In the last chapter of part 2 of Runge’s Discourse Grammar, he reviews the concept of “Tail-Head Linkage” (THL). He begins by saying: “This device involves the repetition of some action from one clause at the beginning of the next clause, often as a circumstantial participial clause. In other words, the ‘tail’ of one clause becomes the ‘head’ of the next.” THL has “the effect of slowing down the flow of the discourse before something surprising or important” (163). To represent THL, Runge uses the M symbol.
Now, while the previous paragraph may seem technical, I bet that most of any of us who speak English can discern when THL is at work. Think of the following example of mine: “So, yesterday I was driving down the road and the scariest thing happened. I was listening to the radio when BOOM, I hit an animal. MThe animal: M my neighbor’s dog, which had found its way to the highway.” Notice that the second sentence ends with “I hit an animal” and that the next sentence, begins with the same idea and repetitiously uses the same word “animal”. I could have just said “I hit an animal, my neighbor’s dog.” However, to build surprise and suspense, I used THL by resupplying the same language.
THL is kind of like a “knock-knock joke”. Remember how this kind of joke works?
M Juno who?
Juno that I love you?M
Now, after the person said “Who’s there?” the one answering could have just said “Juno that I love you” and left out the “Juno” and “Juno Who?” portions. However, the joke loses its element of surprise when you do that. The THL allows the joke to drag on just a bit longer so as to build up a hint of suspense through repetition, which then allows the punch line to work. I trust you’re getting the point.
One of the best parts understanding the function of THL is, in my view, that it does away with the forced or default explanation among many scholars that it is a sure sign of redaction criticism. Runge shows how such a conclusion is inherently fallacious. I agree! So, where does this show up in the New Testament (NT)? One good example is Mk 14.42-43, which says:
“42 ivdou. o` paradidou,j h;ggiken) 43 Kai. euvqu.j M e;ti auvtou/ lalou/ntoj M )))
“Behold the arresters have come.” And immediately M as he was still speaking M …
What we notice here is that in verse 42, Jesus is speaking; he says that his arresters are coming. Then, in verse 43, we find the repetitive idea of speaking in the term lalou/ntoj, which is a participle. Now, Mark did not need to say any of what we see here in verse 43! He could have left it all out. We already know that Jesus is speaking, it does not really need to be reiterated. However, for the sake of slowing down the narrative and to build just a little bit of suspense, Mark chooses to use THL. Again, he could have went directly from “Behold the arresters have come” to “Judas—one of the twelve—arrived”. However, THL allowed the story to both slow down and build up at one and the same time.
I do not really need to belabor the point here; it should make sense. THL is one of the reasons we love poetry and song and jokes; it is a suspense-building technique that also allows writers to add extra spice to what they are attempting to say. If you listen to rap music, you will hear a lot of THL. Next time you are listening to the president speak or your preacher deliver a sermon, pay attention for THL—we use it much more than we are aware! Further, next time you’re reading scripture, see if you can spot this at work because when you do, it will give you a much more profound and deep respect for the text. In the meantime, head on over to Logos and pick up your copy of Runge’s work!