[B-Greek] Where does meaning come from?

drdwilkins at verizon.net drdwilkins at verizon.net
Thu Apr 1 22:33:11 EDT 2010

Apr 1, 2010 04:25:38 PM, eric-inman at comcast.net wrote:



I've pasted in the remarks from Yancy and Iver that I was originally responding to.


Human communication is highly redundant, which, to keep things simple, means various things are indicated more than once and/or overlap each other. The things indicated redundantly need to be in agreement with each other, and if they aren't we have an indication that an error has occurred somewhere. If there is enough redundancy and the error is not too widespread, the set of things in agreement will outnumber or outweigh those in disagreement and a correction can be safely inferred. The correlations also embed rules (including biases, assumptions, etc. as well as facts) for what constitute valid or invalid communication. In the case of a violation the best way to infer the correction might be to find the smallest and most likely adjustment that would satisfy the rules. The problem of course is that the correlations exist and operate at various levels and include subtle elements for things like surprise, sarcasm, humor, etc. These subtle layers and elements serve to make the actual level of redundancy less than what might initially be apparent, and thus reduce the degree to which we can safely infer corrections.

When someone says that "The original author did not mean this or that", it would have to be demonstrated that it was inconsistent with the correlations the author would have been encoding under or that it involves disagreement among things indicated redundantly.

You say we usually don't know anything about what "reponse" a writer intended to "stimulate," but what I'm saying is that the more we know about the communication and the more we know about the correlations used for coding and decoding, the more we know about the intended meanings and responses.

I'm not really saying anything different than what was already said. The reason I cast things this way is to try to emphasize even more that meaning does not lie in the elements of communication (such as words) nor in the encoding/decoding process using the correlations based on all the cultural norms etc. These are the inputs for inferring the meaning and desired responses. I also wanted to use some concepts from information theory.

Hopefully that answered your question rather than muddying the waters.

Eric Inman

-----Original Message-----
From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Mark Lightman
Sent: Thursday, April 01, 2010 2:26 PM
To: nikolaos.adamou at hotmail.com; drdwilkins at verizon.net
Cc: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Where does meaning come from?

Don wrote:

after Eric had written

Don has a point here.  Eric, since we usually don't know anything about what "response" a writer intended to "stimulate," how can this criteria tell us anything about where meaning comes from?

Mark L


I'd like to offer two examples for linguistic analysis. The first has to do with redundancy. There is a good deal of it in the Bible, especially in the OT but undoubtedly in the NT as well. The rabbis were acutely aware of redundancies in the Torah, and they developed the hermeneutic that whenever a redundancy occurs, it is referring to something particular not addressed in the context at hand. The basis for the hermeneutic evidently is that God is never redundant. So it's probably fair to say that they "corrected" scriptural redundancies essentially by postulating that every redundancy actually refers to something new or different not covered in the context. Personally I am sympathetic to the rabbis and would not conclude simply that a scriptural redundancy is an unnecessary addition typical of human discourse. But I find their hermeneutic contrary to the principle of context, so I would argue instead that a redundancy probably occurs for emphasis or some other legitimate purpose. Thus there are at least three ways to interpret scriptural redundancies. Are they all valid, given the different presuppositions, or not? And would linguists all agree on a particular hermeneutic to apply (not necessarily one of these three)?

The second example is Groucho's old joke: "I shot an elephant in my pajamas last night. What he was doing in my pajamas I'll never know." How does a linguist determine the meaning of the first statement with its hanging prepositional phrase? I'm sure the decoding process includes the rule that this is comedy, setting the listener up for a laugh. The rule might even be expanded to a definition of comedy itself, e.g. "Comedy is incongruity in a sense of well-being." But could we predict the punch line without having heard it before, or without being familiar with Groucho's type of comedy? To give this a biblical spin, consider Acts 12:12-16. This is a historical record communicating information. But most people I know, like myself, find the situation humorous and have sometimes even laughed in telling is. So how is one to analyze Luke's intent here? Was he merely conveying information, or was he demonstrating his potential as a stand-up comic--or both?

Don Wilkins

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