Category Archives: Linguistics

SBL 2014 Interviews

SBL 2014 was great and I had the opportunity to interview three scholars for MAP.

Dr. Yael Avrahami is the author of the award-winning book Senses of Scripture: Sensory Perception in the Hebrew Bible. In our discussion, she addresses why the 5 senses alone don’t hold up in the epistemologies of the Hebrew Bible. Yael is also one of the creators of Hendrickson’s new Reader’s Hebrew Bible.

Dr. Bob Bascom is a Hebrew Bible scholar and Bible translator. Bob is a friend who has taught me a lot about life and love. Literally. He’s a cognitive linguist who can tell you about love in the brain and what kind of love it is. And he does here in the interview.

Dr. Chip Hardy has recently completed his PhD at the University of Chicago on the diachronic development of biblical Hebrew prepositions. In our discussion, he lays out the basic principles of grammaticalization theory.



Case-frames in Logos 6 #Logos6

First of all, Joel told me that I should post here because no one reads my blog. And that’s not very nice. But, he’s probably right. And, once I changed his blog’s tagline to “Where Joel incessantly brain vomits nonsense into cyberspace” for an entire day without him noticing while letting everyone else in on the gag.  So I suppose we’re even.

At any rate, I’m cross posting. I’ve written a post on my personal blog about what I’ve been up to for the past year, namely working on the new case-frames feature in Logos 6. Here’s a teaser and you can read the rest HERE:

Rick has already posted some of his favorite features in Logos 6. So, I thought I’d take some time to post on my favorite feature in Logos 6 while also mimicking his post title. Incidentally, I’m biased because I worked on the Hebrew data for this project. Paul Danove (whose work really inspired this feature) provided initial Greek data, and Mike Aubrey continued that work.

Case-frames provide a new way of exploring meaning within Logos 6. It may not be apparent on first glance how they do this. Here I will work from an English example to an original language example to demonstrate how this works.

Consider an English verb like “return.” This verb can have several different meanings as in the following sentences:

  1. He returned home.
  2. He returned the donkey to its pen.

In the first case, we might paraphrase “return” as “go back”: “He went back home.” In the second, we might somewhat poorly paraphrase as “bring back” (perhaps this isn’t the only possible interpretation, but this is only an example): “He brought the donkey back to its pen.”

The difference in these two meanings of “return” is reflected in the number of “arguments” that the verb takes in each example …


Check out Bible Sense Lexicon “Sense of the Day”

I haven’t availed myself of my privileges here at Unsettled Christianity for quite some time. At least not since the time I changed the tagline to “where joel incessantly brain vomits nonsense into cyberspace.” Thanks to Jim for preserving that for perpetual memory, or at least until he decides to shut down his blog again.

But, I wanted to take the opportunity to put in a shameless plug since Joel is constantly doing that for his books here anyway and you’re all accustomed to it … Actually, I breakfast with Joel recently and he said I could/should.

For about two years, I was a part of a team of people who worked on a tool within Logos Bible Software called the Bible Sense Lexicon. The project was headed by Sean Boisen, who you can follow on Twitter and also involved David Witthoff who can be found there as well (our Greek counterpart Mark Keaton isn’t on social media, for shame).

The Bible Sense Lexicon is a tool that allows users to better search and explore the bible. In order to give some insight into how the tool can be useful we’ve started a feed on the Logos Academic blog called “Sense of the Day” (think Webster’s Word of the Day). Sense of the day is described as follows:

Sense of the Day is based on content from Logos’ Bible Sense Lexicon, which organizes biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words by meaning based on a variety of semantic relationships. Sense of the Day provides examples of senses in context, along with insight into their application for theology and interpretation.

Jonathan Watson of Logos academic blog notoriety has written a more extensive post introducing Sense of the Day. I’ve linked to two papers I’ve written about the BSL. But perhaps most importantly, our team writes the posts and Jonathan posts them on our behalf HERE (Yes, I linked to it twice, but it’s very, very important).

I hope you will check out some or all of the links and consider subscribing to the feed to interact with us about this new tool. You can comment on the blog or send questions via the Logos Academic Twitter account (which also posts the Sense of the Day Link) or shoot them directly at me.

And now back to your regularly scheduled program of Joel brain vomiting nonsense into cyberspace.

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Will the notion of “Authorial Intent” be killed soon?

Over the past two weeks, Mr. Grunberg has spent several hours a day writing his novella, while a battery of sensors and cameras tracked his brain waves, heart rate, galvanic skin response (an electrical measure of emotional arousal) and facial expressions. Next fall, when the book is published, some 50 ordinary people in the Netherlands will read it under similarly controlled circumstances, sensors and all.

via Arnon Grunberg Is Writing While Connected to Electrodes –

I believe the author is not dead, nor hidden… well, maybe hidden. But not dead. The author is every bit as important, if not more so, than the audience. The author actually determines the (first) audience.

