A Response to Runge’s Response to Porter’s Response to Runge in the latest BBR

Bulletin_for_Biblical_ResearchNot too long ago, I received the latest issue of the Bulletin for Biblical Research (BBR), the journal of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), of which I am a fairly recent member. I appreciate IBR for its attention to scholarship within an evangelical framework and am excited to be a contributing member of this society.

In this issue, there is an article by Steven Runge and another by Benjamin Merkle, both addressing the issues of aspect and markedness, followed by an article by my co-blogger, Stanley Porter, as respondent to both. Runge and Merkle, then, each have about a page responding to Porter’s response.

Although I could respond to the more central issue of markedness and aspect, my attention was drawn to a curious statement made by Runge in his response to Porter. He states: “Neither Porter nor I are full-fledged linguists; we are interdisciplinarians” (BBR 26 [2016]: 82).

At the risk of seeming pedantic, this (seemingly cursory) statement betrays a deeper set of issues, and I have some thoughts on this (or a similar) sentiment, which Runge has hinted at elsewhere (notably in his “Contrastive Substitution” article in Novum Testamentum last year). Before I go on, however, I want to clarify that these thoughts are mine and mine alone, and I take full responsibility for them (although I have asked my co-bloggers and a few friends to read this over).

2013_molt_grasMy first thought, or question, is this: what does Runge actually mean by “full-fledged linguist” (a fledging is basically a young bird that has begun to fly and often refers to an organization or person who is getting started in a new activity; so “full-fledged” must mean fully developed or mature)? I am not quite sure if this fits, however, since Porter is not “new” to linguistic study, as he “began” in the 1980s with his dissertation and has continued to be involved in (Greek) linguistic thought and development. I might have a guess as to what he means, but if he means what I think he means, then I think he is wrong. But for the sake of probing further, if I may relate this sort of language to other fields of study, is it proper, or even normal, to refer to someone as a “full-fledged theologian,” “full-fledged scientist,” “full-fledged mathematician,” or “full-fledged historian” in a similar way? What exactly qualifies someone to be “full-fledged” or perhaps “half-fledged, “mostly-fledged,” or “slightly-fledged,” if I continue the terminology? If one is not “full-fledged,” does that mean their assertions should not be taken seriously? (If true, then by self-admission Runge admits that his assertions should not be taken seriously.) Upon a little bit of reflection, this is a quizzical phrase that begs for further explanation, or perhaps a replacement word.

The reader should understand that this sort of detailed questioning is not for the sake of being (unnecessarily) meticulous or pedantic, but it reveals something about the way Runge (wrongly) thinks about linguistics and, more broadly, scholarship, which is unfortunate and frankly erroneous. Since “choice implies meaning,” it is curious to me that Runge chose the phrase “full-fledged” here, instead of other lexical/phrasal choices available to him.

Second, let’s say for the sake of argument that we understand what being “full-fledged” means; isn’t it possible to be a “full-fledged linguist” and an interdisciplinarian at the same time? Do they have to be mutually exclusive? In fact, are not all biblical scholars to some degree interdisciplinarians (incidentally, linguistics itself is interdisciplinary, with linguists often combining linguistic theory with knowledge of particular languages or with other contributing fields like sociology, psychology, and philosophy, among others)? I have mentioned in a previous blog post that biblical studies is a unique field of study in that the biblical scholar has to be competent not only in the Bible but also to some degree in history, theology, linguistics, archaeology, philosophy, pedagogy, etc. Biblical studies in essence is an interdisciplinary activity. But can’t one be an interdisciplinarian and a specialist at the same time? Runge’s statement seems to imply that they are mutually exclusive.

Third, Runge’s statement seems to overlook the fact that Porter has a PhD in two separate departments, biblical studies and linguistics. His doctoral examiners were two biblical scholars, John Rogerson and Anthony Thiselton, and one “full-fledged” linguist, Nigel Gotteri (retired from Sheffield last decade). A perusal of Porter’s PhD dissertation reveals that it is as rigorously linguistic as it is biblical. In fact, the irony of this discussion is that a major complaint against Porter is that his writings are too technical (mostly linguistically technical) and inaccessible to the general public. So Porter is too technical linguistically but not “full-fledged”? Additionally, Porter has presented at strictly linguistic conferences, among those Runge would probably identify as “full-fledged” linguists, presenting alongside such linguists as Robin Fawcett, Geoffrey Leech, Michael Gregory, Tim McEnery, and others, and has published several articles and chapters in linguistics (including in a Festschrift for Leech). If that does not qualify one to be “full-fledged,” what exactly are Runge’s criteria?

