roots

Paul Zellmer zellmer at digitelone.com
Thu Sep 2 19:24:25 EDT 1999


I didn't realize the furor that my quick and dirty characterization of
root and stem was going to touch off.  (Randall, thanks for not holding
me to it.)  Please allow me a bit of clarification as to my actual
practice/teaching and the reason why I answered the way I did.  But I
still give the same disclaimer!

In practice, I also reach for Holladay's first, not so much because of
the alphabetical (aleph-beth-ical?) nature of its entries, but because
it is based on more current research.  I would reach for K-B, but my
German is no where near good enough to use this effectively.  I also
suggest Holladay for my students, since it is available here in the
Philippines and does seem to be a decent lexicon.  I then look under the
appropriate stem for the gloss, searching for the environment in which
the word is found in the Tanakh text under consideration.  In short, I
do not try to come up with a new derivation of meaning for the word--my
level of expertise in that area falls much too short to be able to be
anything more than a user of other people's work.

Given that, however, there does seem to be merit to the concept of a
root idea.  But, as I told a couple of my students just last week,
rather than use it as a springboard to come up with new glosses, I see
its benefit more as a tether to keep from taking the glosses found in
the lexicons too far afield.  After all, semantic domains between
language rarely match up completely, so it is easy to find a gloss that
has crossed from one domain in the receptor language to another.  If one
is unwary, he might move the stake for his tether and end up seeing
something in the text that was never intended.

Similarly, there also seems to be some relationships between how moving
from one stem to another affects the resultant meaning of the word.
Again, I don't try to force a simple effect on every case, but I do use
it as a hint of what could well be going on in the usage in the text.
Going back to the tether idea, the stem seems to indicate which
direction the tether is being pulled.

But all this is beside the point.  As I understood the original
questions, Brian Tucker (in part) seemed to have run across some terms
in some grammars, and he wanted to make sure he understood what was
being addressed.  Whether we personally agree with the terms or not,
whether or not they are in vogue among "the scholars" today, they are
nontheless terms found in the grammars that were used to attempt to
explain what was observed in the data.  The questions appeared to be
honest, and they deserved honest responses even if those responses would
then immediately be followed up by disclaimers that the concept (like
the waw-conversive) is no longer considered a realistic explanation of
the data.

FWIW,

Paul





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