A Classification of Conditional Sentences Based on Speech Act Theory -- By: Richard A. Young

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 10:1 (Spring 1989)
Article: A Classification of Conditional Sentences Based on Speech Act Theory
Author: Richard A. Young

A Classification of Conditional Sentences
Based on Speech Act Theory

Richard A. Young

The assumption that the meaning of conditional sentences can be determined solely by surface structure features, such as tense, mood, and particles, severely restricts the exegetical task. The meaning of any utterance cannot be understood apart ftom the speakers intent, the situational and linguistic context, as well as the linguistic form. Speech act theory provides objective criteria to help the exegete integrate these elements. When applied to conditional sentences, speech act theory yields more meaningful results than traditional approaches.

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The approach one takes to understand an utterance rests on underlying assumptions concerning how thoughts are communicated through language. Traditional approaches to Greek grammar have not yielded satisfactory results in classifying the meanings of conditional sentences. Greek rhetoricians debated the meaning of Greek conditional sentences.1 In reference to conditional sentences, Robertson remarked, “In truth the doctors have disagreed themselves and the rest have not known how to go.”2 Blass and Debrunner observe, “The classical grammars are also hopelessly at variance.”3 Recent work, however, in linguistics and philosophy offer potential for a fresh understanding of Greek conditional sentences.

Traditional Understanding of Conditional Sentences

Most modern grammarians of NT Greek follow Robertson’s classification of conditional sentences.4 Robertson essentially follows the system of Gildersleeve and Winer in identifying four classes of conditionals based on the surface structure phenomena of mood and tense.5 Meanings are then assigned to each class.

The first class condition is identified by εἰ with an indicative verb in the protasis and a verb of any tense and mood in the apodosis.6 Because the first class uses the indicative mood (the mood of reality) in the protasis, it is commonly said to mean that the protasis is “determined as fulfilled.” Robertson claims that the speaker assumes the reality of his premise. The premise may or may not be actually true. If the premise is objectively true, it may be rendered with “since.” Otherwise the speaker is either falsely assuming the reality of the premise or assuming its reality for the sake of argument...

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