RE: (long) Entropy and "semantic domain"

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Jun 04 1998 - 17:10:37 EDT

Pete Phillips wrote:

>Well yes and no. I find it hard to accept that concepts depend upon
>lexemes. It is possible to think of something without having a word for it
>- we say "I am lost for words" but we can still have something in our minds
>that we are trying to express. Concepts are cognitive processes sparked
>off by external or internal stimuli that happen whether there are lexemes
>known/present to express the concept or not. Part of the learning process
>is to assign the correct lexeme to the appropriate concept in the correct
>As for LOGOS, I don't agree that to translate it as *word* constantly is
>the correct thing to do but this isn't a discussion of LOGOS - we both know
>the threads on that are very very long and hopefully archived for a while.
>It would seem to me that the concept is a legitimate place to focus one's
>attention rather than the lexeme. Simply because a concept can be
>verbalized by more than one lexeme does not mean that all the lexemes are
>synonymous - e.g. the concept/cognitive category "bird" can be verbalized
>by "seagull", "penguin" or "parrot" - but these are not synonyms. Just so
>Johannine concept of LOGOS can be verbalized by a whole list of
>possibilities - not all of which are synonymous.
>Is this thread getting us anywhere?

Dear Pete,

I agree it is time to terminate the thread; just a few remarks. As any
lexicon tells, the word "concept" can be used in different ways. I agree we
can have notions and vague inclinations in our mind regarding things, and
these can of course be called "concepts". My point has been, however,
that, as respects lexical semantics, such rather unclear notions do not
deserve the designation "concepts". Think of a child. He or she learns
through "objects", through observation of things and acts. The child points
to a pigeon, and the mother says "bird", and when this is repeated, the
child learns to associate "bird" with this object. Later more objects are
called "bird" and gradually a concept evolves.

A small child may be hungry, and this is unpleasant, but this feeling is
hardly a concept. The child instinctively cries, and it is fed, but it«s
cries are not language. Later it learns that the sounds "hungry" is
associated with the unpleasant situation; every time the child says
"hungry", it is fed. As time goes by, the child learns more and more words
by this natural way: object/situation --> word --> concept, and when it
becomes mature, the concepts also have become mature. I cannot imagine that
a child at any stage in his or her development starts to invent concepts
and then searches for words and references to these concepts; it always
works the other way.

In formal semantics and mathematics, letters and signs are used to
symbolize abstract notions or relationships between parts of clauses or
between numbers, and equations are often used. These symbols are in
principle equivalent to words, and they are created AFTER the mind has
figured out the abstract relationships that they symbolize. I will however
claim that neither in these cases do we start with the concepts, because
the reason why the abstract notions are thought of, is that the persons
already have a vocabulary which make them able to do more abstract
thinking. So the abstract relationships or functions are not new concepts
in the sense of lexical semantics, but rather represent relationships
between concepts which already are in their mind, though being of a higher

We can also illustrate this by everyday situations. The Norwegian word
"dag" is equivalent to the English "day". We also have the word "dogn"
referring to a day and a night (24 hours), but such a word is lacking in
English. If we now coined a new English word signifying 24 hours, we have
started with a "concept" and choosen a word for it, but still concepts are
not independent of words, because the new word signalling this concept is
formed because of the existence of other words (24 hours and day and
night). I can simply not comprehend how thinking can occur in a systematic
way at all if we do not already have a language consisting of words. It
seems to me that just as our throut is "designed" for language in sharp
contrast to the throats of the monkeys and the apes, so is our brain
programmed from birth to master a language and a grammar (just as Chomsky
has argued). My conclusion, therefore, regarding thinking and language is
that "in the beginning was the word (or reference).

As to Silva, I read all his books with great interest, and find most of his
insights very valuable. However, I think Clay is right when he said that
the model I defend is very far from Silva`s. While Silva also uses a
triangle, with "sense" on the top, I think this is quite far from my
"concept". Something illustrating this (if I understand him correctly) is
found on p 122 of his "Biblical Words & their Meaning" where he discusses
"sense": "The point is that the particular SENSES of PNEUMA and YUCH in
view (the immaterial aspect of man)) are ALWAYS synonymous /a footnote says
that "the adjective SYNONYMOUS is used when the speaker wishes to deny the
existence of any difference" /. More precisely, it is always true that the
relationship between these SENSES or PNEUMA and YUCH is of such a nature
that the words may be used interchangeably in SOME contexts."

This illustrates that Silva«s model intruduces huge amounts of theology
into lexical semantics. (Is this better than what is done in theTDNT?)
While my term "concept" is connected with the minds of living people inside
the same PP, Silva`s "sense" is connected with the USE of words, as this
use is understood by the 20th century interpreter. James Barr ("Semantics
of Biblical Language", 1975 p 13 ) has pointed out that the Hebrew NEFESH
in the OT never is identical with the Greek immortal soul but always is
mortal. Whether this is true for the YUCH of the NT is open for discussion,
but it is really bad when ONE of the viewpoints is introduced into lexical
semantics as the truth, as does Silva. In addition do I object strongly to
the claim that PNEUMA and YUCH are synonymous in ANY context.

And lastly, the word "context", what is it? Is the word referential? Is it
possible to define it? Are there any laws regarding the use of "context" in
lexical semantics? How can it be explained that "the context does not
merely help us understand meaning - it virtually MAKES meaning" as Silva
says (p 139)? It seems to me that the word "context" in Silva`s model is
nothing but the the subjective interpretation of the commentator (in
disguise). It has its legitimate place in in commentaries and other
interpretative works but must be used with the greatest caution in lexical
semantics. Let me quote Peter Newmark, whose book "A Textbook of
Translation",1988, p 36, was awarded the British Association of Applied
Linguistics prize that year: "Many translators say you should never
translate words, you translate sentences or ideas or messages. I think they
are fooling themselves. The SL/source language/ texts consist of words,
that is all that is there, on the page."


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:45 EDT