[b-hebrew] BLG

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Thu Oct 21 14:00:50 EDT 2004


It may be that what I do is a reaction to what I saw in the works of Gesenius and BDB, where each use sometimes seemed to have a different definition. If words are sloppily defined, how does one recognize irony, satire, and other literary effects that are shown by unusual use of words? Even picturesque use of language useful for setting mood is lost. These literary devices are semantic, and if one loses them, one misunderstands the semantic use of the words.

As native speakers of English, you and I can readily recognize these literary devices in English, and we can often recognize them in French and German, languages that are very similar to English, but what about other languages?

When I started writing my dictionary, it was just notes in the margins, first in other dictionaries, later in the concordance I still use. I had no intention of writing a whole dictionary. At first, there were three reasons I would analyse a word: 1) when it had two or more significantly different definitions given, 2) when I realized that a synonym was given the same definition and 3) very rare, that none of the uses made sense with the definition given. It was only when I entered the whole dictionary into the computer that I finally, critically looked at the definitions of all words.

One thing I learned early on is that the Masoritic points are sometimes wrong. There are times where I found one or more uses of a word or derivitives of a root that didn't seem to fit with the rest of the uses. But when I stripped off the points, it could be recognized that the word was from a different root where the meaning of the other root fit the context well. That often was the cause of a root being given two or more significantly different definitions. 

When I studied Hebrew in school, I was taught that the verb itself constituted the root. I continued to follow that pattern as I wrote my dictionary, though now more for convention than because I think that verb = root. Therefore, the "root meanings" that I looked for were not an abstraction, but how the words were actually used in context. Often, however, the verb was used so seldom that it is the "derivitive" noun(s), adjective(s) and so forth that would give nuances, often needed to show how one verb would differ from its synonym(s). Because most "derivitives" are recognizably verbal forms (e.g. participles) according to regular rules of grammar, and when one looks at the meanings one finds recognizable definitional unity as well, I see no problem in looking at all the words from the same stem for clues to how each word is understood, but context holds the trump. In the relatively few cases where nouns and other non-verbal lexemes have no expressed verbal root in Tanakh, I list them without a verbal root and "root definition". It is only in discussions on this board that I reference "root definitions" and even there I mostly cite the verbal definitions.

I don't think I get too abstract in my studies. In fact, I think I am less abstract than BDB. But your warning is not to be ignored. Thanks.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Maurice A. O'Sullivan" <mauros at iol.ie>

> At 00:09 21/10/2004, you wrote:
> >I look at all uses of a root, verbs, nouns, adjectives and so forth, to 
> >try to get at its meaning.
> Karl:
> I have a problem with that approach, summed up succinctly by Waltke, B. K., 
> & O'Connor, M. P. in their (1990). An introduction to biblical Hebrew 
> syntax. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns.
>  >> The root is an abstraction, based on the forms and words that actually 
> occur, and its meaning is also an abstraction, based on the semantic field 
> of the words as they are used. The system of roots is part of the speaker's 
> knowledge of the language, but the resulting abstractions should not be 
> pressed too hard, especially on semantic grounds. Words that actually occur 
> always have priority over such abstractions.<<
> Your approach seems to be to look, in the first instance, at an 
> _abstraction_ which is drawn from usage, and then apply this abstraction to 
> actual usage.
> Maurice A. O'Sullivan  [ Bray, Ireland ]
> mauros at iol.ie

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