RE: (long) Entropy and "semantic domain"

From: Pete Phillips (
Date: Wed Jun 03 1998 - 03:29:01 EDT

Yes, Rolf, I hear what you are saying - you talk in psycholinguistics and I
translate into cognitive linguistics and in the end they are very similar
ideas. I don't think I have a problem with anything you are saying now. I
am simply wary of people saying that the lexeme denotes the referent rather
than the concept. With the tie up between one word-one concept you seemed
to be doing just this - rather than point to the concept and say that we
can express this concept with a variety of different lexemes each pertinent
to their own respective contexts, you seem to be pointing to the lexeme and
then leading onto the concept. Would it be better to start with the
concept and then begin to look at the context and work out which lexeme was
best. For example, your concept "bird" might be expressed by any of your
examples or e.g. "blackbird, penguin, ostrich" but if the context included
the categories "Antarctic", "black and white", "Emperor" you would want to
express the concept with "penguin" |(I hope! :>))
So in translating from Greek to English (or any other language) you need to
look at the concept referred to by the Greek lexeme and choose from this
concept pool the appropriate English lexeme. Hence, to use an example from
my research but one which may cause problems if any one takes it up, the
Greek lexeme LOGOS refers to a polysemous concept involving ideas, words,
communication, reasoning, numeracy, philosophy, wisdom......etc. Here the
idea of one word-one concept holds but is not too helpful for translation.
 All we can do is attempt to go from the lexeme to the concept and through
a close reading of the specific context hope to draw the right connection
to the right English concept and so produce from that concept pool the
correct English lexeme.


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

-----Original Message-----
From: Rolf Furuli []
Sent: Tuesday, June 02, 1998 5:03 PM
Subject: RE: (long) Entropy and "semantic domain"

Pete Philips wrote:

>I can't see how one word-one concept can stand really, Rolf. Are
>and "crimson" separate concepts or merely subcategories of the
>superordinate concept of "red"? If we accept one word-one concept aren't
>we just running down the denotation alley which surely de Saussure and
>about every linguist since has warned us against? Or are you just being
>coy with your word usage here?

Dear Pete,

I apprecieate your questions. As we both know, little is certain in
linguistics, because everywhere we meet exceptions to the rules we believe
we have established. My fist posting was a reaction to the view that we can
use an English word to describe a Greek concept which is not expressed by a
Greek lexeme but which is an umbrella-concept for several Greek lexemes.
When I ventured my one word-one concept claim and the examples with the
original and the modern presupposition pools, I stressed that this was an
*idealized* description which was used to drive home my point and give an
outline of the situation.

Inside the original PP there are of course many differences of
understanding, and we cannot for instance take for granted that the first
letter of John uses a particular word exactly as does Colossians. But this
does not alter the main point, namely that there is a heaven-wide
difference between the two presupposition pools. The "one word-one concept"
view was also meant as a general expression of how "words" are stored in
the mind, and was particularly applied to the situation of translation. I
hate all-propositions and do not claim this principle is universal, but it
works very well as a fundamental principle

If a close friend of yours posed the question: "What is the meaning of the
English word "bird"?", you would start to wonder. Because you both *know*
the word, there is no question about its meaning. A child or a foreigner
learning English could ask the question, and then you would explain its
meaning, engaging in an act of translation inside your own language. I
therefore exclusively combine "meaning" with translation, while words in
our own language induce a certain reaction inside our brain.
Quite a lot of data have accumulated because of psycholinguistic
experiments, indicating that the sounds or letters of such referential
words as "bird" are stored in the mind as "prototyp" concepts. i.e. we have
some notion of "birdiness", of something that is common to birds. So we
have no problem in applying "bird" both to the robin, the ostrich and
penguin, and even to Arkhaeopteryx. Because of the fuzzy borders or the
somewhat fluid nature of the concepts and of our marvelous ability of
imagination, we can use the words signalling the concepts in new contexts,
with an understanding on the part of those listening or reading even though
they have not seen the word in this context before. The concepts are
therefore not static but their edges may be extended, even to the point
where they may divide into two parts just as a cell.

Examples of one word-two concepts are found in words in the Semitic
languages where two different roots have fused after a loss of a laryngeal,
and there may also be other examples. The principle one word-one concept
works best with fully referential substantives, but I believe that even in
the case of "scarlet" and "crimson" will our brain differentiate between
two concepts because they are signalled by different sounds and different
letters. These concepts may be quite similar in important respects but
there may also be differences (the frequency of their use, sociolects etc.)
In any case is the principle very useful in bible translation when a study
Bible is being made. The question is simply: "Is it possible to find one
word in the target language which signas a concept which is similar to the
one signalled by the source word?" If there are two words in the source
language which can equal "scarlet" and "crimson" why not use "scarlet" and
"crimson" in english, and let the reader do the interpretation? (But, sut:
colours have different ranges both in Hebrew and Greek compared to

I do not think that the general principle that each word signals one
concept is at odds with de Saussure?s "langue" and "parole". To the
contrary, the signal effect of the word, and that it signals a concept in
the minds of people being parts of the linguistic system, accord very well
with his thoughts. In addition will the psycholingiustic view of
words-concepts help us create a model for lexical semantics which combines
the best both of the etymological model and the semantic domain model
without being trapped in their fallacies.


Rolf Furuli
lecturer in Semtitic languages
University of Oslo

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