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Oct 21 / Steve Runge

Continuing education in discourse studies

One of the most common questions I receive concerns what kinds of steps one can take to keep digging into discourse grammar after finishing reading my Discourse Grammar of the GNT, Levinsohn’s Discourse Features, and interacting with the annotated Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament. There are two prongs to my response. First, you don’t necessarily need to pay tuition to learn. When I left my MTS program I had a list the length of my arm of things I wanted to dig into more deeply. Post-graduation is the perfect time to do that, plus it helps you maintain the scholarly discipline you developed while doing your degree, assuming you formally studies somewhere.

The second part is that there are so many great resources on the Web to help you learn and grow, you should be able to read for quite a while before you run out of stuff to read. The key things will be developing a reading list that progressively orders the material. For instance, I quickly found I lacked the needed background to read Levinsohn’s Discourse Features; he assumed too much background information which I had not yet learned. So I went back and read Dooley and Levinsohn’s Analyzing Discourse. But I again found this assumed too much background based on the terse style of writing. So I decided I needed to read Lambrecht’s Information Structure and Sentence Form, the hardest book I had ever read. I had no background in cognitive linguistics, so I went back and started reading the earlier works of Wallace Chafe that Lambrecht had built upon. I was finally beginning to get somewhere.

How did I find these “prequel” books? By reading the footnotes and bibliography. If someone is doing productive stuff that builds on someone else’s work, then those other works get added to my to-do list. Reading the primary texts on which others have built also ensure that I really understand the original, and not just its application by someone else. This kind of digging is what led to the publication of my article on Porter’s misuse of contrastive substitution. Checking his primary sources of support revealed the contradictions between his arguments and particularly those of Stephen Wallace.

Another way of gaining direction is asking someone. For me it was Stephen Levinsohn and Randall Buth. The former recommended I read an introduction to linguistic typology. And so on it went. For a really long time. Then, after about three years, I had finally come back around full circle to have enough background to read Discourse Features. It was then and there that I swore before God that I would write a book that could serve was an easier prequel path than I had to take. My colleague, Josh Westbury, has also developed a recommended reading list for developing a general background in linguistics. It is not meant to be read in order, but is simply a compilation.

As far as continuing your studies, be sure to note that you can continue learning without necessarily having to pay tuition. When I finished my MTS I had all sorts of questions I’d flagged for later study, ones I did not have time to pursue while writing my thesis. I began digging into these, and also began working through the required reading list of top Semitics programs I dreamt of enrolling in. It all kept me learning, as well as preparing for doctoral studies. The four years of reading allowed me to catch up financially and get a jump on the doctoral level reading I’d need to do. When I had questions, I’d write to scholars I had met to pick their brains. Most were more than happy to either answer my question, or to direct me to the reading that would fill in the hole in my theoretical framework that my question revealed.

There is no precise path forward, the answer to “How do I proceed?” really depends on the kinds of things you want to learn or to be able to do. If you find something interesting, start digging into their bibliography and citations and read those sources. Keep going until you find yourself circling back on the same cited materials. Then move on to another area. It is hard work, but the great thing about learning is that it can be a self-sustaining endeavor, especially when pursued as part of a larger community. For me, my community consisted initially of my springer spaniel and the interactions with scholars at SBL. The Web, Twitter, FaceBook, Boxer and video conferencing have completely changed the playing field. Hopefully you can find an easier path forward now than when I began in 1999.

One Comment

  1. Jonly Joihin / Nov 7 2014

    Thank you Dr. Runge. This is very helpful!

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