These Do What Now? A Comparison of Hebrew Lexica (Part 3)

This is the third post in our series discussing Hebrew lexica.  See also Part 1 and Part 2.

The third lexicon in our comparative study of “the big three” is the more recent work The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew edited by David J.A. Clines.  Clines (and others) began work on this lexicon in 1988 and just recently finished the final volume in 2011.  DCH consists of a whopping eight volumes (¡Ay, caramba!) and is self-described as “an entirely new work” as it is not based on the work of prior lexica (though its authors are of course familiar with prior lexical works).

Similar to HALOT, DCH aims at a user-friendly format and organizes words alphabetically with the root form of verbs being used as headwords.  One welcome change is DCH’s use of gender-inclusive language.  Furthermore, two distinguishing characteristics set DCH apart from other lexica, the first distinguishing characteristic being the range of texts included in its source material.  DCH is unlike other Hebrew lexica in that it does not restricts its corpus to the Old Testament, nor does it privilege evidence provided in the Old Testament, but rather it examines all extant texts available.  Instead of treating Biblical Hebrew as its own special language, DCH treats “Classical Hebrew” like any other language.  The corpora of Classical Hebrew includes the Hebrew Bible (excluding Aramaic), Ben Sira, Qumran manuscripts (Dead Sea Scrolls) and related texts, and inscriptions and other occasional texts.  These texts span from the earliest occurrences of ancient Hebrew up to 200 CE.  While non-biblical texts make up 15% of the source material, biblical texts still make up 85%.

The second differentiating characteristic of DCH that is also notably different from previous lexica is its basis in modern linguistics.  Its theoretical framework emphasizes the sentence over individual words and thus the focus is not so much on “meanings” but rather on the various “patterns and combinations in which words are used” (pg. 15 of introduction).  Unlike BDB and HALOT which studies the Hebrew language as a diachronic system, DCH studies the classical Hebrew language “as if it were a synchronic system” (pg. 16).  This means that no historical information was sought by the authors nor was any provided in the dictionary; no cognate languages have been utilized and no theoretical etymologies have been proposed. This is perhaps the most notable difference between DCH and its predecessors as it does not make use of philology and cognate languages since it does not seek to trace the development of a word’s meaning over time.  This is largely due to the uncertainty with which the texts have been dated.  Thus DCH prefers to approach its study of classical Hebrew as a description of the language at a particular point in time.

The different senses of words are not organized in the same way as BDB and HALOT.  The senses are instead listed by frequency, with the sense that occurs most often listed first. Again, this is so that no historic relationship is postulated with different senses of the Hebrew word. The minds behind DCH do not assume that the most concrete senses of a word provide the base for the more abstract senses.  We’ll discuss this more in our next post on the layout of articles in each lexica.

Finally, a relationship that HALOT and BDB do not take into account is what DCH calls “paradigmatic” relationships between words which DCH has organized in a list of synonyms and antonyms for each headword. By providing synonyms and antonyms the authors of DCH move one step closer to creating the semantic map of Hebrew.  Since this is based on usage and not historical relationships, this information is likely to provide a more accurate picture of the Biblical Hebrew users mental lexicon.

8 thoughts on “These Do What Now? A Comparison of Hebrew Lexica (Part 3)

  1. lylelife

    Personally, I think a lot of DCH’s touted strengths are more like weaknesses.

    Concerning gender-neutrality, see http://www.bible-researcher.com/clines.html.

    As for their inclusion of other stages of ancient Hebrew, I don’t really find this helpful as Biblical Hebrew represents an era of this language that fits in a nice box, and to jam other “related” languages/stages into it I think has the potential to skew one’s lexical semantic analysis.

    Overall, I get the feeling (not saying it’s legit or well-founded…just personal intuition) that these cases of gender and textual inclusivity are more based on desires to be “modern” or “with it” (e.g. with textual inclusiveness one can appear to not have a religious bias in one’s analysis of a language, and even tout oneself as being more “objective” to the evidence at hand, unswayed by ulterior motives).

    On their basis in “modern” linguistics, Christo (2006:94) responds:

    “In the light of the insights provided by structuralist approaches to the study of language, such an approach to the study of lexical meaning can only be welcomed. However, by merely listing the usages of lexemes, such a work provides data that might be useful to eventually determine the meaning of lexemes, but it does not necessarily give any insight into the lexical meaning of BH expressions themselves. Furthermore, one might argue that exhaustively listing, for example, the subjects, objects and prepositions that may be in a syntagmatic relationship with a verb without considering the semantic features of these constituents and/or whether they are obligatory or optional in terms of the valency of the verb, may give rise to data that are of little or no help for the lexical semanticist.”

    Larger concerns/weaknesses include:

    • How are all these senses identified? Inuition? Where is the strong basis in modern linguistics?
    • Why arrange them according to frequency? What is the danger in positing a diachronic plotting?
    • Why are we still relying on English glosses—especially given the fact that DCH claims to be founded on principles of modern linguistics? (Have they never read Barr? Surely they have!)