Anyway, this looks like a grand experiment… tucking it away.


Appalachian English #linguistics

“We are twenty ‘ears behind the country, but I wouldn’t trade places with nobody”

Anyway, it is a decent, short, program on some of the uniqueness of the English in these hills.

And remember, it is Appalachia, not Appalachia

Our language is too straight

Cecilia Bartoli, after a concert performance o...
Cecilia Bartoli, after a concert performance of “La Cenerentola”, Salle Pleyel, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my recent piece on the Historical Jesus, I chose to use these words:

…just a story told like other divine imaginations, to help out one person or another in achieving something of an ethical collusion, or mythicism.

I realize some have a difficult time understanding nuanced writing. (Throughout this post, I have linked words to various pages giving their meaning.)

Anyway, the above quote was one singled out as a means to attack. That’s fine, because that is the route of the weakened mind, a mind only able to fight back by fleeing into imaginations vain. Regardless of our friend with the mind cancerous , and in spite of not needing to answer imbeciles, I wante to speak to the use of several of these phrases — phrases that cannot be googled.

The goal is always to make a nice tableau painting with the voice. The more color I can find, the more shadow I can find – the goal is always to make more nuance and colors. – Cecilia Bartoli

The problem is one of nuance. Literalists, or rather those who ignorantly claim literalism as what the letter says rather than how the letter is used to say, decry nuance. It is the devil, the one devil, they believe in. Others would see nuance as too subjective to matter, or unintentional, and thus they become idionoēma (or homomeaning). We are at fault, we English speakers, we who have ridded the world of nuance in an attempt to straighten out our language, to push back the queer closet of true beauty — that of the subtle meaning, or turn of a phrase, or even the creation of a new phrase in the shadows of the author’s pen. Or is it Arthur, perhaps, with the poet’s kingly pen of the less-mighty sword, lodged violently in the stone of the mind?

Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago. ― Bernard Berenson

Sometimes I know the meaning of a word but am tired of it and feel the need for an unfamiliar, especially precise or poetic term, perhaps one with a nuance that flatters my readership’s exquisite sensitivity. – William Safire

Our manner of speaking is too straightforward, too boring, too many trees and we miss the forest. When we write — rather, when I write  — I try to be intentional. When I insert the letter ‘a’ in front of the name of Jesus, this is heatedly intentional. As one linguistic scholar is fond of saying, choice implies meaning. If I create a new phrase, one the poor relict cannot find on google’s tract and thus deems unreal (how ironic that one is so limited in his scientific expedition, and not knowing much about anything, deems the phrases a myth), my intention is explored by the phrase itself.

In the early days, I had very little idea about arrangements, and I wrote songs a little flat, as it were, just on an acoustic guitar. They didn’t really have quite enough nuance. – Graham Parker

1For instance, the phrase “ethical collusion.” If one knows ethics are not just created, but multiplied (please note the collusion of these words), then we can understand why I chose the word “collusion.” Further, if we understand the so-called mythicist argument (so-called, because mythicists have no real arguments, just words strung together flat as their understanding of history) then we can understand the nuance of collusion as something deceptive. Adding to this Plato and ethics, well… the one has the necessary information to understand what I mean. Unfortunately, such crass interpretive needs only betray the literary and intellectually impoverished mind who is so buried within itself – so that the mind is in an orifice – to exist only as a singularity.

The writer has the advantage of a medium that can be contemplated many times over on the pages of a book or a magazine. The words lie on the page and the writer has an extended opportunity to imprint on his reader every meaning and nuance distilled from experience. – Bienvenido Lumbera, Filipino National Artist for Literature)

Do I really need to explain “divine imaginations” then? Rather, let me open the window rather than give you the key to the door (notice here the implied colloquialism). It is a phrase intent on pointing to the use of the divine, as in fear or reward, in creating ethical stories as well as their role in myth-making. Now, you go and discover what else is there.

Life cannot be captured in a few axioms. And that is just what I keep trying to do. But it won’t work, for life is full of endless nuances and cannot be captured in just a few formulae. — Etty Hillesum

What a shame when one is unable to do anything else but show himself as the full meaning of the word asinine.

Mythicism, unlearned in history, science, and now literary nuances.

On a side note, if you don’t know the difference between Tradition and tradition, then may be too ignorant to comment on the difference.

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Science Proves the Tower of Babel

If by prove you mean theory and by Tower of Babel you don’t really mean the Tower of Babel, then sure:

The ancestral language, spoken at least 15,000 years ago, gave rise to seven more that formed an ancient Eurasiatic “superfamily”, the researchers say. These in turn split into languages now spoken all over Eurasia, from Portugal to Siberia.

