TIP of the day: Plain meaning/ analytic reading - a word for word translation? I hope not.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Feb 6 2016 5:30 PM

Bear with me as I do not read Hebrew or Greek and I've been unable to find resources with the examples I need.

1. Logos and most dictionaries are built around lemma which many of us equate with "word". But depending on how you define word, it's not that simple. See for example a page from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. "Aaron's beard" may have an etymology based on two words but when it is referring to the plant it is a single lexical unit - sometimes called a polyword or multi-word unit.

2. Wikipedia lists the following types of lexical items:


Types of lexical items

Common types of lexical items/chunks include[1]

  1. Words, e.g. cat, tree
  2. Parts of words, e.g. -s in trees, -er in worker, non- in nondescript, -est in loudest
  3. Phrasal verbs, e.g. put off or get out
  4. Polywords, e.g. by the way, inside out
  5. Collocations, e.g. motor vehicle, absolutely convinced.
  6. Institutionalized utterances, e.g. I'll get it, We'll see, That'll do, If I were you, Would you like a cup of coffee?
  7. Idioms, e.g. break a leg, was one whale of a, a bitter pill to swallow
  8. Sayings, e.g. The early bird gets the worm, The devil is in the details
  9. Sentence frames and heads, e.g. That is not as...as you think, The problem was
  10. Text frames, e.g., In this paper we explore...; Firstly...; Secondly...; Finally ....

An associated concept is that of noun-modifier semantic relations, wherein certain word pairings have a standard interpretation. For example, the phrase cold virus is generally understood to refer to the virus that causes a cold, rather than to a virus that is cold.

For most of us until we start learning foreign languages are only aware of a few of these: words, morphemes (meaningful parts of words), phrasal verbs, idioms and sayings. But in our native language we use these various lexical items without being aware of them. Part of analytical reading is being aware of when you group words together to provide a meaning rather than treating the words individually. Why? Because like figurative language, multi-word lexical units may affect the meaning - "Aaron's beard" (plant) vs. Aaron's beard (person's facial hair) is a clear example.

3. An example of an idiom is "God's long nose" - usually translated something like "slow to anger" is a case where taking the words literally produces a sentence that you are rather certain you have misread. But idioms can be more subtle.

4. One can easily read the Gospels and fail to note that there are separate formulas for introducing a quotation and introducing an pesher interpretation. And if we miss the distinction, we miss a major clue as to how Jesus and his disciples interpreted Scripture.

5. Collocations groups of words that occur together frequently and usually in the the same order (think "cake and ice cream"). Pharisees and Sadducees is an example from the Gospels. If the order were reversed, the reversal would carry linguistic meaning. Unfortunately, the Concordance tool is still to primitive to identify collations/n-grams for us. We must note and test them through searches.

So until I read the "God's long nose" translation, I'll insist that I may have read literal translations but I haven't read word-by-word translations.


Two other ways that "lexical chunks" have be categorized.

From Don’t Let’s Try to Break this Down: Teasing Apart Lexical Chunks

One of the most thorough and influential such categorizations is that of Nattinger (1980), adapted from Becker (1975). The Nattinger/Becker categories, ordered by phrase length from shortest to longest are described below.

  1. Polywords: Small groups of words that function the same way a single word does. Examples that fall into this category include phrasal verbs (wake up, turn off), slang (jump the gun, over the moon), and euphemisms (go to the bathroom, made redundant).
  2. Phrasal Constraints: Short phrases with more variability than polywords, but whose variability is generally constrained to a small set of words, as in: two o’clock, twelve o’clock, etc.
  3. Deictic Locutions: Short to medium-length phrases which serve as pragmatic indicators that help direct the flow of conversation. These include phrases like: by the way, on the other hand, for what it’s worth, and so forth.
  4. Sentence Builders: Long, highly variable phrases (up to sentence length) which provide a framework for expressing an idea. They tend to have gaps which can be filled in with a large number of words, for example: A is the new B or the X-er the Y-er.
  5. Situational Utterances: Long phrases, usually of sentence length, which are appropriate to very particular situations such as: don’t worry about it, pleased to meet you, have a good trip.
  6. Verbatim Texts: Memorized texts of any length - quotations, poems, song lyrics, parts of novels, etc.

. . .

Another important categorical definition is that of Lewis, who divides chunks into four categories, summarized below.

  1. Words and Polywords: Words and short, idiomatic groups of words, e.g. if you please, give up
  2. Collocations: Groups of words that occur together frequently, such as: stormy weather, slippery slope, etc.
  3. Institutionalized Utterances: Medium to sentence-length phrases which tend to be highly idiomatic with low variability. They are mainly used in spoken discourse and stored as wholes in memory. Example include phrases like: gotta go, what do you mean and less ‘phrase-like’ chunks such as if I were you, I’d....
  4. Sentence Frames and Heads: Quite variable in terms of length, these chunks generally help structure written discourse, e.g. sequencers like firstly, ..., secondly, ... , phrases like as mentioned above, and even longer frames which provide structure for an entire text.

. . .

Weinert (1995) offers the following criteria for identifying lexical chunks, or as she terms them, formulaic language:

  1. Phonological coherence: lexical chunks are spoken without hesitations.The intonation contour is smooth.
  2. Greater length and complexity of sequence as compared to other output
  3. Non-productive use of rules underlying a sequence
  4. Community-wide use of a sequence
  5. Idiosyncratic/inappropriate uses of sequences (relating specifically to learnerlanguage)
  6. Situational dependence: certain chunks are used only in certain situations.
  7. Frequency and invariance in form

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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