[b-hebrew] Contextual Semantic Domains

David Gray david_gray at sil.org
Mon Nov 24 14:29:24 EST 2003


I found your message fascinating, helpful, and relevant, having just read
the chapter by Harold P. Scamlin called "The Study of Semantics in General
Linguistics" in Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew ed. W. R. Bodine. He talks
about referential meaning as the meaning that cannot be known by non
mother-tongue speakers. It is precisely the examples given by a good lexicon
that help such people (and some mother-tongue speakers too) find these
meanings. His other terms are 'emotive' meanings (connotations) and
'grammatical' meanings. He also talks about unmarked meanings, which are
often used as glosses in dictionaries, vs. marked meanings, which can only
be known by hearing or reading the context.

Do you have any specific comments on the existing Hebrew dictionaries,
including NIDOTTE and TDOT? If lexical items have to be organised somehow,
traditionally alphabetically by root or form, or more recently by semantic
domain, how would you suggest organising them? Cognitive linguistics would
add another dimension - the 'frame' - to semantic domain. How helpful is

David Gray

-----Original Message-----
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of furuli at online.no
Sent: 19 November 2003 08:24
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Contextual Semantic Domains

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
>meaning that a word "contributes in and of itself," whereas the latter
>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
>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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