Re: Source for the semantic range of ...

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sat Aug 28 1999 - 06:31:31 EDT

Chris Core wrote:

> 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

Dear Chris,

A discussion about words and meaning is complicated by the fact that the
concepts signalled by the words are different as to complexity, and some
words signal more than one concept. In order to address the same matters we
need to discuss realatively simple words. Such a discussion is important
because it can illuminate the "power structure" of Bible translation, that
is, how much power the translators have and how it is used in relation to
the readers.

At the university of Oslo, Psycholinguistics has an important place in the
curriculum of Applied linguistics. There may be different viewpoints as to
the function of the mind, but there is general agreement (based on much
experimental evidence) that each word signals a concept (some signal more
than one) which is stored in the mind in different ways (word classes are
stored together, similar objects /table-chair-bed/are stored together
etc.). When a child learns a language, he or she learns these basic
concepts (this is your capsule), and this is what I call "meaning" in the
Psycholinguistic sense. The sounds and letters of a word have no meaning
(cf. de Saussures "langue" and "parole"). A concept in the mind is viewed
as having a core which is quite clear but becomes more fuzzy towards the
edges. The concept may change somewhat through learning, or, rather, we
learn more about the different uses and denotations of the word that
signals the concept, but the core is there when we learn our language.

I accept that the context is important for all work with a language.
However, the model of lexical semantics where it plays the primary role was
invented as a complement to the functional equivalence model of Bible
translation. I believe that idiomatic translation based on the two
mentioned models pruduce versions that that cover the interests of most
Bible readers. However, we should keep in mind that there also are
disadvantages with the idiomatic method that relates to its power
structure. To see this clearly, one has to make an in depth study of
"meaning". Such a study may start with the questions: Is it possible to
make a translation that to a greater degree conveys meaning by the help of
concepts rather than by the help of glosses that stem from the translators'
intepretation of the context? Is it possible to take some of the power from
the translators and transfer it to the readers?

I would like to illuminate the above by using KATABOLH as an example.
Concepts in the mind cannot be defined, they are *known* by persons having
the same presupposition pool. However, when we discuss a concept belonging
to a presupposition pool different from our own, we need a hint as to what
is in the core of the concept. Regarding KATABOLH, a hint is given by the
two first glosses in BAGD, namely "foundation" and "beginning". Based on
the translation model of functional equivalence and the lexical model of
the context's priority, Nida and Taber (E. A. Nida, C. R. Taber, 1974, "The
Theory and Practice of Translation", p 36) restructures KATALOLHS KOSMOU in
Ephesians 1:4 to the kernel "(God) creates the world." The NIV follows this
lead and translates the clause this way: "For he chose us in him before the
creation of the world." Most readers would get the impression that the
reference here is Genesis 1:1 and the creation of the earth and the
universe. However, KATABOLH does not refer to creation in the NT and an
alternative view is that it refers to begetting children (Hebrews 11:11,)
and that Ephesians 1:4 refer to the children of our first parents. If
meaning was conveyed by *concepts*, which can be achieved by using one
English signal (word) for each Greek concept to a much greater extent than
is done in idiomatic translations), power would be transferred to the
readers and they could do more of the interpretation. By using "foundation
of the world" in Ephesians 1:4, the readers could decide which of the two
alternative references was the right one, by using "the creation of the
world" only one reference is possible. This has also doctrinal
implications, because the NIV rendition imply predestination, but the
alternative is neutral as to this doctrine.

Today's English Version is something between an idiomatic translation and a
paraphrase. However, it renders the word KOSMOS as "world" in 94 per cent
of its occurrences although it denotes at least four different things
beside "adornment": "the universe", "the human family", "the human family
outside the church", and "the environment in which the human family lives".
This is a fine example of meaning conveyed by concepts. My point is not to
criticize the idiomatic translation model, but rather to argue that this
model has the same *kind* of weaknesses that James Barr found in the TDNT
and in the traditional use of etymology: A subjective theological
interpretaion of a word by help of the context and expressed by different
glosses is equated with "meaning". It is not that such interpretations
should not be done and that translations should not be made by help of
them, but rather that all should be aware of what is going on, and realize
that there are alternative ways to convey meaning.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo


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