David I. Yoon, «Prominence and Markedness in New Testament Discourse.», Vol. 26 (2013) 3-26
Paul's testimony of his post-conversion experience in Galatians—the only place in the New Testament this is found—is the starting point for the rest of his polemic against his opponents who avert the gospel he first taught his readers. What is interesting is that he highlights or emphasizes certain portions of his testimony, using the linguistic method of prominence. As others have written already, prominence in Hellenistic Greek is conveyed in many ways, but one major way is by the writer's choice of verbal aspect. By first identifying a theory of prominence in the Greek of the New Testament, the paper then applies that theory to Gal 1:11–2:10 to discover that Paul emphasizes preaching and gospel related items in his testimony.
6 David I. Yoon
prominence is a semantic description of a linguistic element based on
observable deviations of normal patterns of marked/unmarked elements
in relation to a particular discourse6. In addition, the term foregrounding,
which is sometimes lumped into this discussion, will be discussed in the
next section on levels of prominence. In summary, prominence is “the
means by which speakers/authors draw the listener/reader’s attention to
important topics and motifs of the discourse and support these topics
with other less-prominent material”7. Halliday defines prominence
as “linguistic highlighting, whereby some feature of the language of a
text stands out in some way”8. Authors may utilize various linguistic
features of their language to highlight parts of the discourse they want
to emphasize. However, prominence should not be considered as merely
noting where there is an instance of “departure, deflection or deviance
from a standard linguistic pattern”9, relegating it to a mere statistical
analysis, but it should involve investigating the function of deviations
within the discourse. In other words, it is not merely counting cards,
although counting cards is indeed a part of it; it involves interpreting the
actual significance of those cards in its general context.
B. Criteria for Determining Prominence in Hellenistic Greek10
In this paper, I want to identify four basic criteria for determining
prominence in Hellenistic Greek. Because of my systemic-functional
Cf. Porter, “Prominence,” 52. He states that markedness refers to “formal
characteristics,” in comparison with grounding, which refers to “semantic significance.”
Porter identifies various categories of markedness in a linguistic system: material,
implicational, distributional, positional, and cognitive markedness (57), which refer to
formal characteristics of a linguistic system. I agree, in this sense, that prominence can
be seen as a semantic realization of various markedness categories in a linguistic system.
Reed, Philippians, 105–106. Other helpful definitions include: “those semantic and
grammatical elements of discourse that serve to set aside certain subjects, ideas or motifs of
the author as more or less semantically and pragmatically significant than others” (Reed,
Philippians, 106; Jeffrey T. Reed and Ruth A. Reese, “Verbal Aspect, Discourse Prominence,
and the Letter of Jude,” FN 9  186); and “the use of devices that languages have
which enable a speaker to highlight material or make some part of the text stand out in
some way” (Cynthia Long Westfall, A Discourse Analysis of the Letter to the Hebrews: The
Relationship between Form and Meaning [LNTS 297: London: 2005] 31).
M.A.K. Halliday, Explorations in the Functions of Language (ELS; London: 1973)
Porter, “Prominence,” 52.
I use the phrase Hellenistic Greek here instead of, say, New Testament Greek because,
as Deissmann has shown, the Greek in the New Testament is not a unique language limited
to that corpus, but the common language in that time period, as evidenced by the various
documentary and literary papyri dated around the same time period. Cf. e.g., Deissmann,
Light from the Ancient East, 62.