Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Hayes, Elizabeth R., The Pragmatics of Perception and Cognition in MT Jeremiah 1:1-6:30: A Cognitive Linguistics Approach (BZAW 380; Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2008). Pp. xii+272, Hardcover. US$109.00, ISBN 978-3-11-020229-8.

“Language is only the tip of a spectacular cognitive iceberg, and when we engage in any language activity, be it mundane or artistically creative, we draw unconsciously on vast cognitive resources, call up innumerable models and frames, set up multiple connections, coordinate large arrays of information, and engage in creative mappings, transfers, and elaborations. This is what language is about and what language is for.” – Gilles Fauconnier.[1]

The volume under review is a revised version of an Oxford University doctoral thesis written under the supervision of H. G. M. Williamson. It is a pioneering application of cognitive linguistics à la Langacker, Mental Space Theory (MST) à la Fauconnier, metaphor theory à la Kövecses, and image schemata theory à la Mark Johnson to the study of a block of prophetic text. The volume also subjects Jer 1:1-6:30 to clause analysis à la Talstra and information structure analysis à la Lambrecht. Elizabeth Hayes acquits herself well in a study which opens up many promising avenues of research. Her scholarship is a blend of ambition, joy, and perspicuity.

Objections to a theory-rich approach like that of this volume are bound to surface. Such as: is Mental Space Theory of particular relevance to biblical interpretation? Why enter the cerebral domain of cognitive grammar and cognitive linguistics? From the point of view of a traditional philologist, run-of-the-mill linguistics is enough of a nuisance. Linguists too are often at a loss as to how to integrate a study of things like information structure, metaphor, and the acquisition of meaning through containers such as frames, schemata, and mental spaces into an interactive model of language inclusive of traditional foci of analysis such as phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexical semantics.

Theory-richness in linguistics above and beyond the clause and sentence levels is, of course, a sign of intellectual vitality. Furthermore, how language and cognition relate to one another has to be considered one of the most interesting subjects currently up for discussion. A succinct presentation of the proposal of Gilles Fauconnier is available online.[2] For an introduction to the brave new world of cognitive linguistics, some familiarity with the work of two of Chomsky's brightest (and wayward) students, Ray Jackendoff[3] and Steven Pinker[4], is more than advisable. An excellent first reading list in the field of cognitive linguistics has been compiled by Vyvyan Evans.[5]

“Information structure, frames and cognitive models structure mental spaces” (Hayes p. 109). And it is through mental spaces that we acquire and process meaning. As Croft and Cruse put it in their introductory Cognitive Linguistics, “If linguistic construal operations are truly cognitive, then they should be related to or identical with, general cognitive processes that are postulated by psychologists” (p. 45, quoted by Hayes p. 35 n. 19).

The volume under review is a first attempt at describing the cognitive structures “behind” and “before” the text (my terminology) along with the structure of the text itself within the field of biblical studies in light of an array of recent linguistic theories. The focus is the “on-line” construction of meaning (p. 33); on a “text dynamics” (TD) “in which the author/speaker and the reader are engaged in a cooperative, constructive process” (p. 101).

In Chapter 1, Hayes introduces her four-stage analytical approach (pp. 1-28). The order of investigation: (1) syntax and semantics; (2) information structure – topic and focus; (3) cognitive structuring in terms of a model of communication and conceptual metaphors; (4) conceptual blending and the incorporation of extra-textual information. Chapter 2 is titled “The Sentence and Beyond,” and illustrates the approach with a worked example, Jer 3:6-11 (pp. 29-66). Chapter 3 is almost an intermezzo, a discussion of traditional and cognitive approaches to Biblical Hebrew grammar (pp. 67-108). Chapters 4-6 work through the chosen text corpus. A discussion of syntax, semantics, and information structure of specific passages serves as a springboard into a variety of short treatments of the following topics: perspective, image schemata, conceptual metaphors, scoping to and from human scale, space-building, etc. (pp. 109-230). Chapter 7 contains a summary of conclusions (pp. 231-237). A bibliography follows (pp. 239-252), and excellent indices (pp. 253-272).

It is possible that the linguistically literate reader will open this book, expect to encounter familiar landmarks, and find none. The reason is simple: the field of linguistics (not unlike the field of biblical studies) is filled with ships that pass each other in the night. The right hand quite literally does not know what the left hand is doing. A case in point: Hayes discusses theories of frames and image schemata at length and applies them to Jeremiah 1-6 (pp. 34-37, 175-178, 206-228). The work of Fauconnier and colleagues, Werth, and Johnson are her points of departure and conversation partners. On the other hand, the relevant entry in the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (2d ed., 2003), “Scripts, Frames, and Schemas” by Susan Hoyle and Branca Telles Ribeiro, discusses the seminal works of Bateson, van Dijk, Gumperz, Rumelhart, Schank and Ableson, and Tannen, but does not acknowledge Fauconnier, Werth, or Johnson. Hayes' bibliography and that of Hoyle and Telles Ribeiro do not have one author in common.

