From information structure, topic and focus, to theme in Biblical Hebrew

Floor, Sebastiaan Jonathan (2004-03)

Thesis (DLitt (Ancient Studies))--Stellenbosch University, 2004.


The purpose of this study is to investigate the information structure of Biblical Hebrew narrative, and develop accounts of topic and focus in Biblical Hebrew, respectively. Both topic and focus categories have been determined for Biblical Hebrew (cf. chapters 3 and 5), as well as the information structure strategies that these categories can fulfill in discourse. For topic categories, four different categories of information structure topics in Biblical Hebrew have been distinguished. These are 1. Primary topics 2. Secondary topics 3. Tail topics 4. Topic frames In addition, associated with topics are topic contrastiveness as well as deictic orientations or text-world frames. All these categories, when present, are part of the topical framework of a discourse. For focus structure categories, three different types of focus structure in Biblical Hebrew have been distinguished. These are: 1. Predicate focus 2. Sentence focus 3. Argument focus Again, like in the case of topics, contrastiveness is associated with focus structures. The strategies of information structure topics and focus structures in theme developments were distinguished. For topics, the following information structure strategies or functions stand out: 1. Topic continuity 2. Topic promotion 3. Topic shift 4. Topic deictic text-world framing 5. Topic contrasting For focus structures, the following information structure strategies or functions stand out: 1. Commenting on topics 2. Presenting unidentifiable or inactive participants 3. Reporting, that is, event-reporting and state-reporting of out-of-the-blue, unexpected, discourse new events or states. Some reporting re-directs the theme, other reporting, especially that of states, supports the theme. 4. Identifying referents, either as identifying contrastive, unexpected referents or deictic text-world frames, or by announcing theme macrowords. Contrastiveness is a pragmatic overlay in the case of many focus constituents, especially presupposed information that is focused on. In other words, the three focus structures are used in certain strategies: 1. Predicate focus structures are used for commenting in topic-comment articulations. 2. Sentence focus structures are used for presentational sentences, and for themeredirecting and theme-supporting, event-reporting and state-reporting sentences. The word-order is generally marked. 3. Argument focus is used for unexpected, contrastive identification, and for the announcement of theme macrowords. The word-order is marked, similar to sentence focus structures. All the topic and focus categories and their respective information structure strategies have a link with the theme of a discourse. Theme has been defined in this study as the developing and coherent core or thread of a discourse in the mind of the speaker-author and hearerreader, functioning as the prominent macrostructure of the discourse (chapter 7 (7.4.4)). The information structure with its topics and focus structures and its strategies, can be used as a tool to identify and analyse themes. These categories and strategies together are called theme traces when they occur in marked syntactic constructions or in other prominence configurations like relexicalisation, end-weight, and repetition of macrowords. Theme traces are defined with the following wording: A theme trace is a clue in the surface form of a discourse, viewed from the perspective of information structure, that points to the cognitive macrostructure or theme of a text. This clue is in the form of (1) a marked syntactical configuration, be it marked word-order or marked in the sense of explicit and seemingly “redundant”, all signaling some thematic sequencing strategy, or (2) some recurring concept(s) signaling some prominence and coherence (chapter 7 (7.5.4)). By investigating these theme traces, the analyst will have a tool to study themes in discourse. This theme traces tool will assist in the demarcation of the sections in the developing theme of a text by means of a variety of boundary features, and once these thematic units have been established, the study of the topic framework together with the focus content will yield a verifiable understanding of the macrostructure of a text in Biblical Hebrew. Global themes are contrasted with local themes. Global themes occur in the higher-level thematic groupings, like whole narratives and smaller episodes within the narratives. Within the episodes are sub-units like scenes and thematic paragraphs, the smallest thematic unit. In scenes and thematic paragraphs, local themes occur. Between the different thematic units, a variety of theme sequential strategies occur. Theme shifting is a wider information structure strategy that is in operation in discourse. For instance, topic promotion, topic shift, and topic text-world framing are all cases of theme shifting. To study the theme of a narrative discourse from the perspective of the information structure, four steps of a theme-tracing model have been suggested, and applied to Genesis 17.

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