discourse analysis and circular reasoning

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at sil.org
Sun Apr 14 18:04:16 EDT 2002

Rolf, part of your criticism here may be simply that you are using a
different linguistic framework from those you criticise. You attempt to
make a rigid separation between semantics and pragmatics, and you set up
a concept of "linguistic convention" which you define as being part of
pragmatics rather than semantics. But it is by no means obvious that
humans do actually use "linguistic conventions" without any actual
meaning or semantic component. If there are inherited patterns of verb
use within a language, those patterns are susceptible to analysis. Where
such patterns cannot be related directly to sentence level phenomena
e.g. tense, aspect and modality of a verb, the analysis of these
patterns is discourse analysis. You may not like some scholars' analyses
of these patterns in Hebrew, but you cannot deny that analysis of them
is a proper procedure. And there is no obvious reason to deny that these
patterns are linked to the speaker's intended meaning.

As for Niccacci's reasoning, if he started with a working hypothesis
(e.g. that there are five conjugations) and then confirmed this
hypothesis, this does not mean that his method was suspect, but rather
that he started with a shrewd idea (or, in principle, a lucky guess).

Peter Kirk

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Rolf Furuli [mailto:furuli at online.no]
> Sent: 14 April 2002 08:39
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: Re: discourse analysis and circular reasoning
> 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
> each."
> 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
> list.)
> 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.
> Regards
> Rolf
> Rolf Furuli
> University of Oslo

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