[b-hebrew] Contextual Semantic Domains

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Wed Nov 19 03:23:51 EST 2003

Dear Clay,

I do not have this article at hand,  but the semantic domains 
approach has several grave weaknesses. The Greek-English lexicon of 
Louw and Nida is at places very misleading; just take a look at 
"Universe". In such lexicons (and others as well) the readers do not 
get what they expect to get, namely, the *lexical meaning* of a word. 
The reason is that the real context in which the lexicon is made is 
not communicated to the readers, because the most fundamental 
question of lexical semantics is never discussed thoroughly. This 
question is: What is *lexical meaning*, and where do we find it?

The question above can be illuminated by asking another question: 
"Does a word have a *lexical meaning* apart from a context?" Louw 
answers "no," and thereby misleads his audience, because he does not 
tell that his answer is correct only in one particular context, 
namely, in a translational one. Only when a non-native speaker wants 
to understand a particular word, does s/he need a context in order to 
see how the word is used and thus understand the word better.*  But 
what s/he gets is not the *lexical meaning* meaning of the word, but 
a part of its translational meaning. Thus a word has a *lexical 
meaning* without a context, but it does not have a *translational 
meaning* without a context. True Louw and Nida speaks of glosses, but 
they also speak of "meaning" (without qualifying this word).  So 
readers are mislead because they are lead to believe that they find 
the *lexical meaning* of words in lexicons, when they only find 
glosses which are given in a translational context.

What students should be told is this: Lexical meaning can not be 
expressed by writing or speaking, it must be known!  Lexical meaning 
is not found in lexicons, but in the minds of living people, those 
having the same presupposition pool! This means that the lexical 
meaning of a word can only be grasped by native speakers, so nobody 
should pretend that this kind of meaning can be found in lexicons. I 
would therefore say that the distinction below between lexical 
meaning and contextual meaning is utterly misleading, because it 
overlooks what *lexical meaning* really is and where it is found.

Let me add that lexicons (including those made on the principle of 
semantic domains) serve a useful purpose, and they are highly needed 
by students. But we should teach our students what lexicons really 
are and what they are not. Only when students realize what *lexical 
meaning* is and where it is found will they really profit from the 
use of lexicons.

* Native speakers may of course at times need a thesaurus in 
connection with more difficult words in their own language.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Reinier de Blois following J.P.Louw** draws a distinction between lexical
>and contextual semantic domains:
>In an article written in 1991, Louw makes a distinction between lexical and
>contextual meaning. According to him, the former deals with those aspects of
>meaning that a word "contributes in and of itself," whereas the latter deals
>with the information provided by the utterance in which that word occurs
>"involving the circumstances of and the objects referred to in a specific
>context in terms of its usage in such a context along with other words or
>phrases contributing to the context."
>----end quote
>Does anyone who has taken a serious look at this issue have any reservations
>about developing a Hebrew dictionary which is structured around this
>Clay Bartholomew
>**Louw, J.P. 1991. "How Do Words Mean - If They Do?". In: Filología
>Neotestamentaria 4:125-142.
>Reinier de Blois
>United Bible Societies
>Woerden (Utr.), The Netherlands
>by Reinier de Blois
>AFRETCON BAGAMOYO 2002, section 4.1

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