[b-hebrew] Uncancelable meaning

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Thu Apr 5 10:43:17 EDT 2007

Dear David,

I copied your post below and the post of Stoney Breyer, and asked  Dr. Johan 
Nordlander for his comments. I have copied his reply below.

Hi Rolf,
well, as far as I can make out reading the things you quote below, you're 
right; these commentators do not distinguish between semantics and 
pragmatics. However, WHY they do so is perfectly understandable and also 
natural for non-linguists. For anyone dealing with the messages of 
utterances then pragmatics quite natural is the thing.

Now, what these critics do not understand is the fact that the meaning value 
of any word or morpheme taken in isolation IS a question of semantics. Only 
when you add additional language elements and/or extralinguistic factors do 
things open up for interpretation, that is, pragmatics. This means that what 
the commentators below discuss is not the meaning/semantics of the verb 
itself, but the meaning (message) of the entire utterances.

For example, the phrase "have dinner" is NOT exactly the same thing as 
"dine". The reason is that the collocation of the verb (have) and the noun 
(dinner), yielding "have dinner" focuses on the (dinner having) situation as 
a whole, in its entirety, that is, as a state of affairs. "Dine", being a 
processive verb, focuses on the process and the different consecutive phases 
of that process itself. The result is, of course, that "have dinner" is 
somewhat similar in pragmatic meaning to "dine". BUT NOT identical. For the 
layman or non-linguist this might, again quite understandly, be nittpicking 
or mere quibbling, but for the professional linguist these subtle 
differences ARE of great analytic interest.

Johan Nordlander

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "David Kummerow" <farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, March 30, 2007 8:41 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Uncancelable meaning

> Hi Rolf,
> I notice below that it seems the English expression is wider than
> Australian English. I'll add a bit more so that the English is plain for
> you and so your linguistic theory might stop blinding you to the reality
> of the English expression.
> Suppose an English teacher was up the front of class and she was getting
> the students to think about the word "have". Supposed she asked "what do
> you have?" The default construal of this would be that the question is
> one of possession, either as in a) below as a question of owned
> possessions or physical attributes as in b):
> a) I have a cat (= I own/possess a cat)
> b) I have a big nose (= I possess a big nose)
> Both are stative situations.
> The answer in a) can refer to possessions currently with them at their
> desk or not (as in a) above where the cat is most likely at home, but
> could be at school on a show-and-tell day):
> c) I have a blue pen
> Since our present discussion revolves around eating, here's another
> possible answer to the question:
> d) I have a plate of dinner
> This can only be construed that a plate with the student's dinner is on
> their desk or at least in their immediate vicinity at the moment of
> speaking. Again, the construal is stative.
> However, suppose the teacher were to ask "What do you have at Maxim's?"
> This could be answered in a few ways, for example:
> e) I have a large plate of chips
> Notice how the construal by the student is as a question asking about
> what the student usually orders at Maxim's, ie it is a question as to
> what they usually eat. Although e) has the same syntactic structure as
> a) to d) above, semantically it differs as it now is construed as an
> action and not a state, ie it is not a "state of eating a large plate of
> chips" but that "a large plate of chips is usually eaten or consumed".
> "Have" here could be replaced with "eat" without any difference in
> meaning as in f), which would be an entirely acceptable alternative
> answer to the teacher's question:
> f) I eat a large plate of chips
> Further, another possible answer is as in g) and h):
> g) We have breakfast at Maxim's (quite frequently)
> h) We have dinner at Maxim's (quite frequently)
> Here, the student has construed the question to be not so much about
> individual menu items, but about mealtimes. "Quite frequently" is
> optional and simply adds what is implicit in the reply. Both answers
> above could also we given as:
> i) We eat breakfast at Maxim's (quite frequently)
> j) We eat dinner at Maxim's (quite frequently)
> The "eating" here is not stative as you suggest, but as a gnomic and
> perfective act of eating: this is what the student and family commonly do.
> So as you can hopefully see, "have" can be both stative and active
> meanings. If is construed as about possession it is stative; if it is
> construed as about eating it is active. These are but two examples of
> "have", but they do demonstrate the variability of English where the
> same syntactic structure may have two (or more) possible readings.
> Is this convincing?
> Regards,
> David Kummerow.
>> Dear David:
>> In this case I have to agree with you.
>> On 3/30/07, David Kummerow <farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com> wrote:
>>  > Hi Rolf,
>>  >
>>  > Let me say again: "have" in the example you cite is commonly used
>>  > throughout Australia to mean "to eat" and not "to be in a state of
>>  > eating". My intuition here is that it might even NEVER occur with the
>>  > meaning you assign. The "linguistic analysis" here you present is just
>>  > plain wrong as you force a meaning to my words which I just do not 
>> mean.
>>  > A true linguistic representation of the sentence you cite with the
>>  > assigned meaning should actually be given a # in the front or 
>> something
>>  > to show that this meaning is absurd to native speakers.
>>  >
>>  > "Had" can also be used in the same manner: "We had dinner at Maxim's".
>>  > This equates to "We ate dinner at Maxim's".
>>  >
>>  > To repeat: Despite your linguistic intuitions here, they are in 
>> conflict
>>  > with how the phrase would be understood by English speakers in
>>  > Australia, perhaps elsewhere too I would say.
>>  >
>> What you state is accurate for American English as well.
>>  > In this case you really should withdraw your statements and admit you
>>  > were wrong.
>>  >
>>  > Regards,
>>  > David Kummerow.
>>  >
>>  >
>> In this case, I'm thankful that English is my mother tongue. Even a
>> millennium after the Norman invasion, English is still somewhat of a
>> creole, with oddities and exceptions galore. Though it is a relatively
>> simple language to learn its basics, it is one of the most difficult
>> languages to master.
>> Rolf: you are wrong here. You have run into one of those oddities and
>> exceptions of English. Your command of the English language is quite
>> good, better than many, but native speakers recognize that you have
>> erred on this issue in English.
>> Too bad there are no surviving speakers of Biblical Hebrew to show
>> where "we got it wrong".
>> Yours, Karl W. Randolph.
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