Re: etymology and semantic domains

From: Edgar Foster (
Date: Wed Apr 22 1998 - 10:10:56 EDT

---"James P. Ware" <> wrote:

> Rolf,
> Thanks for your helpful posting on semantic domain. I was a bit
> that you seemed to contrast etymology and semantic domain as if they
> 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
> 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
> word has a core meaning (Grundbedeutung) which generally follows its
> etymology, and that out of this core meaning each word develops a
> range of particular meanings, and that it is the function of the
> 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?

Dear James,

I agree wholeheartedly with your view, and I thank you for expressing
in German, what I have been trying to form in my mind in English.
Words DO seem to have a core meaning connected with their etymology.
Of course, semantic domain is imperative and we must also avoid the
etymology fallacy, yet I don't think we can totally dismiss etymology.

Commentator G.J. Wenham says that both the diachronic and synchronic
approach are a conditio sine qua non (my paraphrase). But synchrony
akes precedence over diachrony. A case in point is QEO which
etymologically means "I run." We would be mistaken, I think, if we
tried to use this etymology to translate John 1:1. Conversely, the
etymology of El Shaddai may help us to better understand Gen. 17:1 in
the OT and LXX or Rev. 19:6.

At any rate, synchrony should supersede diachrony.


E. Foster

L-R College
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