[b-hebrew] Relevance Theory & Hebrew Semantics

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Aug 18 09:08:30 EDT 2004

On 18/08/2004 02:51, C. Stirling Bartholomew wrote:

> ...
>When I talk about a break down in semantic cohesion I am referring to a
>situation where the **lexical** semantic values assigned to the low level
>constituents in a discourse segment do not work together coherently. The
>text analyst is tempted in a situation like this to look at alternatives to
>these assignments in order to resolve the problem and in some cases we end
>up with a forced fit; a reading where dubious semantic values are used with
>less than adequate justification because the analyst is compelled to find a
>semanticly cohesive text.
>I see this happening all the time.

And surely this is a perfectly correct method. If we assume that a 
discourse unit is intended to make sense (i.e. it is not a random 
collection of words, or the result of textual corruption, or a 
deliberately constructed example of your "Highly cohesive discourse 
segments which didn't make any sense at all"), we must assume that words 
which have ranges of meaning, multiple senses etc are used with senses 
that fit the context in the discourse, even if these are in fact very 
rare senses of those words. I accept that some interpreters do give 
forced interpretations, perhaps because in fact there is textual 
corruption etc, or because they are unaware of (or for other reasons 
unwilling to accept) alternative interpretations which do make sense in 
the context. And in a language like Hebrew many common words may have 
rare senses of which we now have no clear surviving evidence, and as a 
result we are left guessing in some passages. But, let me repeat, just 
because we cannot now reconstruct the semantic cohesion of some 
passages, that doesn't mean there wasn't any.

>Discourse cohesion is something that can be attained somewhat independent of
>semantic content. You can have a cohesive discourse segment as defined by
>Halliday and Hasan which has no coherent meaning. ...

Yes, such nonsense texts can be constructed. But I would have severe 
problems with any hypothesis that the Hebrew Bible contains (except 
perhaps very rarely e.g. Isaiah 28:10,13) deliberately nonsensical passages.

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

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