[b-hebrew] Contextual Semantic Domains

CS Bartholomew jacksonpollock at earthlink.net
Thu Nov 20 15:11:37 EST 2003

On 11/18/03 12:12 PM, "Trevor Peterson" <06PETERSON at cua.edu> wrote:

>> Does anyone who has taken a serious look at this issue have any reservations
>> about developing a Hebrew dictionary which is structured around this
>> distinction?
> ISTM that there's an inherent problem here. What is the unaffected meaning of
> a word? Well, I don't see how it can be anything except an abstraction from
> the various contexts in which we've encountered the word. Basically, whether
> consciously or unconsciously, we strip away anything about the word that seems
> to be unique to one context or another and synthesize what remains into some
> bundle of ideas. That seems simple enough, but particularly when we're talking
> about mining ancient texts for meaningful units, I'm not sure how well we can
> sort out affected from unaffected meaning in most cases.

I am reading the articles again, they are publicly available here, follow
link to "theoretical framework" and " Presentations ":


Reinier de Blois draws a distinction between lexical and contextual semantic
domains. Before we right off this distinction it might be worthwhile to try
and venture into the framework of cognitive linguistics. It has taken me
several readings of the articles spread out over a period of months to begin
to understand this framework.

It is somewhat easier to explain it from an English example so I will use
the word "rope" to illustrate.

Rope has a prototypical set of semantic features which require minimal
context to activate. It is an artifact, long, flexible, made of some fibrous
substance, etc. As an artifact rope has a place in the lexical semantic
taxonomy of English where it occupies a position different from but related
to string or twine or thread or cable.

Now the same word, rope, also has a place in the contextual semantic
taxonomy of English. When a climber on Mt. Rainier is about to cross a snow
bridge over a crevasse he may ask to be given some rope or he may say "up
rope" or some similar expression. When a supervisor is dressing down a
subordinate in the work place, you might here the expression "give him some
rope" or "cut him some slack." Here we have two similar but different
instantiations in the English contextual semantic taxonomy for the entry

In the '60s pop single "Hey Joe" or the novel "In Cold Blood" rope takes on
yet a different contextual meaning.

It seems to me that there is a clear difference of kind between these sets
of relationships: 

lexical relationships
rope - twine - cable -thread

contextual relationships

 "up rope" - 'give him some rope" - "ain't no hangman gonna put a rope
around me." 

Anyway, I am still thinking about this. I think R. de Blois has something
here worth looking into.

Clay Bartholomew 

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