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Aug 6 / Steve Runge

The wonders of Discontinuity in discourse-III

This is the third post in a series that lays the groundwork for understanding the discourse function of the historical present (HP) in the Greek NT. Begin here if you missed the first two. The primary point I am making is that the discourse functions associated with the HP have less to do with the specific characteristics of the present tense form and more to do with the overall function of discontinuity in discourse. This holds not just for Greek, but for English, Hebrew and many other languages as well. Discontinuity offers some real bang for your buck if you are looking for some low-cost  prominence markers.

When we left off yesterday, we were discussing the reasons why writers might highlight transitions within a reported speech, focusing on “countering moves” whereby one participant counters the goals or objectives of the other in a conversation. The countering moves in John 3 were marked using over-encoded references to the speaker rather than a simple articular pronoun, multiple verbs of speaking rather than one, and an HP. I am asserting that adding these markers is intended to accentuate the natural discontinuity that was already present, adding prominence to it.We press on to consider other reasons.

Why segment a speech into smaller bits?

Another reason for segmenting a speech into smaller chunks is that it is just daggum long! In such cases, the speech will be broken down—say it with me, say it with me—at places of natural discontinuity. I discuss the discourse function of redundant verbs of speaking (“quotative frames”) in section 7.7.2 in my Discourse Grammar:

There are a number of instances in both the Greek NT and the Hebrew Bible where quotative frames are observed in the middle of speeches, where there has been no change of speakers. Since the same person is speaking, there is no semantic need for reintroduction. Levinsohn states,
If an orienter is repeated in the middle of a speech, you should assume that its presence is motivated. Typically, orienters are repeated:
· to mark the introduction of a new point within the same reported speech
· to slow down the discourse immediately preceding a key assertion.
They are typically found within a single speech at shifts from one topic to another. They function to segment the speech into logical parts, based on content. They also can be used to create something of a dramatic pause just before a (or the) significant point of the speech. In this way, the redundant frame serves to separate what is less important from a more important portion that follows. Creating the break in the flow also serves the same delay tactic seen with other forward-pointing devices, building suspense through the delay.

Wallace has noted what he calls the “instantaneous imperfect” use of the verb, whereby an imperfect is used in a context where an aorist would be expected Note, contra Porter’s claims about “semantic weighting” and the imperfect form being more marked that the aorist, Wallace makes no claim about it making the verb more prominent. Normally verbs of speaking are reported in the aorist form, though Campbell has aptly noted that there is a strong association between the HP and verbs of speaking. It is only the HP that is claimed to be promient, not the imperfect as Porter’s claim would lead you to believe.

So what’s the deal with the continuative imperfect? Here is another quote, this time from section 7.3.2.1 When an unneeded quotative frame is used in the midst of a speech, it functions to break the speech into smaller chunks, especially long ones. Luke uses the imperfect in this way to break Jesus’ extended  teachings into pericopes so, knowing that seminary students needed to have clear-cut boundaries for their pericopes. Use of an aorist, without specifying a speaker, would sound like the expected “switch” of speaker and hearer. The aspect of the imperfect makes it a “perfect” fit for use in the context:

Note that the verb form used is imperfect, not aorist. Wallace refers to this usage as the “instantaneous imperfect” where the imperfect is used “just like the aorist indicative, to indicate simple past.”2 He notes that the usage “is virtually restricted to ἔλεγεν in narrative literature.”3 In contrast, Levinsohn notes that the imperfect is used “to portray events as incomplete.”4 Note that the primary reason for placing the frame here is to segment an ongoing speech, not to indicate that the speech is completed.
Imperfect forms of λέγω are characteristically used either to introduce an initial speech that is more of a monologue than a dialogue, or to record the responses of multiple groups to one thing. It can also be used in the expected imperfective sense of ongoing or repeated events.

