[b-hebrew] quotes with uncertain Hebrew meanings

JAMES CHRISTIAN READ JCR128 at student.anglia.ac.uk
Thu Aug 23 14:42:58 EDT 2007


KWR. In my dictionary, I list by electronic count 721 words where the
linguistic data is insufficient for us to be certain of their
meanings.

JCR: Hi Karl, is your electronic lexicon available? What languages does it currently support? Is it English only at the moment? I wouldn't mind having a play with it by your permission.

KG: I saw a Tanakh once with footnotes that said "Hebrew meaning is uncertain" 
about quotes on almost every page of the book. Does anyone know how many 
quotes in the Tanakh have uncertain Hebrew meanings? From looking at that 
book, I would guess there were one or two thousand quotes like that.

JCR: Hi Kenneth, you may take my opinion as an extreme 
view but I would call into question the meaning of 
every single word in the Hebrew corpus until you have 
justifiable linguistic reasons for accepting its 
meaning:

i) contextual harmony
ii) traditional understanding
iii) cognate testimony
iv) etymological reasons

I put the list in the order above purposefully because 
that is the order in which, I personally, would weigh 
the evidence. As already discussed at length recently, 
etymology is the shakiest of evidences and is usually 
used as a last resort and any semantics derived from 
it should be thoroughly tested by the contextual 
harmony method and even then be thoroughly distrusted.

My parsing of the Aleppo Codex revealed an alarmingly 
large size of words which only occur once. Of course, 
many of these are from roots which are more heavily 
attested but even so you can imagine the difficulty of 
lexicographically proving the suggested semantic role 
of any word which only occurs once in the entire 
corpus. With only one context to be tested in there is 
a very limited scope for testing its meaning. We 
therefore fall back on tradition (not very scientific 
but more helpful than merely giving up). Cognates 
which are more heavily attested in their respective 
languages offer limited linguistic help because of the 
false friend scenario where similar words have 
different meanings e.g. consider Italian 'negozio' 
meaning 'shop'. When I started learning Spanish by the 
full immersion method my natural instinct was to assume 
that 'negocio' is also shop but Spanish shop is 
'tienda' which is cognate of Italian 'tenda' which 
means tent. It is easy to see how such came about. In 
the good old days of Latin markets shops were probably 
basically tents with goods in them. The Spanish 
'negocios' is used in talking about the economy and 
there is a popular Spanish program 'Hablamos de
negocios' - Let's talk about the economy, or something 
like that.

And so it easy to see how cognates can be quite 
misleading before we even get on to how misleading 
etymology can be.

However, not wishing to be too gloomy, the vast 
of the gist meaning of the Hebrew corpus rests on the 
shoulders of reliable lexicography and a workable 
semantic framework of the language which is provable 
by reading words in context to test out their suggested 
meaning. My online concordance of the Aleppo Codex is 
useful for playing these little linguistic games of 
semantic verification.

I haven't read Karl's lexicon yet but it sounds like 
he has put a lot of honest work into it. His figures 
are probably, therefore, not too far from the 
linguistic truth of the matter. My knowledge of Hebrew 
as a language is evidently far inferior to his and so I
am not in as good a position to give any reliable 
figures.

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science 
http://www.lamie.org/hebrew - thesis1: concept driven machine translation using the Aleppo codex 
http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc - thesis2: language acquisition simulation




























































































far from the 
linguistic truth of the matter. My knowledge of Hebrew 
as a language is evidently far inferior to his and so I
am not in as good a position to give any reliable 
figures.

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science 
http://www.lamie.org/hebrew - thesis1: concept driven machine translation using the 




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