If you're a child of the 80's like I am, you have all sorts of useless lyrics from TV theme songs stuck in your head. Today, I'm thinking of that 80's TV juggernaut "The Facts of Life" (itself a spinoff from "Diff'rent Strokes"):
You take the good,
You take the bad,
You take them both
and there you have
the Facts of Life ...
That's what I think of when I think of Louw-Nida's description of αλλα, spread across at least five articles. Here's the first unedited draft of the paragraph that reviews LN for my αλλα paper:
Louw-Nida provide a rather conventional view of αλλα, classing it in domains 89 (“Relations”, articles 96 and 125) and 91 (“Discourse Markers”, articles 2 and 11). Thus Louw-Nida break αλλα into four primary senses, providing glosses of “but” (89.125), “and” (89.96), “yet” (91.2) and “certainly” (91.11). The primary entry is 89.125, which describes αλλα as a “marker of emphatic contrast”. The article at 89.96 seems to provide a place to describe the unique instance of 2Co 7.11. The other senses, categorized as discourse markers, cover the use of αλλα in transitions (91.2, somewhat like BDAG’s second and third senses) and as a “marker of contrastive emphasis” (91.11). How “contrastive emphasis” differs from “more emphatic contrast” is not specified. While some heed is paid to the function of αλλα in discourse contexts, this seems more in use of categorization (as “Relations” and “Discourse Markers”) and in use of the term “marker” to describe αλλα.
I didn't even discuss 89.136, which (among other things) has notes on μεν .. αλλα (though I probably should, but the article is just a citation of Ro 14.20 and nothing more, so I'll likely relegate it to a footnote). But the thing that I noticed was how very similar 89.125 and 91.11 are: "contrastive emphasis" vs. "more emphatic contrast"? The difference seems primarily that one (89.125) works at the clause/phrase level (a 'relation'), while the other (91.11) works at a higher discourse level (as a 'discourse marker'). But they do the same things in the same ways. So there is good and bad in here: Good in noting different levels (phrase/clause and paragraph/discourse) on which αλλα functions; bad because it presents this as if these are different senses of αλλα when they aren't.
As I review lexical and grammatical descriptions of αλλα, two things become clear:
First, nobody knows what the heck to do with 2Co 7.11-12. It almost always ends up in a special sense all by itself (though 1Co 6.11 sometimes is included). All sources seem to note a "continuative" sense here, but then can only muster the one example. Seems weird that αλλα would be doing something fundamentally different here than elsewhere.
Second, descriptive terms like "adversative", "contrast" and "emphasis" are common, but these have more to say about the contexts in which αλλα is used and less to say about αλλα itself. And that's fine—I don't know that there is much we really can do to formally define αλλα; but if that's the case we shouldn't pretend that we are defining it by giving seemingly authoritative short glosses that don't really help the average user of lexicons and grammars (though I wonder how often the average user would actually look up and then skim and then actually read or work through an article on a conjunction). This said, we shouldn't describe αλλα as an "adversative particle" or provide morphology like "conjunction, adversative" or "conjunction, contrastive". We should more appropriately say that it occurs in adversative or contrastive contexts. (Hint: maybe when examining 2Co 7.11-12, instead of simply classing it as "continuative" because there is a chain of 6 αλλα in a row, we should look and see if there is any contrast that αλλα could be intensifying here?)
As I think through all of this, I bounce ideas off of my friend and colleague Steve. One thing he mentioned the other day has stuck in my mind (in a good way). He said that it is helpful in situations like these to think of contrast like a dial. Contrast is in the context (particularly with αλλα, where it usually stands between negative and non-negative things); use of particular grammatical phenomena, such as conjunctions, verb tense, etc., can heighten or lessen the degree of contrast in a given context. In other words, thinking specifically about αλλα, the contrast (or "emphasis" or an adversative nature) isn't put into the context by the simple use of αλλα; the use of αλλα can sharpen the degree of contrast in that particular context.
I s'pose that's my beef with the grammatical and lexical descriptions, then. When we describe αλλα as "adversative" or "contrastive" or what-have-you, we seem to be saying that these qualities are in the context simply due to the presence of αλλα, and if it was taken out these qualities would be gone. But the reverse is actually true: αλλα is being used because that contextual quality already exists; the author is using αλλα for specific purposes to tweak the context so that it communicates what he desires.