discourse analysis and circular reasoning

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Mon Apr 15 03:10:29 EDT 2002

Dear Peter,

I have never said that Niccacci's or anybody else's method is 
"suspect". Niccacci has done a great job by describing discourse 
patterns in detail. My principal point, however, has been that 
discourse analysis is *descriptive*, and  the method can never be 
used to show how many conjugations there are in Hebrew, let alone 
their meaning. That  this is possible is implied by Niccacci's 
"Syntax..", and in this area I criticise him. My second point has 
been that the method entails a measure of circularity, and this is 
admitted by the linguist on whose work Niccacci builds, namely, 
Harald Weinrich. In his work "Tense and Time" Archivum Linguisticum 1 
(new Series), p 41, he admits that his method is "unassailable",i.e. 
it cannot be tested by other means.

Therefore, if you put it five conjugations, the output is five 
conjugations. My advise is to use discourse analysis in the ares 
where it belongs, namely, as describing patterns. And do not pretend 
that we by the help of this method can learn anything about the 
number of conjugations or the meaning of each conjugation. This is 
reserved for a study of the smallest parts of language



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

>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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