RE: `the etymological fallacy` - an alterantive

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Feb 12 1997 - 09:33:06 EST

Dear list-members,

Being a newcomer, I have browsed through the first part of
the Archive and found several posts regarding Bible
translation and word meaning. I have written a book which
will be published later this year about the role played by
theology and bias in Bible translation. Its backbone is the
question of how the interested Bible reader may have a share
in the very process of translation (=from the writing to the
readers understanding) and be helped to come as close to
the original text as possible. For such a target group only
a literal translation will do.

The `semantic domain`- approach to lexical semantics and the
`functional equivalent`-procedure are useful for idiomatic
translations and for their target groups, but not for those
who want to work with the text for themselves. One important
objection to literal translation has been the dependence
upon `the etymological fallacy` (that every Greek and Hebrew
word has one central meaning which may be found in all its
occurrences, cf Cotterell&Turner 1989:169). This is true for
technical words, but they are relatively few.

If we combine Semiotics and Psycholinguistics we may form a
very simple theory where COMMUNICATION is the basis for a
literal translation rather than etymology and semantics
(I am not aware that this has been done before). Words are
stored in the mind in different ways (semantic domain, word
classes..), not as clearly defined units, but as units with
fuzzy edges related to some prototyp idea. When hearing or
reading something, the brain compares this with the
different prototypes in store and with the context to get
the meaning (CfJean Aitchison, 1987, Words in the Mind).

My theory views the word,not as a unit with a particular
meaning, but as a mere sign, which the reader by help of the
context and his mental lexicon will be able to interprete.
However, the use of the `sign`is systematic and clearly
restricted - else it would be utter confusion. The word
AGAPH may illustrate the point. TEV translates 114 of its
116 occurrences by `love`. Clearly l-o-v-e serves as a sign
and the reader must interprete this. On the other hand, TEV
translates only 17 of the 133 occurrences of SARX as
`flesh`. I have studied all the occurrences of this word,
which is used as a principal argument against literal
translation, and concludes that a uniform rendering will
create little or no confusion, and can be logically

By this way of reasoning, the slogan `Words have no meaning
without a context` is not needed, because it is based on
semantics. Instead we may say: Words have no communicative
force without a context, but they are stored in the mind as
singualar entities and not as contexts.

Greetings from Norway,


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