FF_BruceRunge’s seeming dichotomization of “full-fledged” versus “interdisciplinary” is a misconception and, frankly, invalid. One is a “linguist” who actively contributes (or has contributed) in developing the field of linguistics, just as one is a scientist who actively contributes to the field of science… just as one is a theologian who actively contributes to the field of theology… and so on and so forth. The key word is contributes. Of course, it is difficult to contribute in any field without the requisite training and education, but would anyone in their right mind seriously question James Barr or F.F. Bruce as “half-fledged” or even “mostly-fledged” biblical scholars, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with them on certain issues? (Neither of them attained an earned doctorate.) Although it may seem like I am making a mountain out of a molehill from a simple (and probably cursory and thoughtless) statement, it betrays Runge’s erroneous mindset behind his own work—his work is entirely derivative, he has not developed any linguistic theory, and he does not consider himself to be a real linguist (and that is, in fact, how I understand what “full-fledged” means in this context: real). And if am right in my interpretation (correct me if I’m wrong), I am curious to know by what standard Runge is justified, as a less-than-full-fledged linguist, in assessing another’s linguistic theory and methodology. If he by his own admission is not a “full-fledged linguist,” then on what basis does he legitimately critique Porter’s linguistic theory?

— David I. Yoon

12 thoughts on “A Response to Runge’s Response to Porter’s Response to Runge in the latest BBR

  1. David,
    When someone recommends John Lyons’ Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics as “a good start to get a general grasp on various aspects of linguistics” (reply to post on this site December 7, 2015 at 5:45 pm) because there is not much out there, you soon realise they are not “fully-fledged linguists”. Is this sniping really necessary?


    • Bruce,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to the post, but it seems that you missed my point and what I was trying to say regarding the terminology used and what it implies. If there is sniping involved, I’m not the one doing it.

      We also heard you the first time on Lyons, but you need to read the context more closely there, where I recognized that there were topics it did not cover and that it is old. However, it is a different type of book than the ones you suggested, which are more undergraduate textbooks, whereas Lyons speaks at a more sophisticated level and it’s more of a pertinent approach for those interested in biblical studies as I and my colleagues are.

      — Dave


  2. Dave
    Thanks for your reply. I had read the context of my previous posting as being someone asking for appropriate items on general linguistics and in particular what another poster might be using in his introductory linguistics course.I thought it would be unlikely if this were Lyons. I’m actually not quite sure what you mean by “a more sophisticated level” and “pertinent approach”.
    I am very glad to see biblical scholars using what might be called “general linguistics” in their work but I must admit I am sometimes disappointed when linguistics/language seems to be misunderstood I think Steven Runge and I might share this occasional disappointment.


  3. Thanks, Bruce. What I meant was that Lyons’ Intro seems to cover a lot more of the linguistic issues relevant to what biblical scholars might be interested in in terms of linguistics, and at a more intricate level than most of the introductory textbooks out there.

    What misunderstanding in particular do you see biblical scholars having in terms of linguistics? I would say that our concern (the three bloggers on this blog) is similar, that linguistics is misunderstood, but probably not in the same way as Runge. I don’t mean this to be mean-spirited at all, but while Runge may share that concern, I don’t think he has a proper understanding of linguistic methodology. That is actually a major point of my post—that his (seemingly small) statement of “full-fledged linguist” betrays a misunderstanding about how to “do linguistics” or what it means to be a linguist, or what type of “authority” a linguist has.

    My concern is not anything personal against Runge—he seems like a nice enough guy from my few interactions with him—but I just think he’s wrong, and—if we are concerned with getting things right (as Runge has noted elsewhere)—I will point out what I believe is accurate or inaccurate. And I think as scholars, our job is to basically say “hey, I disagree with you and here’s why,” or “yea that’s a great point, let’s talk about that some more,” or “I see what you’re saying there, but here’s where I think you’re wrong.” Again nothing personal; it was just a wrong thing to say, and I am pointing out the fallacy behind that statement.

