[B-Greek] LInguistic question on Luke 1:1

kent lee k-lee7 at students.uiuc.edu
Tue Jul 22 00:29:17 EDT 2003

    Now I'd like to address the original question that started this
discussion thread, which was a valid linguistic question. I'm trained as a
linguist and psycholinguist, not a Greek scholar. So while I can't give a
direct answer, I can discuss some of the questions that a linguist would
ask (and all this would make for a good linguistics paper or article if
anyone cared to research it). (And if any of the questions seem invalid,
bear with me, since my Greek is limited).
   Upon hearing this, a reader/listener would engage in a process of
inferencing to decide exactly what this means. In fact, most or all
interpretation of words in their context involves some degree of
inferencing, and there is quite a bit of literature on this in semantics,
pragmatics, and computational linguistics. Inferencing is guided a lot by
certain pragmatic principles (according to Grice's maxims -- most intro
pragmatics books would cover this), such as how people would understand
the word's relevance and informativeness within the whole context --
linguistic, social, etc. This constitues what we call implicature (a major
area of pragmatics), which in turn contributes to inferential
interpretation. How do specific types of implicature work with this word
in this context to derive a meaningful interpretation?
   You'd want to ask about the contexts in which the word is normally used
and the contextual associations that are evoked in the process of
inferencing and interpretation here.  And the associations and connections
that a Jewish person makes might be different from a non-Jewish person,
which might be of interest.
   Going a bit further, how "literally" is the word used (though linguists
don't like the term "literal", which is terribly imprecise and
inaccurate). A seminal linguistic treatise, _Metaphors we live by_ (George
Lakoff & Mark Johnson) points out that many everyday word usages are
derived by semantic extension via implicature or metonomy from their more
basic core meanings, i.e., we use many words idiomatically, without even
realizing it, and in different degrees of idiomaticity. Moreover, it is
not arbitrary, but follows discernable and regular patterns.
   More specifically, you can look at not only the  usage of PLHRO-FOREW,
but how the meanings of its component parts contribute to the meaning of
the whole compound verb, and what kind of idiomatic and semantic
extensions are involved in this. Using these techniques, you can do your
own historical semantic investigation (assuming you do plenty of
lexicographic, textual, and linguistic research) to arrive at the core
meanings of the verb and its component parts, how secondary meanings were
derived via pragmatic or idiomatic extension, and how the relevant
meanings come out in this context as they interact with pragmatics and
sociolinguistic factors.
   Furthermore, the Construction Grammar approach (Adele Goldberg,
_Constructions_, 1995) shows how even syntactic constructions themselves
bear certain kinds of general meaning, apart from the meaning of the
words. Might this contribute a little bit to listeners/readers'
interpretation, especially if the concept of PLHROFOREW is new to them?
   Finally, schema theory (there's a lot written on this in psychology and
linguistics) could allow you to ask about how readers/listeners construct
an on-line mental interpretation of the word and the text, how their
expectations and their previous knowledge bear upon this, and how they put
it all together. With schema theory, discourse analysis, and
socio-pragmatics, you could ask and try to tackle rather complex questions
about how readers relate to the particular genre and author as they read
it, and how that affects interpretation.
   Well, this is just a brief outline of some ways you could go about
this. Hope this helps, not overwhelms.

kent lee

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