[b-hebrew] Relevance Theory & Hebrew Semantics

Reinier de Blois r.de.blois at solcon.nl
Tue Aug 17 03:10:46 EDT 2004

> I will leave Reinier to answer for his own project. The rather similar

> project on which I have been working (see http://www.ktbh-team.org/)
> had a lot of input from cognitive linguists who are also experts on
>  From my own perspective, this input has been hard to assimilate; in 
> principle it should make for a very good product but in practice the 
> effort required to get there looks unrealistic. These experts have in 
> fact not appealed much to RT, more to other aspects of cognitive 
> linguistics e.g. from Langacker and Taylor.

I agree that the application of RT and other cognitive principles must
be done with extreme care, especially when dealing with an ancient
language and a limited body of data. Yet I believe that the cognitive
approach (including RT) is the most realistic approach to language
because it explains it as part of the process of communication and that
is what language is all about.

It is also extremely important how we look at the biblical text. Are we
looking at it as one cohesive unit or are we trying to peel off one
layer after another until there is hardly anything left to analyse? If
it is the latter the cognitive approach will certainly fail.

If you want the cognitive approach to work, you have to take a text as a
unit regardless of the question whether it was written by Moses, or
compiled by several redactors, or written as a unit after the exile.
Even if you doubt the historicity of certain parts of the text you have
to assume that the writer wanted to communicate some truth to his/her
audience. There is no meaning without context and the moment you strip a
text of its context you have lost your job as a lexicographer. The only
approach left then is the philological one which is very unreliable.

And even then, as a lexicographer you have to realize that there is only
so much you can find out. A lexicon is not the same as an encyclopaedia.
If you take the story of the golden calf you have to realize that you
can't be too sure about the exact way Aaron made the calf.
Lexicographers have to be honest about that and stick to the information
provided by the context as much as possible. And if you have a doubt,
you have to be honest about that too.

Reinier de Blois

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