Re: Source for the semantic range of ...

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Aug 27 1999 - 23:21:58 EDT

At 8:17 PM -0400 8/27/99, Mike Sangrey wrote:
>I've replied privately to Rolf, since what I said in that email is
>more linguistic than B-Greek. However, there is one item that I
>think would be helpful to those on this list. So, I've attached
>that below.
> said:
>> I would like to add another dimension, which you hint at, namely the
>> one of different presupposition pools.
>> 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 one understands how a 'presuppositional pool' might work,
>then the method of learning vocabulary through memorization is
>humorously incomplete. One should form a more complex structure
>than a list of glosses. The structure would have to be a network
>of usages which are related in a variety of ways. I don't have
>the experience to come up with the list of those ways, though.
>Does anyone happen to know where this might be discussed?
>The building of the network would only be possible by diligent
>study of grammatical constructions which are semantically related.
>So, a lexicon does not quite cut it. Though a lexicon is a start;
>the ingesting of a complete lexical entry is needed to build the
>skeleton of the network in one's head. One still needs to go beyond
>that to think like a Greek.

This is true enough, although I think it's fair to say that few if any of
us ever make adequate use of an unabridged lexicon (we really tend to go to
a lexicon for a "quick fix" when stumped while reading--and we delude
ourselves into imagining that we'll find what we want in a little
hand-lexicon like the "little Liddell" or the almost useless Newman UBS
glossary that comes with UBS3 or UBS4. The unabridged LSJ-G for a major
word deserves lengthy study, and I think the same is true of BAGD and will
be even more true of the upcoming BDAG. And in response to Chris Core's
question: Yes, I do think that the better lexicons cite examples of every
usage which they catalogue and give a full listing in the opening pages of
the whole battery of authors from which their database has been drawn.

But the implication of what Mike is saying here (and I DO agree) is that
vocabulary acquisition is never complete but it grows with time and
continued reading of the entire corpus of relevant literature. And the GNT
is actually only a small portion of that relevant literature.

There's something else here that becomes evident if one diligently pays
attention to the citations from the LXX that are shown at the bottom of the
page on the UBS editions (but I think it's just as true of OT Hebrew
texts): literacy in antiquity is not just a matter of being ABLE to read;
rather it's a matter of familiarity with the whole body of classical texts
in a literary tradition. For example, Plato writes for people who know
Homer and Hesiod and the whole lyric tradition as well as the plays of the
tragedians and comedians; he cites them quite regularly, sometimes not
exactly in accord with the written texts that have survived, which suggests
that these works have been committed to memory and they condition the ways
in which words are understood. The same is true for Biblical writers: later
works resonate with the language and phraseology of earlier works that have
been committed to memory in large blocks. Literacy means something
different to the modern world which can easily consult written texts of
classics of one's tradition or even look at them on a computer screen from
a site halfway around the world. But when the phraseology of one's literary
tradition is carried within one's head, the impact of that tradition upon
the way one thinks and the way one uses words is immense--and the only way
to acquire something remotely comparable to that resonance of traditional
phraseology is to read a lot, to go on reading more, and to read again
until the phrases and syntactic constructions and the very sounds of words
juxtaposed ring in our mental ears. That, I think, is the nearest we can
get to the ancients' feeling for the meanings of words and constructions.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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