Here is an example of one of those long speeches that is broken up at various points mid-way through using a redundant quotative frame in the imperfect, taken from Mark 4:9-30. The first text is NA27, which creates a paragraph at each of the redundant quotative frames. The frame in v. 13 is an HP, which I would take to indicate a slightly higher-level break, but fundamentally does the same thing. The critical thing to observe here is that if Mark had not inserted these extra frames and the narrative comment in v. 10, this would easily have read like the Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, i.e. one long speech. Mark did not have to include these narrative insertions, he chose to. I am not sure what the asterisk in v. 24 indicates, there was no explanation in the foreword.

9 καὶ ἔλεγεν· ὃς ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
10 Καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο κατὰ μόνας, ἠρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν σὺν τοῖς δώδεκα τὰς παραβολάς. 11 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς· ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὰ πάντα γίνεται,
12 ἵνα βλέποντες βλέπωσιν καὶ μὴ ἴδωσιν,
καὶ ἀκούοντες ἀκούωσιν καὶ μὴ συνιῶσιν,
μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν καὶ ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς.
13 Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· οὐκ οἴδατε τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην, καὶ πῶς πάσας τὰς παραβολὰς γνώσεσθε; 14 ὁ σπείρων τὸν λόγον σπείρει. 15 οὗτοι δέ εἰσιν οἱ παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν· ὅπου σπείρεται ὁ λόγος καὶ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν, εὐθὺς ἔρχεται ὁ σατανᾶς καὶ αἴρει τὸν λόγον τὸν ἐσπαρμένον εἰς αὐτούς. 16 καὶ οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐπὶ τὰ πετρώδη σπειρόμενοι, οἳ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν τὸν λόγον εὐθὺς μετὰ χαρᾶς λαμβάνουσιν αὐτόν, 17 καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσιν ῥίζαν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἀλλὰ πρόσκαιροί εἰσιν, εἶτα γενομένης θλίψεως ἢ διωγμοῦ διὰ τὸν λόγον εὐθὺς σκανδαλίζονται. 18 καὶ ἄλλοι εἰσὶν οἱ εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας σπειρόμενοι· οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ τὸν λόγον ἀκούσαντες, 19 καὶ αἱ μέριμναι τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ ἡ ἀπάτη τοῦ πλούτου καὶ αἱ περὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ἐπιθυμίαι εἰσπορευόμεναι συμπνίγουσιν τὸν λόγον καὶ ἄκαρπος γίνεται. 20 καὶ ἐκεῖνοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν τὴν καλὴν σπαρέντες, οἵτινες ἀκούουσιν τὸν λόγον καὶ παραδέχονται καὶ καρποφοροῦσιν ἓν τριάκοντα καὶ ἓν ἑξήκοντα καὶ ἓν ἑκατόν.
21 Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς· μήτι ἔρχεται ὁ λύχνος ἵνα ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον τεθῇ ἢ ὑπὸ τὴν κλίνην; οὐχ ἵνα ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν τεθῇ; 22 οὐ γάρ ἐστιν κρυπτὸν ἐὰν μὴ ἵνα φανερωθῇ, οὐδὲ ἐγένετο ἀπόκρυφον ἀλλʼ ἵνα ἔλθῃ εἰς φανερόν. 23 εἴ τις ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω. 24 * Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς· βλέπετε τί ἀκούετε. ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν καὶ προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν. 25 ὃς γὰρ ἔχει, δοθήσεται αὐτῷ· καὶ ὃς οὐκ ἔχει, καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ.
26 Καὶ ἔλεγεν· οὕτως ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ τὸν σπόρον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς 27 καὶ καθεύδῃ καὶ ἐγείρηται νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν, καὶ ὁ σπόρος βλαστᾷ καὶ μηκύνηται ὡς οὐκ οἶδεν αὐτός. 28 αὐτομάτη ἡ γῆ καρποφορεῖ, πρῶτον χόρτον εἶτα στάχυν εἶτα πλήρη[ς] σῖτον ἐν τῷ στάχυϊ. 29 ὅταν δὲ παραδοῖ ὁ καρπός, εὐθὺς ἀποστέλλει τὸ δρέπανον, ὅτι παρέστηκεν ὁ θερισμός.
30 Καὶ ἔλεγεν· πῶς ὁμοιώσωμεν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἢ ἐν τίνι αὐτὴν παραβολῇ θῶμεν;

