Lexical meaning in biblical Hebrew and cognitive semantics : a case study

Van der Merwe, Christo H. J. (2006)

The original publication is available at http://www.bsw.org/Biblica/Vol-87-2006/Lexical-Meaning-In-Biblical-Hebrew-And-Cognitive-Semantics-A-Case-Study/97/


In a recent survey of Biblical Hebrew lexica(l), it was pointed out that the theoretical frames of reference underlying both the older classics such as Brown-Driver-Briggs (=BDB)(2) and Koehler and Baumgartner (=KB)e), as well as the more recent Dictionary of Classical Hebrew ( =DCH) (4), can be called into question(S). Two weaknesses were highlighted. Firstly, the layout and structure of these dictionaries reflect very little of the wealth of insights provided by theoretical lexicography (i.e. the theoretical reflection about the practice of dictionary making) and dictionary criticism in recent years (6). Secondly, the semantic model(s) underlying available Biblical Hebrew dictionaries are either outdated (in the case ofBDB and KB), or represent a very narrow and inadequate version of what modern linguistics has to offer for Biblical Hebrew lexicology (in the case ofDCH). If one considers, even in very broad terms, recent developments in the field of semantics, in particular cognitive semantics, the shortcomings of bilingual Biblical Hebrew-English dictionaries that provide mere translation glosses (in the case of BDB and KB), or glosses supplemented with lists of the systematic syntagmatic distribution of lexical items (in the case of Clines) soon become evident. For example, if one accepts the insights about the ways in which humans across languages use linguistic terms to categorize their world, and the cultural embedment of languages' lexical stock, a new perspective emerges on the type of information that is indispensable in a bilingual dictionary of which the source and target languages are remote in time and space. However, although cognitive semantics provides promising new perspectives on the notion of "lexical meaning", it does not present - as any other linguistic theory does - a ready-made model that can merely be applied to an ancient language like Biblical Hebrew. Issues that are still debated, for example, are the exact role that syntactic and encyclopedic information should play in the analysis and interpretation of lexical items.

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