Discourse Analysis as a way to define the Stylistic Features of Qurʾānic Genres

Author: Yehudit Dror (University of Haifa, Israel)
Speaker: Yehudit Dror
Topic: Islamic Studies and discourses
COMELA 2022 General Session


Literary genres in the Qurʾān have been studied extensively in terms of their content, structure and the linguistic features that distinguish one genre from another. For example, scholars have noted that ʾiḏā-phrases characterize Qurʾānic eschatological discourse. This presentation suggests that although such linguistic features are indeed typical forms of speech genres, they only partially describe the stylistic features of Qurʾānic genres because a text or a discourse associated with a certain genre vehicles much more information about its style. To describe a discourse or genre in a linguistic perspective, a number aspects need to be considered such as grammar words and inflection, the lexicon (vocabulary) and the syntactic structure. Here I discuss five Qurʾānic genres (liturgical, eschatological, polemic, narratives and legal) from a discourse structure standpoint. I argue that when describing the stylistic features of Qurʾānic genres, one should not only refer to the thematic content but rather focus on the generic linguistic features that signal the foreground information, as Khalil (2000:91) termed it; i.e., the constituents that occur as sentence-initial markers and fulfil a crucial text-level grounding-signaling function. The general idea is that a text should be described as an entity consisting of a set of interrelated recursive discourse units that together provide rich, dense information. I draw on several approaches to discourse analysis to support this claim and show that we can distinguish between three levels of information in Qurʾānic genres: main foreground information, complementary foreground information, and background information. While the main foreground information in each genre has its own identifiable syntax that differentiates it from other types, the complementary information is more varied. The background information in all types of genres shares certain thematic, pragmatic and linguistic features. This finding leads me to suggest that we can distinguish between two types of genres: those with a schematized structure or a structural model, and those without a structural model. For example, narrative and legal genres can be distinguished by their recurrent local patterns that include the opening, the arguments and the closing part, where each pattern has its own syntactic features. These patterns, except for the opening pattern, are not usually found in the other genres.

Flowers, Adam. “Reconsidering Qur’anic Genre.” Journal of Qur’anic Studies 20.2 (2018), 19-46.
Neuwirth, Angelica. “Structural, Linguistic and Literary Features”. In: Jane Damen McAuliffe (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Qurʾān. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, 97-113.

Keywords: Qurʾānic genres, Discourse analysis, Foreground, background information.