[b-hebrew] Relevance Theory & Hebrew Semantics

C. Stirling Bartholomew jacksonpollock at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 16 12:19:00 EDT 2004

About two weeks ago there was an exchange of views* between a Greek classics
professor and a senior translation consultant, both very knowledgeable
people, which came down to a war of methodologies between traditional
philology (19th century) and cognitive linguistics (late 20th century).

In response to this question I obtained several books on Relevance Theory
and Pragmatics and was reading them when this question of the golden calf
(Ex. 32)  came up. I tried to approach the question with the Grice's
co-operative principle in mind as well maximizing the significance of the
contextual semantic domain of the verb CWR (Ex. 32:4).

While working on this some questions about the applicability of Relevance
Theory (RT) to ancient texts crossed my mind. First, RT appears to be about
spoken language not texts. Second,  RT works from a set of axioms, e.g.,
Grice's co-operative principle, which seem to me rather utopian when applied
to ancient texts. 

What do I mean by utopian? RT seems to presume that discourse segments are
semantically highly cohesive. Without out this assumption the whole approach
seems to fall apart. Furthermore, reconstructing the contextual semantic
domain of the verb CWR (Ex. 32:4) is a serious project.

My question: What use can be made of Relevance Theory with ancient texts
where the context (external) is difficult to reconstruct with any certainty?

Clay Bartholomew 

*b-greek archives July & August, A.Nyland/I.Larsen exchange. 

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