Re: etymology and semantic domains

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Wed Apr 22 1998 - 04:33:10 EDT

James P. Ware wrote:
> My own rough-and-ready approach assumes that every
> word has a core meaning . . . which generally follows its
> etymology, and that out of this core meaning each word develops a semantic
> range of particular meanings, and that it is the function of the context
> to determine which part of this semantic domain is visible in each
> instance.


I don't really want to get embroiled in this dispute but I don't think you are
using the semantic domain model I am familiar with. If you follow the approach
advocated by J.P. Louw and I believe also by Moises Silva then the "core
meaning" concept has got to go. It is incompatible with semantic domain
theory. Each semantic value within the semantic domain is an independent entity.

On the other hand. There is still a valid place for the use of etymology.
Etymology does not presuppose "core meaning". Etymology only presupposes that
the different semantic values of a lexical token have a history. Etymology
assumes that this history can be an object of fruitful study. I think this is
a correct assumption.

For example, there are a number of compound words in Koine Greek which are
transparent. That is, the compound word has one semantic value (of several)
which is clearly linked to the combination of the semantic values of the
elements that make up the compound. Since both the compound and the elements
of the compound have semantic domains, the analysis of the etymology of these
words takes some care. But there are clearly examples of transparent
compounds. Some of these transparent compounds have been in use since Homer
and they are still transparent even in the Koine period.

So etymology is not a waste of time. The semantic history of a lexical token
can be quite informative. However, the predominance of 19th century
philology in much of the contemporary exegetical literature causes certain
abuses of etymology to prevail among those who read this literature. This
topic has been beat to death so there is no point in rehashing all of it here.

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

"I spent good years of my life that those beasts should be slaughtered humanely."

Ford Madox Ford

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