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A New Methodology for Ascertaining the Semantic Potential of Biblical Hebrew Prepositions

From: Hebrew Studies
Volume 54, 2013
pp. 49-67 | 10.1353/hbr.2013.0012



Recently, there has been a mounting realization that lexical semantic analysis of Biblical Hebrew has, on the whole, both historically and characteristically lacked an explicit methodological framework that might facilitate the assessment of a lexeme’s range of meaning. This necessarily has resulted in lexica that are underpinned by implicit, intuitive-driven analyses. In light of this lacuna, the present article proposes a methodology for ascertaining the semantic potential of a particular Biblical Hebrew word class, which happens to showcase the versatility of meaning: prepositions. The aim of the proposal is not to provide a better method for the presentation of semantic content (i.e., lexicography), but rather, and more fundamentally, to explore the ways in which this content might more systematically be derived (i.e., lexicology). The proposal is anchored primarily in the cognitive linguistic enterprise and secondarily, in the theory of grammaticalization. Employing insights from the two fields, the author suggests that a replicable and rigorous assessment of a preposition’s semantic potential might be offered. In particular, such assessment would afford a well-endowed identification and explanation of the various elements comprising a target lexeme’s semantic network—both its constituent parts and the composite structure as a whole. Specifically, this would be accomplished through the provision of criteria and parameters aimed at determining sense-distinction, -primacy, and -contingency as well as the employment of alternate modes of network-viewing that allow, among other things, the dynamic nature of meaning to surface.

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