Friday, January 6, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Two which are Four

Wait, did you think the blog was over last week?  I have promises to keep, like proving WHY Septuagint is such a bad translation.  It will feed into the fourth part of the blog, which will begin in nearly 7 months.
The scientific basis for what makes a correct translation or an accurate commentary is a linguistic theory called Sapir-Whorf.  I will abbreviate it SWLT.
When I say “theory”, I am using the scientific meaning of the word.  A scientific theory is an hypothesis that has undergone testing by experiment or observation and has held up under criticism from experts in the field, or has benefited from other sciences to develop modifications that lead to acceptance. 
A scientific theory is a fact.  It may undergo modification as other sciences discover new facts that affect it.  The only way to disprove it is through valid scientific results that contradict it.
The basic concept of SWLT has two rules which I believe are actually four. 
The initial two rules say:
1)  Cultures use language to express themselves and also build themselves around the expressions they use in that language.
2)  Grammar encodes cultural nuances that affect the connotations of words in ways different from their base meaning.
My proposed third rule is that context is king.  The context of the discussion determines the accurate meanings of words; thus the meaning of my use of theory above in the context of science means it cannot mean simply an idea, guess, or untested hypothesis.  What’s more, culture is part of the context.  We all know that Americans don’t react the same way to “bloody” that the British do, even when it’s used in its context as a harsh or even obscene adjective.  And “culture” refers to a specific period in history.  We may think of “buxom” as meaning bosomy, and it shows up with that  meaning  in Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels written  in the early 20th century.   But in the 1600s John Milton thought of it as “flexible” and used it that way in Paradise Lost.
Finally, I believe that expression is shaped by the context of its setting.  By which I mean that material transmitted orally has a different format and impact than material transmitted in writing.  I think of this as the “zeroth” law, like the “zeroth” law of thermodynamics, because the same phrase will be set into a context of a different format, impact, and meaning in orally transmitted material than if it is being transmitted in writing.  Everything else may function the same – the meanings of the words, the nuances of the grammar, the cultural context – but the difference of setting may determine how and where the phrase transmits, to whom, and over what period of time, as well as the meaning of the entire expression.
This last issue will take the most wording to explain because it’s a new idea, not just to me, but also to linguistics and so the best I can do will be to give examples.  But it underlies material at the end of this blog so I will do my best to convince you that it’s a fact, not an interpretation.

But the devil is in the details....
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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