Compare this now to the paragraphing in UBS 4:

9 καὶ ἔλεγεν, Ὃς ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
The Purpose of the Parables
(Mt 13.10-17; Lk 8.9-10)
10 Καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο κατὰ μόνας, ἠρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν σὺν τοῖς δώδεκα τὰς παραβολάς. 11 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὰ πάντα γίνεται, 12 ἵνα
βλέποντες βλέπωσιν καὶ μὴ ἴδωσιν,
καὶ ἀκούοντες ἀκούωσιν καὶ μὴ συνιῶσιν,
μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν καὶ ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς.
The Parable of the Sower Explained
(Mt 13.18-23; Lk 8.11-15)
13 Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οὐκ οἴδατε τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην, καὶ πῶς πάσας τὰς παραβολὰς γνώσεσθε; 14 ὁ σπείρων τὸν λόγον σπείρει. 15 οὗτοι δέ εἰσιν οἱ παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν· ὅπου σπείρεται ὁ λόγος καὶ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν, εὐθὺς ἔρχεται ὁ Σατανᾶς καὶ αἴρει τὸν λόγον τὸν ἐσπαρμένον εἰς αὐτούς. 16 καὶ οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐπὶ τὰ πετρώδη σπειρόμενοι, οἳ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν τὸν λόγον εὐθὺς μετὰ χαρᾶς λαμβάνουσιν αὐτόν, 17 καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσιν ῥίζαν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἀλλὰ πρόσκαιροί εἰσιν, εἶτα γενομένης θλίψεως ἢ διωγμοῦ διὰ τὸν λόγον εὐθὺς σκανδαλίζονται. 18 καὶ ἄλλοι εἰσὶν οἱ εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας σπειρόμενοι· οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ τὸν λόγον ἀκούσαντες, 19 καὶ αἱ μέριμναι τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ ἡ ἀπάτη τοῦ πλούτου καὶ αἱ περὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ἐπιθυμίαι εἰσπορευόμεναι συμπνίγουσιν τὸν λόγον καὶ ἄκαρπος γίνεται. 20 καὶ ἐκεῖνοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν τὴν καλὴν σπαρέντες, οἵτινες ἀκούουσιν τὸν λόγον καὶ παραδέχονται καὶ καρποφοροῦσιν ἓν τριάκοντα καὶ ἓν ἑξήκοντα καὶ ἓν ἑκατόν.
A Light under a Bushel
(Lk 8.16-18)
21 Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Μήτι ἔρχεται ὁ λύχνος ἵνα ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον τεθῇ ἢ ὑπὸ τὴν κλίνην; οὐχ ἵνα ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν τεθῇ; 22 οὐ γάρ ἐστιν κρυπτὸν ἐὰν μὴ ἵνα φανερωθῇ, οὐδὲ ἐγένετο ἀπόκρυφον ἀλλʼ ἵνα ἔλθῃ εἰς φανερόν. 23 εἴ τις ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
24 Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Βλέπετε τί ἀκούετε. ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν καὶ προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν. 25 ὃς γὰρ ἔχει, δοθήσεται αὐτῷ· καὶ ὃς οὐκ ἔχει, καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ.
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 Καὶ ἔλεγεν, Οὕτως ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ τὸν σπόρον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς 27 καὶ καθεύδῃ καὶ ἐγείρηται νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν, καὶ ὁ σπόρος βλαστᾷ καὶ μηκύνηται ὡς οὐκ οἶδεν αὐτός. 28 αὐτομάτη ἡ γῆ καρποφορεῖ, πρῶτον χόρτον εἶτα στάχυν εἶτα πλήρη[ς] σῖτον ἐν τῷ στάχυϊ. 29 ὅταν δὲ παραδοῖ ὁ καρπός, εὐθὺς ἀποστέλλει τὸ δρέπανον, ὅτι παρέστηκεν ὁ θερισμός.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
(Mt 13.31-32; Lk 13.18-19)
30 Καὶ ἔλεγεν, Πῶς ὁμοιώσωμεν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἢ ἐν τίνι αὐτὴν παραβολῇ θῶμεν;

