[B-Greek] Semantics

cwestf5155 at aol.com cwestf5155 at aol.com
Sun Oct 14 10:20:28 EDT 2007



I'm also very interested in
the clarification of the context of situation and culture and how it
relates to the use of language and the meaning of the text. In SFL
(Systemic Functional Linguistics), the broader term we use for the
study of language that is used in different frames or scenarios (sets
of cultural expectations about human behavior in given situations) is
"register" .? One of the linguistics sessions this year at SBL is
devoted to
papers on register. One good relatively recent source for register is
Leckie-Tarry's "Language and Context" (1995).

I agree with your assessment about how most New Testament scholars are not committed to following linguistic research.? According to Porter, Biblical criticism's response is generally slow to process and use modern linguistics for several reasons: (1) there is a widespread perception that our knowledge of Greek grammar is already exhausted, (2)? that modern linguistic research in contemporary contexts such as child language and spoken dialects aren't relevant, (3) the technical vocabulary is inaccessible, (4) there is a combined suspicion of new readings and criticism that linguistics-based methods don't have an exegetical payoff.? An additional issue is the value and pursuit of corpus linguistics, which is based on advanced computer technology.

However, notable exceptions
include, as Iver has indicated, SIL and some of the other Bible
translators, as well as New Testament scholarship in South Africa.?
Most well-read NT scholars are aware of some of this work through
Cotterell and Turner, which is now dated. 

Another primary exception is the Linguistics and Biblical Greek Language session at SBL, which I co-chair with Stan Porter this year.? For the last ten years, that session has been influenced by (but not limited to) New Testament scholars that are committed to Systemic Functional Linguistics--Matt O'Donnell co-chaired before me and has crossed over to linguistics to work with Michael Hoey in Liverpool, who is a major SFL scholar (my favorite after Halliday).? The Linguistics session (Porter, O'Donnell and Westfall) also cooperated with the SBL Philological session a couple of years ago to discuss issues such as you raise about semantic domains and the limitations of Louw and Nida.

The related group that is most actively processing current linguistic material are the old Roehampton grads who worked with Porter and the current MA and PhD NT students at McMaster Divinity college.? Students who are interested in pursuing this kind of research unfortunately have only a few other options in North America where supervisors can offer full encouragement and informed support (Carson and Fanning do, for instance). 

We have expanded to a wider circle with the work at OpenText.org (http://opentext.org/about.html--O'Donnell, Porter and Reed as well many associates) and LIABG (Linguistics Institute of Ancient and Biblical Greek--http://www.liabg.org/), where we meet for three days once a year and discuss the current linguistics research.

Cindy Westfall

Assistant Professor, McMaster Divinity College



-----Original Message-----

From: Elizabeth Kline <kline_dekooning at earthlink.net>

To: greek B-Greek <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>

Sent: Sat, 13 Oct 2007 10:03 am

Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Semantics

On Oct 13, 2007, at 1:16 AM, Iver Larsen wrote:

>  The basic insight of Relevance Theory (RT), as it is often called,  

> is obviously true and important. It is not really a new discovery,  

> but Sperber and Wilson dressed it in new, fancy and IMO often  

> misleading terminology. Basically, Relevance Theory says that any  

> utterance, whether written or spoken, is made in a particular  

> context and situation and the author assumes his or her audience  

> will interpret the utterance from their own relevant background  

> knowledge.

The significance of frame theory for dealing with lexical semantics  

is somewhat independent of RT. I am not terribly excited about RT but  

having observed the problems that arise in discussions of lexical  

semantics I think frame theory significantly clarifies the notion of  

"context and situation". Exegetical works on the GNT have a nasty  

habit of using the word "context" as a wild card that can be thrown  

into discussion without any sort of clear idea what the term means.  

It would be a mistake to equate then notion of a frame with sitz en  

lieben. A frame is something that can change instantaneously for a  

single individual in a single day. A woman walking in a park talking  

to a friend gets a call from work on her cell phone and immediately  

she has moved into a different frame where her words will have  

different meanings.

Incorporating frames into a semantic domain lexicon presents some  

interesting problems. The biggest project is coming up with a an  

adequate network of frames to represent the universe of discourse for  

a collection of texts like the GNT or the Hebrew Bible.

Elizabeth Kline


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