[b-hebrew] nouns and adjectives, was re: origin of evil

Lisbeth S. Fried lizfried at umich.edu
Fri Sep 15 20:16:49 EDT 2006

Dear Karl,
Sorry for taking so long to reply, things got hectic around here for a
> Liz:
> After agreeing to disagree, I got to thinking how I would describe
> this interchange to another, and came up with the following:
> Nouns are the linguistic units that we append to objects and actions.
> In the sentence, "The retreat of the army was disorganized" 'retreat'
> is an action and the word on the page is the noun linguistic unit
> attached to it.
> Adjectives are the linguistic units that modify nouns, to use a term I
> was taught in grade school.
> Where we disagree:
> I say that an adjective used to modify nouns has the same meaning
> irrespective of whether the noun is attached to an action or to an
> object.
> Correct me if I misunderstand you, but I understand your position as
> stating that an adjective that modifies a noun attached to an action
> can and often has a different meaning than the same adjective
> modifying a noun attached to an object. In other words, the subject of
> a noun can and does modify the meaning of an adjective modifying that
> noun.
> A practical problem with your position, as I understand it, is that
> one could read meanings into adjectives to suit one's ideological
> position depending on the noun's meaning, while my position is that an
> adjective's meaning is fixed by the aggregate of all its uses; where a
> meaning is ruled out by some uses, therefore it is also ruled out in
> all uses.
Dear Karl,
I don't think that this is your understanding either. You would not
translate the word RA( the
same way in every context. You can't possibly. The same Hebrew word would
make sense in one context would be nonsense in another context. I don't even
think that you could come up with one English word that would fit all the
uses of Ra( that occur in the Hebrew.
> Actually, my position is part of my total understanding of
> lexicography: when looking at a term, I look for a semantic domain
> that will encompass the aggregate of all uses of that term limited
> also by that aggregate of uses, while taking into account idiomatic
> uses and compound lexemes (where two or more terms are combined to
> make a third meaning). This is also where I disagree with BDB,
> Gesenius and others who allow for different meanings in different
> contexts which, as I understand it, effectively leaves terms
> undefined, with meanings to be filled in by the readers, though
> usually a certain number of acceptable meanings are given.
Languages don't work like that. Semantic ranges of words in different
languages are not one to one. They overlap in some areas, but not in every
area. Words have to be translated according to context. Context has to
provide the clue to meaning.
Words don't occur in isolation.
> I also see that at times Hebrew uses adjectives where English uses
> nouns, in cases where the noun is undefined. In such places, I
> translate it as "...that which is..."
> To apply the above to our discussion of Isaiah 45:7, starting with my
> position, it is one of the cases where an adjective is used where the
> noun is undefined. Looking at the aggregate of its uses, there are
> times where "evil" is an incorrect definition for R(, therefore it is
> an incorrect definition here too. Your position, as I understand it,
> is that words can have different meanings depending on the contexts,
> an adjective can and often does have a different meaning depending on
> the definition of the noun it modifies, therefore, even though "evil"
> is unquestionably the wrong definition for some uses of R(, it can be
> used as the definition for R( in this verse.
Absolutely. You think that you are being rigorous, but I don't believe that
you can translate the Hebrew bible or translate any text, using the same
English word for every occurrence of a single Hebrew word, or a single
German or French word. Languages don't work like that.
> We have agreed to disagree, I have written the above just to make sure
> I have correctly understood you and correctly described our
> disagreement.
Yes, but I don't believe that you believe what you are saying.
Liz Fried
> Karl W. Randolph.
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