A discourse-functional description of participant reference in Biblical Hebrew narrative

Runge, Steven Edward (2007-03)

Thesis (DLitt (Ancient Studies. Biblical Languages))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


Each language has some means or system of referring to participants. This system of reference includes a participant’s initial introduction, continuing reference to the participant, as well as reintroduction after some period of absence. A number of morphological, syntactic and pragmatic issues impinge upon the kinds of encoding used to refer to participants in various contexts. The primary concern of this study is to provide a cross-linguistic, discourse-functional description of the encoding of participants in Biblical Hebrew narrative. Our description is based on the analysis of a preliminary test corpus of Exod 1-12, which is then applied to our dissertation corpus of Gen 12-25. In order to narrow the scope of the project, the data considered in this dissertation will be limited to the corpora of Exod 1-12 and Gen 12-25. It will not consider embedded reported speeches, but instead focuses exclusively and exhaustively on the narrative proper of these two corpora. Dooley and Levinsohn (2001:112) have identified three basic linguistic functions a participant reference system must be capable of accomplishing: • Semantic: “identify the referents unambiguously, distinguishing them from other possible ones”. In other words, the reader must be able to track ‘who did what to whom’, • Processing: “overcome disruptions in the flow of information”, • Discourse-pragmatic: “signal the activation status and prominence of the referents or the actions they perform”. We propose that these three functions are not discrete categories, but represent a hierarchical entailment scheme. In other words, overencoding a participant to accomplish the processing function at the same time accomplishes a semantic function of identifying the participant. The study begins by providing a description of the default encoding based on the semantic and cognitive constraints present in various discourse contexts. Our methodology is to develop a set of default encoding principles based on the semantic function of participant reference which can account for as much of the attested data as possible. These default principles are also used to identify pragmatically-motivated departures from the default norms. The non-default encoding is construed as explicitly marking the presence of some linguistic feature. The non-default encoding data are then grouped based on the pragmatic effects they achieve, and are described in light of attested cross-linguistic principles. We claim that the processing function of participant reference is accomplished in Biblical Hebrew through the redundant relexicalization of agents. These redundant NPs have the pragmatic effect of segmenting the discourse into distinct developments. Next we describe the pragmatic use of referring expressions as accomplishing the discourse-pragmatic function of thematic highlighting. Finally, we describe participant encoding which exceeds that necessary for the processing function as accomplishing a second discourse-pragmatic function of cataphorically highlighting a following speech or event. The above-mentioned model is ultimately applied to Gen 27 to demonstrate its explanatory value for exposition of Biblical Hebrew narrative.

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