Discourse Grammar

Last week, I bought what is probably the most exciting book I’ve bought for a long time – Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar. I was introduced to ‘discourse grammar’ (aka ‘text linguistics’) by my Greek teacher at WEST (John Kendall). John not only explained very clearly the basic concepts of discourse grammar, but also demonstrated very well their benefit in exegsis. So I’m excitied to have an accessible and comprehensive reference guide to this kind of stuff.

I’m going to blog some notes as I read through the book. Here goes:

After an introductory chapter, Runge dives straight into a chapter on “Connecting Propositions”. How clauses, sentences etc. are joined together can reveal a lot about how the author is thinking. How they are processing the information, what bits they are seeking to emphasise. Runge looks at nine common and significant “connectives” and explains them.

The big difference between what you’ll read in Runge’s grammar as compared to a more traditional grammar (e.g. Wallace), is that traditionally, Greek words are explained in terms of how they are translated (καί being “and, but, yet” etc.). Runge, rather, seeks to explain what the word is doing in Greek rather than what it means in English.

  1. Asyndeton (Ø) – default connective in epistles and reported speech in narratives and in John’s gospel. “Default” means that it doesn’t signify anything particular. Can mark both continuity and discontinuity.
  2. Καί – “connects two items of equal status” – demonstrating that they are closely related. It is marked for continuity.
  3. Δέ – definted as a “development marker”. It is “marked for development” and shows that what follows is “a new, distinct development in the story or argument” (p31)
  4. Narrative Τότε – Marked for development (like δέ) but shows that the type of development is specifically temporal. (Δέ doesn’t specify a type of development)
  5. Οὖν – Marked for both continuity and development. Demonstrating that what follows is a development in the story or argument; but is closely linked to what does before.
  6. Διἀ Τοῦτο – Similar to οὖν in that it marks both continuity and development, but has a tigher constraint, in that that follows is causal.
  7. Γάρ – marks close continuity but not development. Rather it gives supporting/background information.
  8. Μέν – Marked for continuity and points forward to another clause (usually introduced by δέ).
  9. Ἀλλά – Correlated two clauses, but doesn’t mark continuity or development. Rather shows a correction of some kind.

From just these brief notes, it because very clear that discourse grammar help us to understand how these connectives are functioning. None of them are identical, none to precisely the same job as another. But they are all available to the biblical authors for them to make their meaning/intent clearer to us.

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