Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Jonathan Robie » January 17th, 2013, 9:43 am

I have a confession to make.

Several times, I've tried to wade into the waters of discourse analysis, and each time I hit the same block: different systems, different vocabulary, descriptions that I find difficult to navigate. This thread is an illustration of that - or am I missing something?

Is there a simple subset of discourse analysis that is agreed-upon, and relatively straightforward?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby cwconrad » January 17th, 2013, 10:23 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:I have a confession to make.

Several times, I've tried to wade into the waters of discourse analysis, and each time I hit the same block: different systems, different vocabulary, descriptions that I find difficult to navigate. This thread is an illustration of that - or am I missing something?

Is there a simple subset of discourse analysis that is agreed-upon, and relatively straightforward?


I was seriously tempted yesterday to say something comparable to what Jonathan says here, but this complaint (or "plaintive note"?) imbues so much of my experience with academic Linguistics with a murky overcast; I've repeatedly referred to it as the Linguistic "Tower of Babel."

The Babel myth (Genesis 11:1-8) is, like many of the stories of the so-called "Primeval History" of Genesis 1-11, ambivalent. "One language and a common vocabulary"! It's a chimera and an apocalyptic vision, but it doesn't quite exist in the human community of our shared history and discourse.

What I found myself asking repeatedly after Jonathan posed this question about Mt 2 is, "Do these analyses of HOW the structural elements of Mt 2 are ordered really make it easier to understand what Mt 2 is saying? They may seem to do that and perhaps they do, but there's something elusive and troubling about this.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Jonathan Robie » January 17th, 2013, 4:05 pm

cwconrad wrote:What I found myself asking repeatedly after Jonathan posed this question about Mt 2 is, "Do these analyses of HOW the structural elements of Mt 2 are ordered really make it easier to understand what Mt 2 is saying? They may seem to do that and perhaps they do, but there's something elusive and troubling about this.


This is a "bang for the buck" question: how much explanatory value does discourse analysis provide, and how much conceptual overhead is required to use it. And it's a good question. Some really smart people I respect are convinced that discourse analysis does offer good bang for the buck, and I'm impressed with their overall knowledge of Greek and their ability to explain texts. I suspect they are probably right, and I know I'm pretty ignorant about discourse analysis. Hence this thread.

Suppose I don't know anything at all about discourse analysis (painfully close to the truth!) but have some knowledge of basic Greek grammar, and I want to understand this phrase:

Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα

I look at the genitive participle γεννηθέντος and suspect a circumstantial participle is being used in the first part of the sentence. I see ἰδοὺ, which must introduce something new. Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος seems to describe attendant circumstances, ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας and ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως seem to further describe these circumstances. ἰδοὺ is fairly obvious, without ἰδοὺ I would look for an independent clause to find the main clause that corresponds to γεννηθέντος, and the subject of that clause would be what this "is about". So far, I haven't used anything but traditional grammar.

Here's something I learned from Discourse Analysis: in ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, the phrase μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν is fronted, and is in focus. So that strengthens my confidence that this passage is about μάγοι. What else does Discourse Analysis tell me here that I would not know based on traditional grammar?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 17th, 2013, 5:16 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:Here's something I learned from Discourse Analysis: in ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, the phrase μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν is fronted, and is in focus. So that strengthens my confidence that this passage is about μάγοι. What else does Discourse Analysis tell me here that I would not know based on traditional grammar?


I had to study what's being called here discourse analysis (I prefer information structure), because I couldn't understand the effect of certain textual variants in Galatians without it. In particular, I found that traditional grammar had little guidance on (a) word order, (b) the use or absence of the article with definite referents, and (c) the nuances of the connective particles (δέ, καί, etc.).

So in Matt 2:1, traditional grammar does not have much to say about why it says τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος instead of γεννηθέντος δὲ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, why it's τοῦ Ἰησοῦ and not Ἰησοῦ, and why this δέ does not mean "but" but something else.

