RE: "semantic domain"

From: Pete Phillips (
Date: Mon Jun 01 1998 - 04:49:32 EDT

Let me get this right: you are suggesting that in Greek there is a
superordinate term to cover all aspects of love and that FILOS, STORGE and
FILOSTORGIA (why limit it to these - how about AGAPH and EROS and other
love/like concepts?) are subcategories of this superordinate. You are then
suggesting that while English has the superordinate "Love" to cover all its
own subcategories, Greek does not have a lexeme to act as a symbol of the
superordinate category? If this is the case, does it not suggest that
Greek did not have the superordinate category at all in the first place.
 If Greeks had no way of conceptualizing the (superordinate) concept (i.e.
a lexeme) then it would seem that the concept is non-existent.

We would then be forced back to the idea that what we do have is a series
of overlapping semantic domains, or overlapping categories where the
category distinctions blur into one another - e.g. FILOS and EROS seem to
share more attributes than do EROS and AGAPH - the category boundaries are
therefore more blurred between FILOS and EROS than between EROS and AGAPH.
 In English this series of overlapping categories is to some extent
replaced by the superordinate category "love". (This might suggest
something about Greek conceptual awareness and English-speakers conceptual

I wonder whether we will ever get to the heart of this. We're all talking
different scripts - I am using cognitive linguistics, you
psycholinguistics, others other linguistics. It's almost as if we need a
universal translator to understand our own use of a common language!!! :>)

Pete Phillips,
Lecturer in NT,
Cliff College, Calver, Derbyshire, UK
Tel: 01246 582321
Fax: 01246 583739

-----Original Message-----
From: Edgar Foster []
Sent: Friday, May 29, 1998 6:01 PM
To: Carl W. Conrad
Cc: Nicholas Corduan;
Subject: Re: (longish) Entropy and "semantic domain"

---"Carl W. Conrad" <>


Edgar Foster wrote:

> >I believe that the former is true. In Greek, there is **one concept**
of **love** and **knowledge** as well. Love is a universal concept, so
it is erroneous to make this an English only phenomenon. Knowledge is
expressed by such Greek words as GNWSIS or EPIGNWSIS (as well as
OIDA). Think also of the word "epistemology." These words all deal
with the concept of knowledge, but express it in differing ways. the
same can be said for love (which is expressed by agape, eros, storge,

>>You may very well believe this, Edgar, but I rather suspect that
this is going to be a matter on which you'll find considerable
difference of opinion.<<

I agree, Carl. I don't know of many academic issues in which one finds
a unanimous consensus. At least, not when the parties in questions
have a choice in the matter. ;-)

>>My own view is--both with regard to "knowledge"and with regard to
"love"--that the words used may overlap to some extent in meaning in
Greek, but that they are significantly different one from another and
that it is perilous to make any un-nuanced equation of the words as
pointing to a single universal concept.<<

I don't think that either Black, Silva (who also espouses the
conceptual view), or myself would say that there is "any un-nuanced
equation of the words" which point to a "single universal concept."

I would much rather say that FILIA, AGAPH, and FILOSTORGIA are three,
differentiated sub-concepts of love.

>>I wouldn't want to get embroiled in a medieval scholastic argument
over "Nominalist" and "Realist" conceptions of the referents of these
words groups, but although I do believe in the essential unitary
character of human nature, I also think that human beings understand
their nature in terms of their own cultural traditions and most
particularly in terms of the traditions underlying their word-usage.
If our recent (and almost cyclically re-appearing) discussions of the
usage of FILEW and AGAPAW in John 21 are any indication, I rather
doubt you're going to find a consensus even among B-Greek participants
on any universal concept of love--at least so far as it finds
expression in linguistic usage in any particular human tradition, or
more specifically in Koine Greek.<<

I don't paint myself as either a "Nominalist" or a "Realist," but I do
think that using these contrasts helps to explain what I'm trying to
articulate here. In Platonic terms, I would say that love is the EIKON
(the universal), but the "subconcepts [words expressing the universal]
are SKIA (i.e., particulars).

Without extrapolating the Platonic notion of the "real" Ideas versus
the imperfect, transitory "reflections," let me just say that IMHO NT
"love" is **particularized** in varying ways via love of principle
(AGAPH); love of family (FILOSTORGIA); love of friends (FILIA); and
love of humankind (FILANQRWPIA). We could also include FILARGURIA
(love of money) and EROS (erotic love), but the principle is the same.

If I were to draw a diagram, love would be the pinnacle. The other
types of "love" would branch out from the hierarchical concept of
LOVE. This is not to say that I make no distinctions between AGAPH and
FILIA. I do, as shown above. It is clear to me, however, that the
varying Greek words used in the Bible are all describing the same
concept. Unless context dictates otherwise, AGAPH and FILIA could very
well be interchangeable. This is clearly demonstrated by a synchronic
study of AGAPH and FILIA. Overall, I would **not** flatten the
distinctions between the words, however.

I know this is a little philosophizing and sounds a bit theoretical.
On the scientific side, there is a great essay in DA Black's book
_Linguistics and NT Interpretation_ by Parunak which offers scientific
evidence for the views I've expressed here. My time is running out, so
off I fly!


Edgar Foster

Lenoir-Rhyne College

Classics Major

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