The volume under review introduces a long list of theories and spheres of inquiry with remarkable clarity. The discussion is exploratory, not definitive. It mediates rather than decides between contending approaches. The thesis is “that conceptually blended syntactic and semantic information, such as the space building terms described in MST, proves to be more useful in determining boundaries and connections in a text” than terms of linguistic analysis invoked with more frequency in the field, for example, the perfective-imperfective distinction the BH verbal system (ex hypothesi) instantiates (p. 83).

At the sentence level and beyond, Hayes' thesis holds water. No previous analysis comes close to her structural analysis in terms of sophistication. However, I am convinced that many readers will come away from the volume wishing for a translation of the volume's analytical conclusions into less technical language.

Very briefly, I will attempt to act as an interpreter of the volume in that sense for a small slice of its content. Hayes divides Jeremiah 1-3 into narrative spaces (N's). The first narrative space (N1) consists of Jer 1:1-3 which serves as the ground of all further construction of meaning. This narrative space locates all that follows in space and time. The chief topical entities of this space are of overarching significance: Jeremiah and the word of יהוה. The narrator of 1:1-3 is anonymous whereas in 1:4–3:25, the narrator is Jeremiah, and the chief embedded content, the word of יהוה. Structurally speaking, there is a dichotomous cut between 1:3 and 1:4. A quotative frame, ויהי דבר יהוה אלי לאמר, introduces four discrete speech domains across two succeeding narrative spaces, 1:4-3:25 (N2) and embedded therein, 2:2-3:25 (N3). The first speech domain extends from 1:4-1:10. The second is 1:11-12, the third, 1:13-19, the fourth, 2:1-3:25 (see Figure 4.7, 129; 148). The text-level perspective shifts from anonymous narrator (N1) to identified narrator who is simultaneously a character in the embedded situation of speaking (N2), to that of a complex speaker in which a single voice speaks from the vantage point of יהוה and then Jeremiah and then from a fused perspective (N3 = the fourth speech domain). In the fourth domain, a third actant is introduced, the addressee Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 4:1-31, according to Hayes, represents a shift from narrative text-type to discursive text-type (p. 188). Jeremiah 4:1-2 constitutes a first discursive section (D1); perhaps 4:3-8 constitutes a further discursive section — Hayes skips over it in her discussion without explanation. Jeremiah 4:9-10 (p. 195) reinstates the narrative level with an exchange between יהוה and Jeremiah; since 4:11-31 is discursive, it is tagged as ND (discursive text starting from yiqtol in a narrative text starting from wayyiqtol). In 4:1-31, Jerusalem is not only an addressee; Jerusalem also finds her own voice (4:13, 31) — though Hayes does not discuss the fact.

In the final section of the text corpus, 5:1-6:30, according to Hayes the perspective continues to deepen in the direction of greater involvement of speakers and hearer/ readers in the text-event. Narrative wayyiqtols virtually disappear. The complex speaker (יהוה and Jeremiah), Jeremiah, and Jerusalem as internal addressee/ “external” reader (the “we” of 4:13) are by now entrenched within the interactive communication the text triggers. The constant first and second person interaction implicates the reader in the textual dialogue to an ever greater degree (pp. 189, 205). The benefits of conceptualizing speech/text situations along the lines suggested by Langacker (pp. 16-17), in terms of speech/text as that which is located at the intersection of the shared gaze of an originator and an internal/external listener/reader who share a common context of embodied experience, culture, and cognitive grammar, are readily grasped in light of the deepening process Hayes identifies.

It appears that a chart of the clause layout of 5:3-5 inadvertently dropped out in the editing process (p. 209). Jeremiah 5:4-5, a text of considerable interest, is in fact not discussed.

Presumably, there is a dichotomous cut between 6:30 and 7:1, the transition from Jeremiah as narrator to an anonymous narrator, with the cut between 6:30 and 7:1 subordinate to the cut between 1:3 and 1:4. But this level of analysis lies beyond the limits of Hayes' study.

It would be easy to quibble with details of Hayes' analysis of perspective and text-type just outlined, but that can wait for another day. More to the point, I have no reservations at all regarding the overall project, a winner by any standard.

