[b-hebrew] Contextual Semantic Domains

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Fri Nov 21 12:06:33 EST 2003

Dear Peter,

Your remarks below are very fine, and I agree with them. 
Lexicographers must do their best, as does Reinier de Blois. 
However, the question is what the lexicographers lead their readers 
to believe that they get by reading a lexicon. Do they find the 
*lexical meaning* of a word in such a lexicon, or do they find 
something else?

The explanations of Reinier de Blois are fine indeed, but he does not 
give the *lexical meaning* of each word, he gives only explanations 
and glosses. And it is a pity if his readers believe that they get 
the *lexical meaning*. Your words below reminds me of Paul's words in 
1 Corinthians 13:12, which in English translation can be: "For at 
present we see in a hazy outline by means of a metal mirror". If this 
is applied to Hebrew-English lexicons, that is very fine. If not, the 
readers simply are hoodwinked.

>>Can the "lexical meaning" in each case be expressed with one word, ...
>Certainly not! One word might be a synonym but would not be a 
>definition. Well, in exceptional cases a one word definition might 
>be adequate e.g. defining KELEB as "dog", but certainly not as a 
>rule and only if (as is not true with this example) there are no 
>non-literal senses.
>>... or must the "lexical meaning" be expressed with several 
>>different words in each case? Or can it be that the "lexical 
>>meaning" cannot be expressed by words at all, because it is tied to 
>>a concept in the minds of living people?
>Good question! Surely not completely and adequately. But if there 
>are to be any helps for readers and translators, lexicographers are 
>bound to do the best they can to express these meanings.

In order to use lexicons in the right way I think its readers should 
be taught the following: The letters and sounds of a word has no 
meaning (save onomatopoetica). But each word signals one (or 
occasionally two or more) concepts in the minds of people speaking 
the same language. The concept signalled by the word is its *lexical 
meaning*, but in most cases a concept cannot be adequately defined, 
it must be known. True, we can in many cases point to a "core sense" 
of the concept. But this is not its *lexical meaning*, but only a 
part of this meaning.  Let me illustrate my case by using the word 

In The Concise Oxford Thesaurus (1997). Oxford: Oxford University 
Press I find the following under "meaning":

Meaning noun 1 understand the meaning of what he said, signification, 
sense, message, import, drift,, gist, essence, substance, purport, 
connotation, denotation, implication, significance, trust. 2 what is 
the meaning of the word? Definition, explanation, interpretation, 
elucidation, explication. 3 it was notour meaning to delay him 
intention, purpose, plan, aim, goal, end, object, objective, 
aspiration, desire, want. Wish. 4 his life has no meaning 
significance, point, value, worth, consequence, account. 5 a glance 
full of meaning significance, implication, allusion, intimation, 
insinuation, eloquence, expression.

Where do we find the *lexical meaning* among these words? We don't 
find it at all. But when we hear or read the word "meaning" we get a 
relatively clear or a vague notion in our mind of what is spoken 
about. But how can we use this *lexical meaning* which is more or 
less vague? Communication between individuals by help of words 
basically consists in making a part of the meaning potential visible 
and to make all other parts invisible. The tool we have to achieve 
this is the context. The context does not generate new *lexical 
meaning* - all the *lexical meaning* is found in the concept in the 
mind - but the context helps the listener/reader to see which part of 
each concept the author wants to make visible. The context can 
generate other kinds of meaning, but not a single piece of *lexical 
meaning*. Thus it is definitely wrong to claim that lexical meaning 
can be found in lexicons, and it is equally wrong to claim that the 
context has anything to do with lexical meaning at all, except of 
making visible the right part of the lexical meaning that already is 

BTW.  A conclusion of my aspect studies is that the basic purpose of 
Hebrew aspects is to make a part of the verbal meaning visible and to 
make other parts invisible.

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

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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