These are all areas where a word-by-word translation fails miserably, and I think it is good to know why. Yet the only guidance the textbooks (and some teachers) give is to ignore the word order, articles with proper names, etc, and just produce natural sounding English. I don't think this advice leads to better understanding when informative parts of the text are ignored. Of course, this advice is also useless for Greek composition, but there is almost none of it at the seminary level (in my experience).
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Jonathan Robie » January 17th, 2013, 6:48 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:So in Matt 2:1, traditional grammar does not have much to say about why it says τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος instead of γεννηθέντος δὲ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, why it's τοῦ Ἰησοῦ and not Ἰησοῦ, and why this δέ does not mean "but" but something else.


What does discourse analysis tell me about these things?

Stephen Carlson wrote:These are all areas where a word-by-word translation fails miserably, and I think it is good to know why. Yet the only guidance the textbooks (and some teachers) give is to ignore the word order, articles with proper names, etc, and just produce natural sounding English. I don't think this advice leads to better understanding when informative parts of the text are ignored. Of course, this advice is also useless for Greek composition, but there is almost none of it at the seminary level (in my experience).


Yes, I agree with this. So tell me more!
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Bryant J. Williams III » January 18th, 2013, 3:23 am

Dear Jonathan,

I know it has been a while since I have been able to participate; though I have been lurking.

I don't know much about DA, but I try to keep it simple and break the text down as follows:

Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου τοῦ βασιλέως,
This clause would emphasize the time period, after (γεννηθέντος) Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the days (the reign) of Herod the King.

Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ, reference to the same Jesus of Matthew 1.

ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα,
It appears magoi (wise men on par with those under Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 2 fame) is being fronted to emphasize that Gentile wise men not Jewish wise men in the capitol of Jerusalem nor any other wise men from elsewhere. It does not say that there were three wise men, all it is stating is that there was more than one.

2 λέγοντες· Ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ τεχθεὶς βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων;
The one who is "born" King of the Jews in contrast to Herod who was NOT born "King of the Jews," but had been "declared" to be "King of the Jews" by an Act of the Roman Senate ca 40 BC. In fact, any Jew who knew their more recent history going back about 100 years, if not longer, would know that. Thus, the magoi, being Gentile, is contrasted with Herod, an Idumean, a Roman puppet King, a ruthless tyrant to boot (cf. an uncle in law, mother in law, brother in law, wife, 6 sons, etc. were ordered put to death by Herod).

True, the text is not giving all the information about Herod, but would conjure up a whole bunch of ugly images about him just by mentioning Herod.

εἴδομεν γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ,
Your guess is as good as mine regarding what type of star. I won't go there other than to say that it stopped over Jerusalem and later where the Child was.

καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ,
The μάγοι were coming to worship, to bow the knee, in obedience. This contrasts the religious and political leaders, Herod, etc., who did not (as the rest of chapter 2 indicates who tried to kill him instead of worship).

En Xristwi,

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 18th, 2013, 8:31 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:
Stephen Carlson wrote:So in Matt 2:1, traditional grammar does not have much to say about why it says τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος instead of γεννηθέντος δὲ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, why it's τοῦ Ἰησοῦ and not Ἰησοῦ, and why this δέ does not mean "but" but something else.


What does discourse analysis tell me about these things?


All three of these devices are signaling a shift to a new scene. The preposed, arthrous τοῦ Ἰησοῦ indicates a shift in topic to Jesus (from Joseph at the end of chapter 1), and while the δέ, a marker of discontinuity, within a temporal frame of the genitive absolute indicates a shift in time to after he is born. The textual devices signal the same thing as what the editor of the NA did by starting a new chapter and paragraph at 2:1. I suppose that one can read all of the text and conclude that there is indeed an important division of the text, but these things are really evident in the first three or four words.

