[b-hebrew] Re: Relevance Theory & Hebrew Semantics
Eduard C Hanganu
eddhanganu at hotmail.com
Mon Aug 16 23:06:43 EDT 2004
I consider Sperber and Wilsons (1986) Relevance Theory on a level with
Whorf s (1940) Hypothesis. While Whorf claimed that language is a guide to
social realityand that societies lived at the mercy of their languages,
Sperber and Wilson look at context as a psychological construct based on an
individuals worldview and define relevance as the individuals
psychological relevance of a proposition to a context. Context is therefore
user dependent, subjective and not objective, again dependent on a person's
worldview and psychological makeup.
Fortunately, pragmatics is much more than Sperber and Wilson perceive to be.
I believe one cannot place their theory in the right perspective before
reading Levinsons (1995)Pragmatics and at least a book on Discourse
Analysis like the one written by Brown and Yule (1993).
For an understanding of the relationship between text and context I also
highly recommend Halliday and Hasans ( 1990) book entitled Language,
context and text: aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective.
These are only a sample of books that can help make sense of the
relationship between text, context and discourse fragment where the meaning
of the semantic unit is encoded.
Personally I cannot see how Sperber and Wilsons Relevance Theory could have
a significant relevance (forgive the pun) in Biblical text analysis. As you
mentioned, Sperber and Wilson define their relevance maxims in relation to
utterances, not text. They may help, also, of course, in the understanding
of text, but could not be determinative in the clarification of discourse
meaning. I believe the main tools in the discovery of the intended meaning
of the Biblical writer begins with a good knowledge of the morphology and
syntax of the text and continues with the understanding of the way meaning
is encoded into text at the interface of the syntax and semantics of the
text in relation to the co-text and context.
You mentioned something about the difficulty of reconstructing the
contextual semantic domain of the verb CWR (Ex 32:4). This sounds confusing
to me. The notion of semantic domain of a word is a lexical issue related
to a words sense (which is context independent) and not a words
meaning(which is context dependent). Establishing the sense of a word
and its semantic domain would be no help in the establishment of the
meaning of a word in a specific context. James Barr (1961) warned Biblical
scholars in his book The Semantics of Biblical Languages that the effort
to establish the meaning of a Biblical word through word studies was a
serious fallacy and could lead to grave distortions of the message of the
Recent application of linguistics in Biblical exegesis indicates that
meaning resides in discourse and not in the etymology or morphology of a
word or even in the syntax of a sentence but in the semantic unit of the
discourse fragment. I believe we need to focus our efforts in this area when
we look for the intended meaning of the authors of the books of the Bible.
From: "C. Stirling Bartholomew" <jacksonpollock at earthlink.net>
To: hebrew <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Subject: [b-hebrew] Relevance Theory & Hebrew Semantics
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 2004 09:19:00 -0700
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?
*b-greek archives July & August, A.Nyland/I.Larsen exchange.
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