    — Dave


  4. Hi Dave
    Thanks for your reply. I note that Larry Hurtado today has also recommended Lyons’ _Language and Linguistics: An Introduction_ for people without a linguistics background! 🙂 But he does also recommend (as I would) Margaret Sim’s _A Relevant Way to Read: A New Approach to Exegesis and Communication_ or the published version of her thesis. This isn’t an introduction to linguistics but an explanation of Relevance Theory which I have seen referred to only occasionally in the many linguistics-Biblical studies, even those on discourse or “cohesion”. Will Sim’s work be reviewed in, say, BAGL any time?
    I will get back to you on what might be examples of misunderstandings of linguistics later today.


  5. Hey Bruce,

    Thanks for the response. I just have to point out the obvious–you initially chide me for recommending Lyons in the first place, but when Hurtado recommends it, you have a different response. I surely respect him as an NT scholar, and he has done some excellent work in TC, but he hasn’t done any work in linguistics. He does recommend Sim, who was his doctoral student. but that’s not her thesis, which is “Marking Thought and Talk in NT Greek,” an intro to RT focusing on hina and hoti. But from what I can see, I’m not sure if the concept of relevance really applies to the study of Scripture. BAGL does not include book reviews as of yet, so it probably won’t be reviewed–except as possibly a review article.

    — Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Dave
      Thanks for your reply. It is good to see that you have inferred from my last reply exactly what I intended you to infer! – I might not go quite as far as to say “Hurtado hasn’t done any work in linguistics” but my original point was people who have not done much work in linguistics are those who recommend Lyons as an introductory text. 🙂 That is why I put an exclamation mark and a smiley face at the end of the first sentence and a ‘But” to begin the next one. Irony is difficult to signal in blogs.
      I do apologise though for the second sentence. I should have written (as I meant) “…he does also recommend (as I would) the published version of Margaret Sim’s thesis and her _A Relevant Way to Read: A New Approach to Exegesis and Communication_. –You are quite right — these are two different works. I do find your comment perplexing however: “[b]ut from what I can see, I’m not sure if the concept of relevance really applies to the study of Scripture.” How can Sperber & Wilson’s “Relevance” NOT apply “to the study of Scripture”? Especially since a number of biblical studies involving “modern linguistics” purportedly deal with discourse analysis and/or “cohesion”?

      I promised some examples of what may be unfortunate uses of linguistics. I have noted the following from Porter, Reed & O’Donnell _Fundamentals of New Testament Greek_ 2010.
      p.3 lines 4-5 refer to “aspirated forms” and the examples given are the words tahini, pahua and cahoots said quickly. But for native speakers of English arn’t any examples of voiceless plosives word initially aspirated? That is, words with no ‘h’ said ‘quickly’ or not? For example, ‘pat’, ‘tat’, ‘cat’.
      p.9 line 4. Doesn’t “lateral” refer to the air flow not to where “the sound is produced”?
      p.9 line 6. Is the air actually “_forced_ through the nasal cavity”?
      p.9 line 12. What does “have a pitch” mean?
      p.9 line 13. According to the table on p.2 beta is a “stop” only in the Erasmian pronunciation.
      p.9 lines 17-18. I would understand the “hissing sound” of sibilant fricatives to be due to the shape of the tongue not to the “closed front of the mouth” – which it isn’t.
      p.9 line 23. Would bottom lip in contact with top teeth be better, rather than “front teeth”?
      p.9 lines 23-24. Arn’t “dentals” produced with the tip of the tongue against the top teeth, not in the same place as alveolars? In any case isn’t tip of the tongue better than simply “tongue”?
      p.9 lines 24-25. Is it the “middle of the tongue”?
      p.9 line 25. Why are “palatals” listed?
      p.10 lines 16-17 Does “aspirated and hence a fricative” mean “aspirated and _eventually_ a fricative”? because aspirated plosives are aspirated plosives, not fricatives.
      I guess you could give these the title: “Do fully-fledged linguists say “shibboleth?” 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Dave
    Just a further note on your statement: “I’m not sure if the concept of relevance really applies to the study of Scripture.” I note that Jeffrey Reed said: Grice’s “work and others like it are especially relevant for a discourse analysis of the New Testament, where original speakers are not readily available to be questioned …” (Reed, Philippians 39-40). Sadly I am not sure that Reed fully realised the implications of his statement.

    On that same p.40 he gave the example:
    “A: I’ve got the worst headache.
    B: There’s a bottle of aspirin in my drawer.”
    In discussing this short discourse Reed could have noted the question How is B’s response ‘relevant’. He doesn’t. The notes he does make do not quite get at the issues involved. The fact that B’s response is relevant (and the discourse coherent) actually calls into question the linguistic methodology Reed adopts in discussing “cohesion”. Because the only items in this discourse which might belong in the same semantic domain in Louw and Nida are ‘I’ and ‘my’, ‘the’ and ‘a’ which hardly enhance the “cohesion” of this text.

