the weblog of Alan Knox

Meaning in words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs?

Posted by on Feb 5, 2010 in NT Greek | Comments Off

This topic is not limited to NT Greek. However, those who are translating/interpreting NT Scriptures should remember that meaning is not primarily found at the word level.

Meaning is very much a matter that depends on the relations among words (or their combinations), and their grammatical structure. It is also dependent on the situation of the utterance. Semantics [the study of language meaning] is therefore concerned with more than the meanings of words. When semantics is discussed, all the things that contribute to meaning must be explored and not just the semantics of words. All language units that have meaning are of concern to semantics – words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and so forth, even the total document or narrative. From a practical point of view it seems rather impossible to start immediately with the largest units, although this is the actual starting point in language performance. A speaker or writer naturally has something to say, that is, a theme which is worked out by using paragraphs, sentences, words, and so on. In analyzing what a speaker or document actually intended to convey it is merely practical to begin with the smaller units because they are more manageable, but we must work up to the structure as a whole. (J.P. Louw, Semantics of New Testament Greek (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1982), p. 68)

How will Louw’s conclusion affect translation, interpretation, and teaching?