re:invariant meaning?

From: Clayton Bartholomew (
Date: Fri Aug 08 1997 - 08:05:19 EDT

Mark Broman Olsen wrote:
I think one could profitably distinguish between the paramaters of
invariance and specificity/abstractness (Rolf's suggestion). That
is, if the invariant meaning is too specific to be usefully applied to
the next situation, it is not a proper semantics.

We seem to have a problem here with the semantics of the word
semantics. Again, you are assuming what I am asking you to prove.
You are defining semantics such that only *invariant* categories
qualify as *semantic* categories. This may be the way semantics
is defined in some schools of thought but it is quite foreign to
others. What I am saying is, show me one
morphological/syntactical marking in K. Greek that has an
invariant meaning and I will show you a dozen which do not have an
invariant meaning. We need to keep this discussion tied to explicit
evidence from the Greek text.

I suspect that to define the meaning of a
morphological/syntactical category in such a broad and abstract
manner that all examples will fit under this one definition will
result in a definition that is so abstract as to be virtually useless.
A case in point: the endless search for a broad enough category to
apply to each and every use of the K. Greek genitive case is a real
world example were invariant meaning for a
morphological/syntactical category does not work. Any definition
broad enough to include all genitives is too broad to be of any
utility for translation or exegesis.

I have been trying to find a single *invariant*
morphological/syntactical category in K. Greek. I chose as the
most likely candidate the marking for *number* in the K. Greek
verb system. So far I have found no examples where the marking
for *number* means something other than number. There are
cases where singulars are collective and plurals are used for
singular subjects but there don't seem to be any cases where the
marking for number is used to convey a completely different kind
of information than number. I would be willing to look an such an
example if some one could provide one.

By looking at *number* in the verb system I am testing the
hypothesis that each morphological/syntactical category in K.
Greek has a range of meanings. This hypothesis my prove to be
false. The cases where singulars are used for collectives might be
taken as an example of a range of meaning within a narrow
semantic domain. In this case this narrow semantic domain could
be reasonably called *number* because all the variations in
meaning fall comfortably under this heading. This is a case were
the level of abstraction is quite manageable and the label
*number* is probably legitimate.

The case of *number* in the K. Greek verb is quite different
however from the type of abstractions which are being foisted on
us by the verb aspect theorists. These abstractions are far more
difficult to understand and evaluate and for that reason I am
taking a wait and see attitude about the whole enterprise.

Clay Bartholomew
Three Tree Point

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