The richness of Hayes' project is evident. The execution is exploratory rather than exhaustive. The results are only as good as the chosen models for each step of analysis. As all linguists must, Hayes worked with the models she had, not the ones she might have wished she had.

Given the likelihood that further explorations along the same lines will follow, and given cognate explorations by other scholars such as Ellen Van Wolde and Albert Kamp, I will conclude by pointing out perceived limitations of a number of the theoretical points of departure of this volume.

To begin with, I question the choice to make John Cook's assessment that the BH verbal system is aspect prominent a foundational element of TD. However useful that assessment is in situating the BH verbal system within the theoretical framework Comrie, Bybee, Timberlake, and other linguists have adopted, it would be far more to the point to make Cook's explorations into the pragmatics of the BH verbal system a building block of TD.[6]  Furthermore, a tense-prominent analysis of the verbal system is full of potential and worth taking up precisely in a project that looks at text at the sentence level and beyond. On this analysis, qatal and yiqtol are in complementary distribution in discursive text. Therein they encode a relative past/non-past distinction. Qatal announces a prior event from the perspective of a speech/text-internal reference point; yiqtol a non-past event from the perspective of a speech/text-internal reference point. Wayyiqtol, on the other hand, is an absolute past tense in narrative text (past with respect to the “now” of narration reception). Though Hayes formally adopts Cook's aspect-prominent analysis (p. 108), she hardly utilizes it, not without cause it seems to me.

Talstra's WIVU database was the natural choice in terms of clause analysis, but clause hierarchy and sentence structure as mapped by the database is rudimentary, and must be compared with that of the more ambitious Andersen-Forbes database. With respect to information structure, I concur with Robert Holmstedt that Lambrecht's approach is fundamentally problematic,[7] though I remain unconvinced that a viable alternative is on the table. Not without cause, topic and focus as understood by Lambrecht does not lead anywhere in Hayes' volume. The Lambrechtian analysis “sits there” in splendid isolation.

Hayes notes that literary and conceptual metaphors are interrelated (p. 162) but does not delve into literary metaphors from a fixed theoretical perspective. I would contend that a sophisticated theory of literary metaphor like that of Benjamin Harshav[8] has far more explanatory power than Kövecses's theory of conceptual metaphor, however accurate the latter may be at a high level of abstraction. An integrative approach is called for.

Langacker's speech act model is full of insight but is nonetheless simplistic for prophetic literature in which the internal listener and external reader are often the same at a certain level of abstraction, but distinct on other levels, creating a kind of complexity that Hayes touches on but does not fully explore. Prophetic literature also includes “confessions” and other divine-human dialogue involving the prophet, a speech act between two actants in which one actant is not to normal scale and a third that is both internal and external “listens in.” It is not clear that linguists have developed models of communication that map these complexities adequately.

Elizabeth Hayes is to be thanked for the volume under review. Like all volumes published by de Gruyter, it is not within the budget of your average shopper. It would be nice if volumes of BZAW were made available in paperback at a reduced price via an arrangement with SBL as has been done for select volumes of VTSup.

John F. Hobbins, Trinity United Methodist Church, Lomira, WI, USA

Starter Bibliography of Relevant Authors

[1] Gilles Fauconnier, “Introduction to Methods and Generalizations,” part of “Methods and Generalizations,” in Scope and Foundations of Cognitive Linguistics (ed. T. Janssen and G. Redeker; Cognitive Linguistics Research Series; The Hague: De Gruyter, forthcoming), (14 October, 2009). reference

[2] See footnote 1. reference

[3] Ray Jackendoff, “Recent and Forthcoming Papers by Ray Jackendoff,” (14 October, 2009).reference

[4] Steven Pinker, “Selected Articles in Academic Journals and Books,” (14 October, 2009). reference

[5] Vyvan Evans, “General Readings in Cognitive Linguistics,” (14 October, 2009). reference

[6] For a summary of the aspect-prominent analysis, see John A. Cook, “The Hebrew Verb: A Grammaticalization Approach,” ZAH 14 (2001) 117-44. For an analysis of the verbal system from the point of view of pragmatics, see idem, “The Semantics of Verbal Pragmatics: Clarifying the Roles of wayyiqtol and weqatal in Biblical Hebrew Prose,” JSS 49 (2004) 247-274.reference

[7] Robert D. Holmstedt, “Adjusting Our Focus” (review of Katsuomi Shimasaki, Focus Structure in Biblical Hebrew: A Study of Word Order and Information Structure),” HS 44 (2003) 203-15; idem, Review of Word Order Variation in Biblical Hebrew Poetry, by Nicholas Lunn, JSS 54 (2009) 283-85. reference

[8] Benjamin Harshav, Explorations in Poetics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007). reference