discourse analysis and circular reasoning

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sun Apr 14 03:39:19 EDT 2002

Dear Moon,

What you have described below, and which you call "spiral reasoning" 
is the same that I call "the hermeneutical circle". This is a 
legitimate scientific tool.

Alviero uses this scientific tool to a great extent, but his work 
has, in my opinion, a circular side as well. In the Foreword to his 
"Syntax.." (p12) Alviero says, "Only at this point,after analysing 
the various syntactic settings suggested by a reading of the text, 
has it been possible to identify the forms and verbal constructions 
which can exist independently, within the Hebrew verbal system 
(WAYYIQTOL, QATAL, YIQTOL, weQATAL, and weYIQTOL, the simple noun 
clause,the complex noun clause) and to extend a list of tenses for 

He starts with five finite conjugations, and he ends with five finite 
conjugations. He has made an excellent *descriptive* study for prose 
texts of how the verbs are used with and without prefixed WAW. But 
*description*, which is pragmatics, cannot be used in a *normative* 
way, to establish semantics. If that is done, it is not "spiral 
reasoning" but "circular reasoning" - you get out exactly what you 
put in.

Two basic reasons for circularity are, 1 the method has just been 
applied to prose texts (at least in the "Syntax.."). (In order to 
break circularity, one has to show that the results are equally 
applicable to poetic and semi-poetic texts), 2) There are too many 
forced explanations of examples from prose where the supposed 
function of a form does not seem to fit, not to speak of poetic texts 
where a form functions differently (This is not in the "Syntax..", 
but has been seen in discussion between different memebers of the 

An alternative application of discourse analysis of the Hebrew verbal 
system is the descriptive one. This means that the patterns that are 
seen in the use of verbs simply reflect *inguistic convention*,i.e. 
this is the way the writers used their verbs, something that was 
inherited from father to son. A pattern that often is seen, is not 
the only pattern or the only use of this particular form. The fallacy 
of discourse analysis applied to Hebrew verbs is when characteristics 
are imputed to particular verbs: WAYYIQTOLs establish a new point of 
reference, this form occur i mainline, that form in background etc. 
To go from pragmatics to semantics tends to be circular, and this is 
what is seen in many studies where discourse analysis is the 
backbone. Only when a characteristic is seen in *all* cases where the 
form is used (explainable exceptions accepted) - in prose as well as 
poetics - is the characteristic a semantic part of the form.



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

>Rolf warned against the danger of circular reasoning in the method of
>discourse analysis. To him, discourse analysis "tries  to confirm  the
>very results on which your method build".
>I would like to make some comments.
>(1) We need to distinguish "circular reasoning" and "spiral reasoning".
>     If you travel on the circle, you cannot move forward. But if you
>     travel on the spiral, you make circular motion, but still move
>     forward. I think discourse analysis which for example Niccacci does
>     is more like spiral reasoning than circular reasoning. It does start
>     with the assumption that different forms would have
>     different functions. He distinguishes WAYYIQTOL, WEQATAL, WEYIQTOL,
>     QATAL, YIQTOL, and QOTEL. It is the safest assumption. I would be
>     happy to go on a spiral travel starting from this assumption. In the
>     early part of the spiral travel, we would detect the usage of these
>     forms from examples whose interpretations are clear. In the latter
>     part of the travel, we would attempt to interpret difficult cases
>     by using the patterns of usage discovered so far. As long as such an
>     attempt does not face a total breakdown, it is scientifically
>     legitimate to continue the trip. One should not criticise this trip
>     by saying that it builds upon the assumption and sticks to it, but
>     by saying that the resulting interpretations do not make sense at all.
>     You worry that the interpretation of a sentence is affected by many
>     factors, e.g. temporal adverbials, lexical aspects of the
>     verb,  other than the verb form. That is true. But the interpretation
>     of such sentences would be attempted in the latter part of the
>     spiral travel.
>(2) Science is the refinement of everyday thinking. Physics Laws are
>     refined descriptions. For example, the Newton's three laws of motion
>     are just descriptions of the reality. Before we attempt refining
>     descriptions, we need to find them. In the case of hebrew, I think
>     that we need descriptions of the verb forms more than we need to
>     analyze them based on a few parameters. I have some experience
>     in computational linguistics, a field of Artificial Intelligence.
>     All the theories seemed to  lack "descriptive adequacy". Without it
>     any attempt to get "explanatory adequacy" would turn out to be
>     a meaningless game.
>Moon R. Jung
>Sogang Univ, Seoul, Korea

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