Re: Source for the semantic range of ...

From: C. E. Core (
Date: Fri Aug 27 1999 - 19:17:14 EDT

As I see it, words begin as a capsule if you will to contain some information. As that capsule begins to be filled with more definitions (a word's semantic range) we must rely on the context to determine which of those meanings will do the least amount of damage to the context. If the word had only one meaning, the context essentially would not need to be considered because there is only one way for the word to be used. If we take a word and assign it a definition outside it's range, it should be considered a technical meaning and explained as such by the writer when he is using it in this particular way and not in the norm.

I liked the example you gave Rolf, and would like to use it in a discussion that I am having concurring MISEO.

Carl, concerning the definitions that a lexicon gives, do you think that they should always give a source for every entry. It seems that if they don't then they would not be accountable for their own bias interpretation. This is why I am looking for extra biblical source using MISEO as love less. I still need one if anyone has one.
in Christ -chris

Rolf Furuli wrote:

Mike Sangrey wrote:

>jwest@Highland.Net said:
>> Your prof was correct.  Semantic domains, etymology, and all those
>> little tidbits of trivia are interesting- but not useful in the final
>> analysis because words gain meaning only from context.
>> To isolate a word and assign it meaning is futile.
>There is more context to the text than the words proximate to
>the text.  For example, 'dog' might have special meaning to someone
>given a vivid experience they had when young.  In certain discourses,
>one would need to know about that experience in order to understand
>this person's use of the word.   This may be what you are referring
>to in your words, "tidbits of trivia".  However, by not knowing
>this little fact about 'dog', one could misinterpret the word;
>the discourse may be enough, maybe not.
>Another example, more central to B-Greek:  'Fox' in Jesus expression,
>"Tell that fox...". The semantic domain for 'fox' does NOT contain,
>as we westerners typically think, 'sly' and 'clever'.  To the Greek
>mind, 'fox' carried the connotation of 'scoundrel' and 'rascal'.
>In certain languages (English is probably included) one should
>NOT translate ALWPHX in Luke 13:32 as 'fox', 'scoundrel' would be
>much better.  (My emphasis is for clarity, not for strength of opinion.)
>In an exhaustive analysis, one would need to consider etymology
>and other history, culture, occurrences of the word within other
>discourses, and the impact of those discourses on the current
>focus of study.  There are likely other areas of consideration,
>but any area would carry a different weight which would need
>to be considered.  The immediately proximate discourse would always
>carry substantial weight--it must absolutely be considered--but it's
>not the only weight; it may even be that it doesn't carry the most
>To my mind it is much like a game of chess--during any moment of the
>game there exists a set of potential moves.  This set forms a tree;
>one move leading to another; and having selected a particular move,
>a whole substantial set of moves is no longer possible.  The best
>players "know" what potential moves to trim so they do not have
>to analyze the entire set.  The best interpreters "know" what
>avenues to analyze in order to gain an understanding of the text
>(or semantic) component under consideration.

Dear Mike,

Your observations are sound and complement Carl's comments. I would like to
add another dimension, which you hint at, namely the one of different
presupposition pools. When Jim claims that meaning almost exclusively is
connected with the context, he is right regarding the *English* mind.
Because we try to find the meaning of Greek words like MISEW and the clause
in which it stands, by the help of Greek-English lexica and a study of the
Greek context. The native Greek speaker did not need any books for this but
he or she could depend on the common presupposition pool of the native
speakers and would get an instant understanding of the meaning of a word.

If we take the Greek words MISEW  and ALWPHX, where is the "meaning"? Not
in the letters or the sounds they represent, and not in  any "context", but
rather in the *minds* of those having the same presupposition pool.  Just
the pronunciation of the *single* word MISEW or ALWPHX would trigger the
same *concept* in the minds of the people (I am speaking of simple words
signalling one concept), just as for us when we hear the single English
words "hatred" and "fox". We need no context to know the "meaning" of these
words. In my view, the context does not generate "meaning", but the
"meaning" is found in the mental concept signalled by the word. The role of
the context for those who had the original presupposition pool was to help
the readers or listeners to know which area of the concept that was made
visible or stressed by the author. (While I agree with your "dog-example",
I think such things only play a limited role in our understanding of the NT

For example, the "hate" mentioned in 1 John 3:15 (cf vv 11-14) evidently
includes negative feelings so strong that one could kill the one who was
hated. However, the "hate" mentioned in in Jude 1:23 evidently only
includes a strong negative feeling, and the "hate" mentioned in Luke 14:26
only includes a negative feeling toward something or someone in comparison
with something else. The difference is not one of "meaning" but rather one
of degree and quality (or visibility and stress),  and this is what is
conveyed by the context.

I believe that the extreme stress that is put on the context in modern
Lexical semantics is just as fallacious as the "context" that was used a
hundred years ago, namely, etymology. Studies of etymology and context can
be profitable when the limitations are taken into account. The problem when
either of these is viewed as the principal "player", is that attention is
directed away from where meaning really is - in the human mind- and
translations based on concepts rather than "kernels" are not encouraged. In
this way all the power rests with the translators, and the readers have no
way for testing the quality of a translation. The excercises described by
George are profitable and fine, but to help our students we should teach
them that they have to deal with two different persupposition pools and two
different situations of communication, and that "meaning" is not connected
with English glosses. If they are not aware of this, they may, by help of
the context, find fitting English glosses and at the same time they
overlook the "meaning"  because these glosses are confused with "meaning".


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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