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Interpretation: Discourse Analysis – part 2 June 4, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello. Today we are continuing our discussion of Discourse Analysis. Last week was all about finding the propositions. This time I want to talk about “determining the relationships”. Every proposition is related to another one is some way or another. Sometimes the relationship is stated, but a lot of times it is not stated. Before we can get into the details of comparing propositions we need to distinguish between “subordinate” and “coordinate” relationships.

Subordinate vs. Coordinate Relationships

Every proposition is related to another one in some way or another. The most basic way they are related is if they are coordinate or subordinate. Coordinating propositions are on the same level grammatically, while a subordinating conjunction is dependent on another proposition for its meaning. Coordinating propositions are related with the words “and” or “or”. Pretty much any other conjunction (but, so, therefore, when, if, etc.) will be for subordinating propositions. If there is no conjunction you will have to look at the logic to decide if its coordinate or subordinate. If I say: I went to the store and went for a bike ride. These are two coordinating conjunctions. Not only is there an “and” in between them, but they are two separate ideas that are not dependent on each other. But, if the sentence is: I went to the store by riding my bike. This is a subordinate relationship. “by riding my bike” does not make sense alone, it needs to have the first part of the sentence there in order for it to make sense.

Clauses can be connected grammatically or logically. Sometimes, you will have a word that shows how the clauses are related. As I mentioned earlier the words “and” or “or” are grammatical clues that help you see that the clauses are related coordinately.  Subordinate clauses are marked with words like: “but”, “until”, “while”, “by”, “so that”, “in order to”, “because”, “as a result”, etc. These words are not absolutes, but just clues to help you see that you are most likely dealing with a subordinate clause. These are the grammatical clues. But, just because there are no connecting words, does not mean that the clauses are not related. Sometimes they are related logically, with no grammatical clues at all.

Take for example these two sentences:

Michael Jordan is really good at basketball. He would easily beat me in a one-on-one game.

These two sentences are related, but there is no conjunction between them. They could simply be coordinate clauses with no dependent relationship, but the second clause could also be subordinate. If you think about it, you could actually make one big sentence out of these two little ones, and put the word “therefore” in between them. Or you could start the first sentence with the word “because”. Either way the relationship would be more clear with a connecting word. But as they stand you can still see the logical relationship between them. “Because” MJ is so good at basketball, he would win in a game of one-on-one.

It is important to look for these logical relationships, because often there will be no words to help determine the relationship.

Coordinating Relationships

Once you decide if you are dealing with subordinate or coordinate clauses then you can see what type of relationship you are dealing with. Subordinate relationships are far more common and a little more difficult so we will start with the easier coordinating relationships. There are three types of coordinating relationships: Series (S), Progression (P) and Alternative (A). Each category has a letter or symbol which is used to abbreviate it. When you are actually doing Discourse Analysis you can just use the abbreviations.

Series (S) – 2 ideas that are related in a general way. I ate a sandwich and drank a glass of milk.

Progression (P) – 2 ideas that are related and are either building toward something or diminishing into something. The boy ran away from home. He stole a gun and held up a bank.

Alternative (A) – 2 ideas showing different possibilities. I could take a nap or I could clean my room.

Subordinate Relationships

Subordinating relationships are adverbial in nature. They tell when, where, why or how something is done. Therefore it is important to distinguish which clause/idea is the main idea and which one is helping to describe it. This is important because sometimes the main idea comes after the clause that is describing it. As you are going through the process of DA try and make a note of what these main ideas are. They will give you insight into what the passage as a whole is about.

Action-Manner (Ac/Mn) – A statement and the statement about how it was accomplished. I got ready for bed, by putting on my p.j.’s and brushing my teeth.

Comparison (Cf) – A statement that describes the main statement with a comparison. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Negative-Positive (-/+) – A statements where one is positive and one is negative. You are dead to sin, but alive in Christ.

Idea-Explanation (Id/Ex) – One idea is given and another idea explains it in more detail. It was a great day, the day I was born.

Question-Answer (Q/A) – A question and an answer. What book are you reading? I am reading the Bible.

Ground (G) – A statement that tells why something is. Mary and Joseph to Jesus to Egypt because Herod was trying to kill him.

Inference (the abbreviation for inference is a triangle of dots, just like the shorthand way of writing the word “therefore”) – A conclusion drawn from a statement. My t.v. is broken therefore I will not be watching it.

Action-Result (Ac/Res) – One action happens and another one results from that action (the second action is not planned). She laughed so hard that she snorted.

Action-Purpose (Ac/Pur) – One action that is designed so that another action will happen. I went to the store to buy some shoes.

Conditional (If/Th) – 2 statements where one is the “if” and one is the “then”. Sometimes the words “if” and “then” are not there, but the relationship is still there. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Temporal (T) – A statement that tells when something else is taking place. They went for a run while it was still light out.

Locative (L) – A statement that tells where something else is happening. I want to be where the people are.

Bilateral (Bi) – This is a statement that serves 2 purposes. It supports what comes before it, and what comes after it. Because I am thirsty, I need some water, so that I do not dehydrate.

Concessive (Csv) –  This is something that happens in spite of something else. Even though it was cold, I went for a walk in the park.

Situation – Response (Sit/Res) – A statement in response to an idea. The people shouted “Surprise” and he fainted.

All of these are just guides to help you figure out what the passage is about. There are different options for how two propositions relate to each other. For each set, go through the options and see what makes the most sense with the context. Once you see how the smaller units fit together, put them together into bigger units and compare those bigger units as if they were single propositions. The goal is to get a big picture idea of what the passage is about and to understand how all the smaller units relate together to make up that bigger idea.

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but there are far better resources out there. If you are really interested in Discourse Analysis I would recommend the book “Interpreting the Pauline Epistles” by Thomas Schreiner, which I used in the formation of this present blog post. More importantly though is the website: www.biblearc.com. This site has videos and other tools which are amazing. Not only can you learn all about arcing there, but you can actually do it there as well. I would highly recommend at least checking out the site.

Reflection

No reflection. Just go check out the site I just mentioned.

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Comments»

1. Andrew Potter - December 16, 2010

Hi T.J.,

many of the Keywords in your post caught my eye. Propositions, relationships etc. I’m in the process of developing a website for documenting and querying theological interpretation. Eventually it will incorporate many of the concepts you’ve written about. It is, however, still in the early stages. I’d appreciate it, if you had a look. I’d like to hear some of your input.

The project is called “The Orthotomeo Project.” The planning and discussion is at http://blog.orthotomeo.com

Thanks

Andy Potter


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