Monday, August 20, 2007

Seeing Definitions

I am left-brained. The right brain (supposedly) can also process information, but does it differently.

My eldest son sees
but I read.
He processes in three dimensions
but chokes on dragon's teeth.
I elaborate with letters
but put all mechanical things together backwards.

a b
c d
a' b'
- d'
c d''
- b''

Yet I can learn from a diagram. Here's one expressing the continuum from apposition to hypotaxis. What's that? you ask. I don't know yet, but here it is.

Now about all those other words that we use to describe textual art, I think I am seeing two global structures as I intimated in my last two notes: the container external structure and the contained inner structure. The containers seem more useful for carrying around the text by description. The inner structures seem more useful for discovering meaning. I am not a professional linguist, so most of the terminology is new to me.

First about inner structure: parallelism qualifies, as does the continuum of apposition above. Apposition is a category of parallelism. I have not yet seen a perfect taxonomy of types of parallelism. Another inner structure is repetition of a word or set of words. Repetition of two words in reverse order is named after the letter Chi. The rhetorical technique of parallelism combined with chiasm can disambiguate meaning. An example is Isaiah 40:

ג קוֹל קוֹרֵא--בַּמִּדְבָּ פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה מְסִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵינוּ.

a voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD
make plain in the desert a highway for our God.

The first phrase is ambiguous - is the voice in the wilderness or is it the way of the LORD that is to be prepared in the wilderness? The parallel phrase makes the meaning clear.

a voice cries
in the wilderness
prepare ...
make plain
in the desert ...

Whether this is prose or poetry or could be described as a verset or colon or stich or whatever, this structure sets up the intention of the words. The communication of meaning is the purpose. I am beginning to think that the containing structure, in contrast, is there for assisting hearing and memorization rather than directly contributing to meaning. As such it has a complementary usage. Well designed containers are also coherent: relating to one aspect or object. (How useful being trained in software is sometimes.)

Being either foolish or brave, let's try and decide what the prosodic structure is for this verse.

קוֹל קוֹרֵא
בַּמִּדְבָּ פַּנּוּ
דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה
יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה
מְסִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵינוּ

If this is poetry and I was to follow the general rule (the rule of 2 or 3), I would have to divide it as above.

a voice cries
in the wilderness prepare
the way of the LORD
make plain in the desert
a highway for our God

In just using text, not a diagram, I am reducing my scope for painting to html in a limited and defective editor. But for a short line we can still see clearly an internal structure to the word units:

a, b,
c, d,
e, f,
d', c',
e', f'

where the apostrophe indicates the same concept in this case in a synonym. I am not ready to name these pieces. Maybe in the next note after more study and examples.

Source for these musings is from John Hobbin's Glossary and the article on Poetic Structure - both requiring more than one day's reflection. (I admit to reading them two or three times this year, but they went in one eye and out the other.)

3 comments:

John said...

Hi Bob,

your subdivision of Isa 40:3 into packets of 2 to 3 prosodic words is right on target. Your division is identical to that found in the NJPSV Hebrew-English Tanakh and in my essay on Isa 40:1-11.

The next step is to bundle the twosomes and threesomes of prosodic words into grooups of 2 or 3. The group is what one may call a "line." In Isa 40:3, there are two lines, the first with three versets, the second with two.

The masoretic accents divide the verse in identical fashion. Are you able to interpret the accents?

John Hobbins

Bob MacDonald said...

Thank you John - my head is raised and spinning less. I see that these are 'versets' - and lines combine them. I will incorporate these into a visual summary somehow. Line should correspond more to the physical media used also - I felt these were too short to be lines.

As to cantillation, I have a long experience as cantor in the Anglican tradition but I have only read about and listened to Hebrew cantillation - Brettler, Marc Zvi, Biblical Hebrew for Students of Modern Israeli Hebrew, 2002.

John said...

For an understanding of disjunctions and conjunctions implied by the Hebrew cantillation of any given verse, check out the TanakhML project's database I list on the right sidebar of my blog.