RE; sign, sense, concept and reference

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Feb 27 1997 - 19:37:15 EST

Dear Jonathan,

<Where does this model come from?

A very good introduction to the model is found in Peter
Cotterell & Max Turner, 1989, Linguistics & Biblical
Interpretation, InterVarsity Press. A more difficult, but
very interesting account of the problems created when the
model is not followed is found in Arthur Gibson,1981,
Biblical Semantic Logic, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

<SIGN: This is the word itself, right? And the form it takes
<depends on whether you have oral presentation or written -
<these would be different signs?

Correct. The first to differentiate between the letters of
word as mere signs, void of meaning, `parole`, and words
used in a living context to communicate ideas `Langue` was
the father of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure.

<CONCEPT: Is there a formal definition of this?

An easy definition is not found, but you will find many
clues in the mentioned works. The book about
Psykholinguistics I recommended to Lee will be very helpful.
The term `concept` may help solving the problem of the
interaction between the context and the individual words.As
I see it, each word is stored in the mind in the form of a
concept, sometimes it is rather vague and other times it is
a more definite idea. The concept of KOSMOS is related to
order and beauty, but not necessarily a fusion of the two.
ALL the meaning of the word is combined with the concept in
the mind. The role of the context is simply to make visible
the part of the concept which is relevant, and not to add
any meaning to the word. (At a seminary in Semantics today
we discussed this, and it was common agreement that the
slogan `Words have no meaning without a context` was
uttterly false.) In John 3:16 `the world of mankind` is made
visible, In John 17:14 `people outside the Christian
church` and in John 16:21 `the environment in which mankind
Sometimes the context helps identify different concepts
behind the same word. PNEUMA in John 3:6,8 relates to
different concepts.
<SENSE: Is this equivalent to the senses in dictionaries, or
<the senses in Louw and Nida?

Not necessarily, many dictionaries, including Louw and Nida
are biased, and `sense` may be confused with reference and
other things. But dictionaries are good to start with (Louw
and Nidas work has also many advantages).

<REFERENCE: This is one instance of a particular type in
<your example. That makes sense for nouns. How does
<REFERENCE work for other kinds of words?
The reference is the thing in the real word that is referred
to. I think we should concentrate on substantives.

When I have studied particular passages to find out how
theology and bias influence translation, I use the trapeza,
because renderings which neither are the sense, the concept
nor the reference of a word most likely are biased and
should be scrutinized.

I would also point out that `the visibility principle` I
have outlined above (= all the meaning is stored in the word
concept and the context shall only make a part of it visible
for inspection/interpretation) may work for verbal aspects
as well. All the action of the verb is stored in its
Aktionsart (broadly: lexical meaning) The function of the
aspects is to make a part of this action visible for
inspection/interpretation. The consequence of this is that
terms such as `durative` and `punctual` has nothing to do
with aspects but are Aktionsart terms. Terms such as
`conative`, `ingressive`,` egressive`...are created by the
combination of the visibility made by the aspects and the
Aktionsartt of the verb.
I must stress that this is my theory. I have worked
extensively with Hebrew verbs and think there is a strong
case for it, but it also seems to work for the Greek verbal
system. Fannings work is close to the theory.


Rolf Furuli
Ph.D candidate in Semitic languages
University of Oslo.

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