right now I fail to see the exegetical or interpretative
value of the hypothesis, although it might give *one* reason for the
word order as we find it in the Hebrew.

Just my thoughts,


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