Jonathan Robie wrote:
Stephen Carlson wrote:These are all areas where a word-by-word translation fails miserably, and I think it is good to know why. Yet the only guidance the textbooks (and some teachers) give is to ignore the word order, articles with proper names, etc, and just produce natural sounding English. I don't think this advice leads to better understanding when informative parts of the text are ignored. Of course, this advice is also useless for Greek composition, but there is almost none of it at the seminary level (in my experience).


Yes, I agree with this. So tell me more!


Well, the reason why the "just produce natural sounding English" sort of works is that the translator who follows this generally has to the read the text carefully, and recreate the information of structure within the text. For attentive readers who have a good ability to intuit what an author is saying this should work most of the time, but occasionally there may be differences.

I wouldn't say that discourse analysis / pragmatics / information structure gets you most of the meaning out of the text. Hardly. Knowing the words, their lexical meaning and the grammatical functions of their morphology are the most imporant, and traditional grammar has been quite adequate for that purpose. Rather what it gives you is another 5-10% after you've hit your ceiling from your first few years of traditional instructtion. In the past, those who have read a lot of Greek, and I mean a lot of Greek, have been able to internalize most of the principles that folks like Levinsohn and Runge are trying to articulate. So you don't have to buy into discourse analysis to exploit the textual phenemon it is explaining; you can get most of it from just reading a lot of Greek. Heck, even with studying discourse analysis you still should read a lot of Greek.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke, New Testament)
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Re: Matthew 2 - a Discourse Analysis question

Postby Iver Larsen » January 19th, 2013, 8:00 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:

Is there a simple subset of discourse analysis that is agreed-upon, and relatively straightforward?


Discourse analysis (= text linguistics) is still a relatively new discipline and it deals with topics that are open to subjective analyses, so I don't think there will ever be consensus.

But let me try to give a simple introduction. The smallest meaningful bits in the grammar are called morphemes. They are put together to produce a word. There is usually a root and one or more affixes. An affix can be a prefix or a suffix or even an infix. Words are put together to make phrases, phrases make clauses, clauses make sentences. Traditional grammar basically deals with everything up to the sentence level. Discourse analysis deals with higher levels, that is, how sentences are put together to make paragraphs which again make sections or episodes and we end up with a whole discourse/text. Any language has a number of particles or affixes that cannot be adequately explained unless you go beyond the sentence level. For instance, καί can function at the word level to coordinate words. It can also function at the phrase and clause level to coordinate two or more parts. When it coordinates sentences or paragraphs it becomes more complex and is a topic for discourse analysis. A particle like γάρ may be given the meaning "because" or "for" and treated as a conjunction between clauses, if one is limited to traditional grammar. But if we study how the word is used to connect sentences at the higher level, we get a much more satisfactory explanation. This particle supplies further background for one or more words in the previous context, almost always the previous sentence. Similarly δέ can not be explained within a system that does not go higher than the sentence. It cannot be explained by an English translation. One has to look at the function. Basically, it introduces a change of some kind, but the exact kind of change depends on the word that precedes it and the context.

The tracking of participants through a story is another common topic of study in discourse analysis. That is needed to properly account for the use of the definite article and demonstratives. Another topic is the developping of a story through setting, building-up units, peak and release/denouement or closing. This overlaps with literary studies. This is needed to properly study aspect and some other areas.

The function of word order is not really a matter of discourse, since it does not go beyond the sentence. It belongs to pragmatics. However, when we study texts we are better off if we can use insights from both traditional grammar, semantics, pragmatics and discourse analysis.

Different schools use different technical vocabulary. A few decades ago it became popular to talk about topic and comment, dividing every sentence into two bits. I have never personally felt that this was useful, so I don't use it, and I think I get by quite fine without it. The word focus is also used to mean several different things, so it is not particularly useful. I prefer to talk about relative prominence which is not dichotomistic. My philosophy as a practical linguist and translator is that the simpler the rule, the better.

Those are my 2 cents.
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