Re: What is the meaning of a Case?

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Tue May 13 1997 - 14:44:41 EDT

Dear Clayton,

My study of applied linguistics (including psykholinguistics) has led
me to a conclusion which is quite different from yours regarding word
meaning (if I understand you correctly). I have been working on a
manuscript dealing with the question: "How can the Bible reader have a
share in the translation process?" (this process starts when the text
is written and ends when the reader grasps the message). Nidas method
of functional equivalence primarily builds on a semantic analysis of
the clauses and only secondary on a lingusitic analysis; thus the
single words are not important, and the reader is completely in the
hands of the translators. Idiomatic translations, however, serve a
need, and most readers probably want it this way.

To serve the need of those wanting to make `informed choices` about
the meaning of the text, I think it is possible to use the WORD as the
fundamental translation unit rather than the `kernel`, and primarily
to use a linguistic analysis rather than a semantic one, without
comitting "the etymological fallacy" or overlook Saussures difference
between "langue" and "parole".

There is much evidence showing that information is stored in our mind,
not as clauses or contexts, but as words or concepts. True, these
concepts have fuzzy edges, but they are clearly distinguisable, and
psycholinguists even speak of a "mental lexicon". This suggests that
words/concepts have independent meaning without contexts.

<In this way inflected forms behave much like lexical forms. A lexical
<form has no meaning without a context. The lexical form is a key into
<a domain (paradigm) of possible meanings. Until the lexical form
<appears in a context, it is an uninstantiated variable, and it
<receives it's instantiation from contextual information. Outside of
<the the context the lexical form is only a key and is semantically

<These notions are commonplace in discussions of lexical semantics but
<I rarely see them spelled out in grammars? Why not?

<Now, I suspect that some of you will find fault with my analysis. If
<so, tell me. I'm listening.

Your observation correctly takes as a point of departure that the word
is just a sign and its letters have no intrinsic meaning, but it does
not differentiate between the different situations of communication.
The concept "meaning" (related to Bible words/clauses) is connected
with a situation of communication consisting of two parts: the author
and the original listeners/readers. They had the same presupposition
pools with similar "mental lexicons", and communication of meaningful
thoughts was achieved on the basis of the concepts in their minds. The
words used served as semantic signals, and the combination of these
words (context) did not add any new meaning, just making visible the
part of the concepts the author wanted to stress.

We today, however, are in e different situation of communication. We
have another presupposition pool, but we want to understand the
written text and translate it, and on this basis the context is
extremely important. But we must not overlook that the role played by
the context for us was played by the presupposition pool for them. So
TRANSLATION has no meaning without a context, but the concepts behind
the lexical forms had/have independent meaning and the context just
helped/helps to communicate this meaning.

The nature of a Bible translation depends on its purpose and its
target group. Idiomatic translations translates both the text and the
original presupposition pool as it were. Literal translations
translate just the text. For those who wants to come as close to the
original text as possible without a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek and
who wants to study the original presupposition pool, a literal
translation will be of help. I think that translations of this kind,
to a greater degree should use one English word as a semantic signal,
just as one Greek or Hebrew word was used as such a signal.

Two examples:
(1) KOSMOS. In the minds of those understanding Greek in the first
century, the concept behind the word was related to order and beauty,
and in different contexts it served as a signal, revealing different
sides of this concept. ( 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 live.` Even in 1 Pet 3:3,
where the reference is to beautiful apparel, the signal was
understandable to the first Christians (probably because they had the
verb KOSMEW). It is interesting that the very free TEV uses "world" as
an English semantic signal in 175 out of the 186 occurrences of
(2) NEFESH/YUXH. These words are translated with a host of different
English words with a loss of important connotations and information.
It was a completely different thing to say to a Hebrew: "You will
loose your life" than "You will loose your soul". Using one word
(semantic signal) throughout the Bible, would give the reader an
excellent opportunity to make up his mind what the author wants to
make visible and impress in the readers mind when "soul" is used, and
for instance whether Platons idea of an immortal soul is found in the
NT or not.

The view that words dont have meaning without a context is based on
Nidas functional equivalence view, which again is based on Chomsky. I
think it is time to modify this view and acknowledge the important
role played by words.


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

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