etymology and semantic domains

From: James P. Ware (
Date: Wed Apr 22 1998 - 09:04:41 EDT


Thanks for your helpful posting on semantic domain. I was a bit surprised
that you seemed to contrast etymology and semantic domain as if they were
the subject matter of two incompatible approaches. Could you clarify what
you mean here? Is not the semantic domain that a word possesses
determined in large measure by its etymology? This is the assumption of
J.H.H. Schmidt's magisterial Synonymik der griechischen Sprache, and yet
no one who reads him carefully can fail to se that he is working with the
concept of semantic domain, although of course the terminology was
unavailable to him. My own rough-and-ready approach assumes that every
word has a core meaning (Grundbedeutung) 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. Attention to a word's etymology is, in my view, just as
crucial as attention to the semantic map and contextual factors. In
fact, to my mind, they are inextricably intertwined. Am I misstepping
anywhere with such an approach, in your view?

Jim Ware

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