UBS places v. 9 as the conclusion to the preceding paragraph, rather than as a paragraph of its own in NA27. Whereas NA27 places v. 24 in a paragraph, UBS makes it its own paragraph. These examples illustrate the function of mid-speech quotative frames as a means of segmenting a relatively long, continuous text into smaller chunks. The chunking is done by added an unneeded element (the quotative frame) in a context of natural discontinuity. This is why the pericope headings work well in these locations. The continuing nature of the context and the need to avoid signaling that there has been some change in speakers make the imperfect a very plausible verb form in the context. Thus we can understand the use of the imperfect here on its own merits based on the discourse constraints.

Segmenting the text as a means of prominence marking

There are other times where a speech that is not too long is broken into smaller chunks. I will be claiming, based on a theoretical model proposed in my dissertation, that chunking in a context that really doesn’t need chunking can have the effect of adding prominence to the speech or even that follows the chunk. It is the utility pole principle at work, discussed in my first post. Making the chunks shorter creates the sense that they are passing by faster. Minimally though it breaks the discourse into smaller bits, typically based on the content.

Take a look at how the angel of the LORD’s speech to Hagar is chunked, and compare that to the content of the segments. Here is the NASB text of Gen 16:7-12. I have bolded the extra verbs of speaking, the underlined text is that supplied by the translators, but has no direct underlying text. I contend in my dissertation that the overencoded references to the angel function as development markers to segment the text.

7 Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.

8     He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”

9     Then the angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.”

10     Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.”

11     The angel of the Lord said to her further,
“Behold, you are with child,
And you will bear a son;
And you shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
12     “He will be a wild donkey of a man,
His hand will be against everyone,
And everyone’s hand will be against him;
And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

This speech could have been processed without the added segmentation, so it must be doing something else than just marking a new segment. Note the cohesiveness of the content in each section. The first concerns Hagar’s immediate situation, and the need to return. The second concerns her descendants being multiplied in general. The third describes more fully how the second will come about through her first-born, Ishmael.

One finds the same kind of use of what I call “mid-speech quotative frames” to break what would have been a single speech into several smaller ones in the LORD’s speeches to Abraham in Genesis 17:9, 15. BH also emplys overencoding the participants with full NPs and using extra verbs of speaking (e.g. “he answered and said” even when there was no question asked) as markers of discontinuity.

In Greek, one finds various devices used. John uses a whole slough of things, including the Hebraic overencoding, extra verbs of speaking, and the HP. We alsready looked at Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 in the second post.

If anyone out there is actually reading this, post a comment with other examples you can think of where redundant or “special” elements are added to segment things into smaller chunks. Choruses and refrains between verses of a song have this same effect. It is the repetition that signals this. Without repetion, it would just be another verse. Composers repeat themes to mark the transition from one movement to the next for much the same reason. The use of redundancy to segment in contexts of natural discontinuity can be observed all around us.

And remember, regardless of what your marriage counselor might have told you, discontinuity really can be a good thing! You heard it here first, folks, just remember that.

Isn’t language wonderful?

  1. Sorry, here is more quoting. I wrote the book so that I could do this, being the fairly lazy grammarian that I am. []
  2. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 542. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Levinsohn, Discourse Features, 175. []

3 Comments

  1. Steve Runge / Aug 6 2009

    I just found another redundant frame in Genesis 41:41, complete with overencoding of both speaker and hearer, segmenting Pharaoh’s speech to Joseph regarding his appointment to implement his plan from the final declarative “See, I have set you over all Egypt.” The frame only segments the concluding thought, making it stand out. Pretty cool stuff. Now, back to work.

  2. NickEllis / Aug 17 2009

    Sorry, nothing to contribute on redundant “chunking” elements yet. A former professor and friend of mine (Mark Dubis) has introduced me to Levinsohn’s work, and steered me through this site. Great stuff here, and its a good work you are doing. So yes, someone is reading…

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