[b-hebrew] nefarious nefesh
furuli at online.no
furuli at online.no
Wed Feb 5 04:42:31 EST 2003
When we discuss *meaning*, it is profitable to use Ogden's triangle
of signification. In one corner we find "sign", in the other
"concept", and in the third "reference".
The "sign" represents the letters NP$ (or its pronunciation). For
people with the same presupposition pool, the sign of a word signals
something, namely a "concept" in the mind. This "concept" cannot (
and need not) be defined. It has a relative clear core but is fuzzy
towards the edges; it represents all the native speaker associates
with the "signal". I would equate "concept" and "meaning"; thus the
"meaning" of a word is not found in lexicons, but in the minds of
living people. The "reference simply" is the thing in the word
denoted by a word in a particular context. This means that the
context does not generate "meaning", as is often wrongly claimed, but
the role of the context is to indicate to the reader which part of
the "concept" the author wants to make visible, or which "reference"
does he or she have in mind.
Many Hebrew nouns and verbs signal just one "concept", but others,
particularly when ancient laryngeals have been fused, signal more
than one concept. I would say that NP$ signals just one "concept".
Whereas the "concept" cannot be defined, we can often be able to give
a rough generalization of the core of the concept. In the case of NP$
my suggestion for a generalization is "a creature with the right to
live". In different contexts, different objects are referred to (the
"reference" part of the triangle) by NP$ (men, animals, God, even
metephorically $)L and the earth). In other contexts more abstract
ideas are stressed (life, the right to live etc.), but Liz is right,
the idea of an immortal soul is completely absent from the Tanach.
As for the "corpse" application, I view this as a reference. One
could refer to a dead body and call it NP$, because it once had been
a living creature. The advantage of the concepts having fuzzy edges
is that a known root could get new references which the readers could
understand, even though they had never seen such a reference before.
Etymology is tricky business, and to try to find the original
meaning, or to claim that the original meaning somehow is present in
all *diachronic* uses of a particular word, is impossible. This is
what is called "the etymological fallacy". However, in the
*synchronic* use of a root such as NP$, there was just one meaning.
In the days of Zedekiah, for example, NP$ was represented by one sign
(the three letters) and it had one "meaning" (the "concept" in the
minds of those living at the time). I would call the modern claim
that "a words does not have a meaning without a context" as "the
contextual fallacy" because many of those advocating it do not use
Ogden's distinctions, do not make ac diachronic/synchronic
distinction, and overlook the results of modern Psycho-linguistic
I think that your quest for an understanding of how "breath" is
associated with NP$ hardly will give clear results - we simply have
no informants. We can just think of the vehicle "bus", a word which
comes from the Latin word "omnis" ("all") and the dative/ablative
inflectional ending: "for all", omnibus > bus. There is hardly any
connection with the mentioned vehicle and an inflectional ending in
University of Oslo
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