    Imbayarwo (2008:131-141) is an excellent dissertation that offers invaluable assessments of the lexica you’ve been reviewing. The cited pages in the previous sentence are in reference to Imbayarwo’s appraisal of DCH. I can send you this .pdf if you like.

    Cited:

    Van der Merwe, Christo (2006), “Biblical Hebrew Lexicology: a Cognitive Linguistic Perspective” Kleine Untersuchungen zur Sprache des Alten Testaments und seiner Umwelt 6, 87-112.

    Imbayarwo, Taurai (2008), “A Biblical Hebrew Lexicon for Translators Based on Recent Developments in Theoretical Lexicography” (PhD Diss; University of Stellenbosch).

    Reply
    1. jeveretparks

      Thanks for your comment Chris. It is very greatly appreciated. I’m glad to have others around to perk my ears to the things that I have missed.

      I would like to share one thing that Dr. Marshall thought in regard to your quote from Christo. He said that presenting all of the subjects, objects, etc. that occur with a verb as well as all the other structural material may be like what is found in a text critical apparatus in a critical edition of a text. All of the data may not have been used by the author to make the decision, but the data is presented because other users may need/want different data to make their decision. This may not have been what DCH had in mind, but I think that they end up with a strength. DCH may not have utilized the data strictly speaking, but never the less the data is now gathered and available for other lexicographers. Others can now come along side DCH and fill in the weak points that it has because of their work.

      Reply
      1. lylelife

        Hmmm, I think I see your/Dr. Marshall’s point. On this note, though, advances in BH electronic tools might make this type of dictionary a redundantly cumbersome tool to work with. Here’s what Christo (2006:94) says, following the quote I gave above:

        If some of the electronic BH linguistic databases in which a distinction is made between complements and adjuncts that are currently being developed become commercially available, it would be possible for lexical semanticists to compile, compare and analyze relevant data much more efficiently – a development that might leave a dictionary such as the DCH obsolete.”

        If this were the case, that would of course stink because of all the time and effort put into its composition, but I wonder how Clines et al. did not anticipate this.

        One last point, some of my questions aimed at demonstrating some potential weaknesses of DCH may not be fair. I was reminded that DCH is a unique beast with unique aims and ends. Take it from Clines (1993:26) himself:

        “By design, then, this new dictionary systematically deflects attention from the word to the larger units of meaning… Its function is not primarily to tell the user the meaning of words. It has not been written in order to help readers of the Hebrew texts to discover how to translate those texts. It would indeed be a very inconvenient way of studying a Hebrew text to look up the meanings of all the words in this large and exhaustive work. Rather the primary function of this dictionary is to organize and rationalize the available data about Hebrew words, enabling readers to make their own decisions about the meaning of words in the light of all the evidence, which has been arranged in such a way as to make that task feasible… a dictionary for the age should be short on authority and prescription and long on reader involvement, open-endedness and uncertainty… so we have consistently regarded our task as providing and organizing the data that others will use as they think best, rather than imposing our own views as to what is significant.”

        Sorry, I know that was long, but it cuts to the heart of what they intend to do with their “dictionary” and what a user should expect.

        Anyways, thanks for this discussion.

  2. Jeremy

    “By design, then, this new dictionary systematically deflects attention from the word to the larger units of meaning… Its function is not primarily to tell the user the meaning of words. It has not been written in order to help readers of the Hebrew texts to discover how to translate those texts. It would indeed be a very inconvenient way of studying a Hebrew text to look up the meanings of all the words in this large and exhaustive work. Rather the primary function of this dictionary is to organize and rationalize the available data about Hebrew words, enabling readers to make their own decisions about the meaning of words in the light of all the evidence, which has been arranged in such a way as to make that task feasible… a dictionary for the age should be short on authority and prescription and long on reader involvement, open-endedness and uncertainty… so we have consistently regarded our task as providing and organizing the data that others will use as they think best, rather than imposing our own views as to what is significant.”

    This is a laudable goal and fits within Clines’s constructivist views of learning with which I have a lot of sympathy. However, I think there is a major problem in that this is simply not the way that people use dictionaries. A good read on this subject is the Oxford Guide to Practical Lexicography. I think it’s an important book, or at least reading in practical lexicography is important for scholars of Biblical Hebrew because time and again we conflate lexicography and lexical semantics. But, in general, people who use dictionaries want it to tell the what words mean, not to give them the materials to decide for themselves. And, people want to have to read as little as possible of entry to get at the meaning. If I had to guess, I would say that the happiest students of introductory to intermediate Biblical Hebrew are probably the ones that use CHALOT.

    Reply
    1. lylelife

      “time and again we conflate lexicography and lexical semantics”

      Yes, and isn’t this the difference between lexicography and lexicology?

      Reply
      1. Jeremy

        Yes. It’s an important, though often forgotten, distinction. Of course, all of this is not to say that lexical semantics is unimportant for making a lexicon. It’s more to say that lexicons should be influenced by work in lexical semantics, but theory should be incorporated in such a way that the needs of the user are kept in mind.

  3. Jessica Parks

    Really appreciate y’all’s comments! Thanks for your input – it has been really helpful. I am just now reading Barr (I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to pick it up and read).

    Reply

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