[b-hebrew] lexicography

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Nov 19 18:41:05 EST 2003

On 17/11/2003 16:45, Dave Washburn wrote:

> ...
>First, why should I consider your experience the standard of judgment 
>regarding a linguistic theory?  It could very well be that, had you used a 
>more adequate theory, you would have found said theory even more useful.  
>We'll never know.  Second, why shouldn't I argue against a theory that has so 
>much evidence contrary to it?  I thought the goal was truth, not Karl 
>Randolph's utility.  I have found it much more useful, "both for the study of 
>modern languages as well as for the study of Biblical Hebrew," to chuck the 
>"core meaning" notion and go with an approach that examines how people 
>actually USE words and phrases at the synchronic level of the text I'm 
>dealing with, and have found the practice of delving into etymology and such 
>to try and force some "core meaning" onto a term to be, frankly, a waste of 
>time.  As always, YMMV.  If you have the time and energy to pursue such 
>things, more power to you, but be prepared to realize at some point that many 
>of your "core definitions" are nothing more than constructs of your own 
Dave, you are being unfair to Karl here.

1) Surely the goal of a theory is to be a useful description of reality, 
to be of utility to Karl and others like him in understanding the truth. 
Agreed, there is evidence against this theory, but let's weigh the 
evidence and not use ad hominem arguments.

2) You are putting words and concepts into Karl's mouth. He has not 
tried to "force some "core meaning" onto a term". There are those who 
hold that words have unchangeable core meanings linked to their 
etymology. But I don't think Karl has claimed that, though Mark came 
closer to saying that. You imply that Karl's approach is not one "that 
examines how people actually USE words and phrases at the synchronic 
level of the text"; but in fact it is, as is clear from this part of his 
description of it:

>Another of the lessons I applied was to compare synonyms, sometimes contrasting antonyms, to find out what lexemes mean. For example, there are over a dozen synonyms for R)H [ra‘ah] “to look, see” in Tanakh. Some synonyms have a broad meaning, such as “to put” in English, others much more restricted, such as “to set up”.
>One concept specific to Biblical Hebrew, look to see how lexemes are actually used in Hebrew, not how we think (for theological or other reasons) they should mean.
Dave, did you read past his words "The first lesson I learned is that 
lexemes have one core meaning"?

Karl's claim, as I understand it, is a weaker one but also one that is 
accepted by many semanticists today. That is that, as "people actually 
USE words and phrases", their various senses are grouped around a core 
meaning. But that core meaning can shift with time. I would accept one 
thing that Karl does not seem to, that core meanings may split so that a 
word originally with one core meaning falls apart into multiple homonyms 
- and that has happened, or come close to happening, with "strike", and, 
I suspect, with some Hebrew words e.g. 'AF "nose" vs. 'AF "anger". Well, 
I disagree with Karl on etymology. But at the synchronic level I more or 
less agree with him.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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