Lappenga and Downs on word meanings

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.
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Matthew Longhorn
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Lappenga and Downs on word meanings

Post by Matthew Longhorn » September 13th, 2020, 11:20 am

I am currently reading “The Faithfulness of the Risen Christ” by Downs and Lappenga and came across a curious quote on page 29 by Downing attributed to an article “Ambiguity, Ancient Semantics and Faith” in NTS 56 139-62.
I don’t have access to this resource but he is quoted as saying on page 160
Ancient expectations of words have them carry much of their semantic baggage with them, whatever part of their range appears in context to be foregrounded; that is, unless some elements of their range have been specifically discarded
This runs contrary to some of my expectations about word use, where I expect a range of meanings that are interrelated (Carston calls this a polysemy complex), but that have taken on conventional meanings in their own right.

Lappenga/Downs earlier give a couple more quotes from Downing
Downing laments that interpreters “still... discern distinct senses in words,” rightly arguing that efforts to discern precise lexicon-style “meanings” do not cohere with what we know about ancient writers
I absolutely agree that trying to discern precise lexicon-style meanings is misguided. I doubt any of us have in mind a precisely defined meaning of a word when using it, and different elements of any one meaning could be our focus.
I am aware that Lappenga argues for a monosemic bias. I guess what I am wondering is whether Downing’s views are reasonable about the way Ancient writers used words. On this account Lappenga’s monosemic bias sounds more reasonable, if it is accurate
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Lappenga and Downs on word meanings

Post by Matthew Longhorn » September 13th, 2020, 11:42 am

It is interesting to note that L+D cite Carston from 2010 as evidence that “a growing number [of RT theorists] have concluded that monosemic bias is preferable”
“I am far from sure that any such distinction [between monosemic and allegedly polysemic words] should be made.”
This runs counter though to her recent work published in a 2019 volume
... the point should be clear enough: polysemy is ubiquitous. every substantive word is polysemous, at least potentially so - if not how, then its only a matter of time”
Carston - “Ad Hoc Concepts, Polysemy and the Lexicon”
In Relevance, Pragmatics and Interpretation


L+D also cite an article by Fretheim, in support of a shift towards a monosemic bias in RT, called “in defense of monosemy”, unfortunately it is in a Brill volume “Pragmatics and the Flexibility of Word Meaning” and therefore not something I am going to buy to access just that one article... probably.
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MAubrey
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Re: Lappenga and Downs on word meanings

Post by MAubrey » September 13th, 2020, 3:13 pm

What any given group of people believe about how words mean doesn't necessarily contribute anything about how words actually mean. Folk semantics is almost inevitably distinct from actual usage.

Downs' "Ambiguity, Ancient Semantics, and Faith" is a very strange essay.
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Mike Aubrey, Linguist
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Lappenga and Downs on word meanings

Post by Matthew Longhorn » September 13th, 2020, 3:16 pm

Useful comment, thanks Mike.
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Matthew Longhorn
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Re: Lappenga and Downs on word meanings

Post by Matthew Longhorn » September 13th, 2020, 4:21 pm

MAubrey wrote:
September 13th, 2020, 3:13 pm
What any given group of people believe about how words mean doesn't necessarily contribute anything about how words actually mean. Folk semantics is almost inevitably distinct from actual usage.

Downs' "Ambiguity, Ancient Semantics, and Faith" is a very strange essay.
Can you share some of the ways it is strange?
I am tempted to fork out for Fretheims work - the snippets I have seen seem like he was addressing discourse particles, unless I was looking at the wrong work. If this is the case, then I seem to recall a predisposition to monosemic analyses of this kind of thing in RT, without necessarily carrying that over to all types of word. Conceptual words being more subject to contextual modulation than procedural would be more disposed to polysemy?
Makes me wonder how theoretically sound the basis of Lappengas work is here.
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