[b-greek] Re: Semantic Minimalism?

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (c.s.bartholomew@worldnet.att.net)
Date: Mon Jun 26 2000 - 00:40:59 EDT

on 06/25/00 4:27 PM, Mike Sangrey wrote:

> c.s.bartholomew@worldnet.att.net said:
>> Semantic Minimalism:
>> ***** The semantic contribution of any constituent to its context will
>> be the LEAST required by that context. *****
>> This applies to all kinds of constituents, not just words but also
>> markers for case, aspect, number, time, person, etc. and at higher
>> level phrase, clause and paragraph level constituents.
>> This principle seems to be well understood by some people in the realm
>> of lexical semantics but then they seem to completely forget it when
>> the get into the semantics of the case system or the verb aspectual
>> system or when discussing the used of relational words like
>> prepositions, particles, etc.
> Would 'pun' be a counter-example to Semantic Minimalism? It seems to me,
> though I do not have any examples ready at hand, that a context which turned
> on a hinge-pin of a pun would make this axiom not quite a silver bullet.
> Perhaps I don't quite understand the concept.


A double meaning does not serve as a counter example. If the context
requires a double meaning then that IS the LEAST meaning required by that
context. Take for example AIRW in John 1:29. This context may be understood
as requiring a double meaning for AIRW, the meaning of John the Baptist and
the meaning of John the author of the Gospel**. If the total context
(cultural, historical, textual, etc.) of John 1:29 requires a double meaning
for AIRW, then that is the least meaning required. The axiom is still

Louw & Nida* state:

"The meaning of a sign is the minimum of what that sign contributes to the
context. This represents the principle of entropy. . . in which the
significance of the context is maximized and the role of the individual
element is minimized."

Louw & Nida* are talking about lexical semantics here. I am taking their
principle and applying it to constituents in general.


Simon Dik*** demonstrates that some of what we call words, for example
prepositions like EN, can be classified functionally together with
grammatical features like the Greek Cases. This should be no surprise to
anyone since the prepositions over a period of time take over for cases
which are in decline. If EN takes over some of the functions of a Case, then
it only seems reasonable to see the Cases themselves as entities within the
semantic functional system. If we start breaking down the language system
functionally some of our old categories are going to fall apart. Our
system of dividing up lexical and grammatical questions into different
categories is going to suffer some strain and require some rethinking****.

I am making only one small little move beyond what Louw & Nida have said.
Stated as a proposition: If the principle of Semantic Minimalism is valid
for Lexical Semantics then it is valid for constituents in general, where a
constituent is understood to included everything from morphemes up to
paragraphs and even higher level constructs.

This is not a radical move really. But the implications of it will be
somewhat disturbing to people doing "fat semantics" within the traditional
disciplines of Greek grammar or lexical semantics.

This project is still under construction. But some progress has been made in
the last several years.


Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

 *J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Lexical Semantics of New Testament Greek,
Scholars Press, 1992, page 18 #7.

**See on John 1:29, D.A. Carson, John (Pillar, Eerdmans).

***Dik, Simon. The Theory of Functional Grammar (Part 1), Mouton de Gruyter

****Simon Dik's model of "The Lexicon" is quite different than anything I
have in my library.

B-Greek home page: http://metalab.unc.edu/bgreek
You are currently subscribed to b-greek as: [jwrobie@mindspring.com]
To unsubscribe, forward this message to leave-b-greek-327Q@franklin.oit.unc.edu
To subscribe, send a message to subscribe-b-greek@franklin.oit.unc.edu

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:36:30 EDT