Discourse analysis

David Stabnow dstabno at lifeway.com
Wed Apr 10 10:47:07 EDT 2002

Liz wrote: "Pardon my  ignorance, but what is discourse analysis,
and how does it affect our understanding of the verbs?"

The most pertinent aspect of DA to the study of Hebrew verbs, in my
opinion,  is that DA does not consider the sentence the largest element of
language which can be analyzed.  Rather, DA seeks to analyze paragraphs and
texts, i.e., discourses.  Just as the form and function of, say, an adverb
is determined by its context in the sentence, so also the form and function
of a sentence is determined by its context in a discourse.

How does this affect our understanding of verbs?  Recall that the recent
discussion was not just how BR) could be parsed in the first sentence in
Gen 1:1, but how the QATAL verb, preceded by what may be a temporal
element, functions in the first paragraph in Genesis -- indeed, in the
first episode (1:1-2:3).  It is significant to devotees of DA that the
first paragraph starts X-QATAL, then W-X-QATAL with HYH in v. 2a, then a
verbless clause, then a verbless clause with a participle in v. 2b, then a
WAYYIQTOL verb introducing speech in v. 3 ... etc.  It has been observed
that in narrative, such X-QATAL and verbless clauses typically supply some
kind of background or staging information for the story proper, then the
story is told through WAYYIQTOL verbs.  (Clauses with HYH and verbless
clauses sometimes provide descriptive side comments, apart from the main
plot of the story.)

It is of considerable import, as you can tell by the vitriol generated in
the recent discussion, whether BR) is the first action in the story, or is
preliminary to the story.  If it is preliminary to the story, we might, in
English, say, "When God had in the beginning created heaven and earth ..."
or "When in the beginning God set about to create heaven and earth ..." or,
at best, "God had created heaven and earth in the beginning" (as a sort of
"historical background" to the main part of the story).  Only if we can
show that such X-QATAL clauses can be part of the plot, the "main line" of
the story, can we translate the clause as the first main action of the
story: "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth."

Devotees also have theories concerning the purpose of including quoted
speech ("direct discourse") in narrative.  There is also much more, such as
the analysis of the degree of mitigation (humility) in the speech of the
characters in a dialogue (see Longacre's /Joseph/).

For an introduction to the application of DA to Biblical Hebrew, see
Bodine's /Discourse Analysis of Biblical Literature/ and Robert Bergen's
/Biblical Hebrew and Discourse Linguistics/.  For its application to verbs
in particular, see Niccacci's /The Syntax of the Verb in Classical Hebrew
Prose/ and David Alan Dawson's /Text Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew/.
Rocine's new grammar is also worth a look.

Dave Stabnow
Bible Translation Editor
Broadman & Holman Publishers
Nashville, Tennessee
david.stabnow at lifeway.com

    Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
do everything for God's glory.  (1 Cor 10:31, HCSB)

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