    Reed’s discussion of cohesive ties is comprehensive, but again not quite complete. Consider his example on p.99 “_Tulips_ are cheap even in January. But then _flowers_ seem to be necessary to Scandinavians during the darkest season” (his emphasis). Of course ‘tulips’ and ‘flowers’ do provide an example of hyponomy – and so are a cohesive tie in this discourse. But, I suggest, a more crucial cohesive tie here is ‘January’ and ‘the darkest season’ which Reed does not note. It would seem also that his taxonomy does not allow for such a cohesive tie. Also, would we expect ‘January’ and ‘the darkest season’ to be in the same L&N semantic domain?

    I could give more examples, but the question from a half-fledged linguist is: why is the discussion of these not quite complete? Especially since the seeds (and sometimes fully grown plants) of the questions involved are there in the literature. For example in the quite-often-footnoted Brown and Yule, and even in Halliday & Hasan themselves (“EVERY lexical item MAY enter into a cohesive relation, but by itself it carries no indication whether it is functioning cohesively or not. That can be established only by reference to the text” Cohesion in English, 288, their emphasis)?


  7. Bruce, thanks for the detailed and extensive response. My initial response is that these are questions better addressed to Jeff, since he was the one that wrote it (we are friends of his, but it is his work). But my own thought is that he didn’t intend to come up with a complete and eclectic theory of discourse analysis, including every single approach out there. In fact, he’s pretty explicit in starting with an SFL approach and adapting from it. Also, you seem to equate Relevance Theory with cohesion, but they are not the same thing.

    — Dave


    • Hi Dave
      Thanks for your reply. This thread was about what constitutes linguistics and linguistic argumentation in response to a series of articles in BBR. I think what I have pointed out are a couple of examples where scholars, very commendably, are foremost in incorporating modern linguistics into biblical studies, but where some linguistic stuff was missed.
      On the one hand was rather sloppy use of basic terminology and notions from phonetics (note this has got nothing to do with whether the description was a “technical” one or not. Now this can be quite easily corrected – hopefully it will be in a new edition of the Fundamentals book or in classroom use of the text?
      On the other hand is the “cohesion” discussion. Of course the things I raised should be addressed to Jeff Reed. And of course he had to choose what aspects of discourse he is going to deal with and he was not going deal with them all. But when a work on “cohesion” in text fails to note _obvious_ examples of “cohesion” in the data provided then something is not quite right. And when these notions of inference/context and “cohesion” were thoroughly discussed in Brown & Yule which was footnoted in Jeff’s work then maybe this is another example of what Steve Runge critiqued, no? The situation would be made worse if future discussions of cohesion simply footnote Jeff’s work.
      You point out that Relevance Theory and cohesion “are not the same thing”. Well … umm no, but what do you make then of Regina Blass’ claims that “just as relevance, rather than cohesion or coherence, is the key to comprehension, so it is relevance relations, rather than cohesion and coherence relations, which underlie judgements of textual wellformedness.” (Notes on linguistics 34(1986) 56).


  8. Bruce,

    Actually the post was a response to the “full-fledged linguist” language that Runge used in that article, not on linguistics in general. Seems like you have an agenda that is unrelated to this post though. But to respond to your question, the statement “relevance… is the key to comprehension” is actually questionable: is it really the *key* to comprehension? A major critique against RT is defining relevance. I’m not interested in getting into a detailed discussion on RT (which is irrelevant to my original post), or its relationship to cohesion (again, not relevant), or phonetics (which is an area of linguistics that is of least interest to me, and again… not relevant), but I appreciate the interaction.

    — Dave


    • Dave
      Maybe we have both misunderstood what each of us is trying to do here. Among my criteria for what makes a linguist are (1) they are able to use the terminology and notions of linguistics “correctly” (the phonetics example), and (2) they show an understanding of what language data is exemplifying especially where there has been _significant_ previous interaction with such data among linguists (the “cohesion”. example). Certainly someone can be an interdisciplinarian, but surely also anyone can be assessed _as a linguist_ against criteria such as these two?
      PS I will leave off the discussion of RT after obeserving that “A major critique against RT is defining relevance” is an interesting response, while shaking my head at its seeming rejection in discourse studies of biblical texts.


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