European and Asian languages traced back to single mother tongue | Science | The Guardian.

That’s pretty darn cool if you ask me and you did, which is why you are hear.

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Post-structuralists be gosh-darned: Lewis and Tolkien’s lost book on Language

C.S. Lewis
Cover of C.S. Lewis

Saw this floating by on Facebook in the wee hours of the morn’

“What is exciting” said Beebe, “is that the manuscript includes some of Lewis’s best and most precise statements about the nature of language and meaning.  Both Lewis and Tolkien wrote separately about language, communication, and meaning, but they published nothing collaboratively.”

The article Beebe wrote documenting his discovery, “Language and Human Nature Manuscript Fragment Found: C. S. Lewis On Language and Meaning,” will be published next year in the Journal Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review. The journal Seven publishes scholarship that focuses on the work of seven prominent 20th Century British authors including both Lewis and Tolkien.

Beebe discovers unpublished C.S. Lewis manuscript : University News Service : Texas State University.

What? Language meant something? Umm… can’t wait to read the lost MSS.

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船 is not Noah @AiG

Someone brought this up in the blogosphere, and considering that I love to dabble in various things, such as linguistics (I am stuck on the aurality of fanny and fancy in U.K. English at the moment), I figured I’d show case some of the silliness here.

If you don’t want to watch it, click here to see a demonstration of the above insanity.

Way back when, when I was but a young lad, I heard this from a young earth creationist guild. Watching this video brought that rumor back.

Anyway, before you get all hizzy-pizzy, I want to call attention to a few things. First, the language used here is modern Chinese, and not ancient, before Jesus, Chinese. Part of this smut comes from a book by E. Nelson, who published a follow up book when this one was shown to be inaccurate and who would later go on to refute the claims. Nelson, by the way, is still touted as a scholar of repute by Ken Ham’s adult website. Ironically enough (ironic, because I have pointed out that Ken Ham is really preaching Seventh Day Adventist Doctrine), she is a Seventh Day Adventist. I hate to generalize groups, but by in large, “scientists” who hold fundamental SDA doctrines often fudge the facts.

If you take a gander at the reviews of those books, and do just a tad bit of a search on ye olde google, you’ll find enough holes to walk a dinosaur through or at the very least, not post stuff like this on blogs where people may think you are endorsing it.


When are biblioblogs appropriate?

On the internet. But as print media and scholarship evolve, biblioblogs creep into places that maybe they shouldn’t be.

Case and point: Eisenbrauns‘ new book edited by Miller, Naudé, and Zevit called Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew (2012). The book’s afterword is an article by Zevit entitled “Not-So-Random Thoughts Concerning Linguistic Dating and Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew” (pp 455-489), and this blogger thinks that Zevit has brought Bible blogs (or at least one) into a place they don’t belong.

In 2008, Bible scholars Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd published a 2 volume book called Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (Equinox) (henceforth LDBT), wherein they conclude that Hebrew Bible texts cannot be dated based on the linguistic evidence available. This started a huge debate among Hebraists to the degree that the topic has dominated more than one SBL session every year since 2009. Now, Eisenbrauns has published a book that collects articles on the topic, and most specifically, responses to LDBT. Zevit’s afterword is one such article. In this post, Zevit’s handling of a biblioblog interview in that article will be discussed.

The now defunct Hebrew and Greek Reader weblog did some interviews with the authors of LDBT back in 2009. As the creator of those interview questions, I think I am qualified to shed light on the questions in question. There are 7 issues I take with the article, and 3 resulting broader issues for further discussion.

1. On p459, Zevit writes, “It is rare that authors of a very specialized academic book are interviewed and even rarer when readers of an interview can be sure that what is reported reflects the ipssisima verba of the interviewees. But it happens sometimes.”

It used to be rare that scholars were interviewed about their specialized work. Since YouTube, iTunesU, podcasts, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, that has all changed. In fact, this all changed a few years before 2008, when LDBT was published. For some time now, anyone in the world can read, hear, or see scholars discuss graduate level academic issues, and many do so everyday.  I think Zevit’s assertion of this as a rarity is evidence of a generation gap in biblical studies.

2. I find the use of ipissisima verba uncritical and perhaps even self-contradictory (but I’m no classicist, so I’m open to being schooled). To say that the interviewer used the same words as the authors on page 459, and then to say on page 461 that the authors deny the interviewer’s premise of assuming the authors have their own dating system is quite near self-contradiction. While I used the words “linguistic dating”, that is what was being discussed. The real issue is if I was a dumb parrot, mouthing back to the authors their own ideas. Obviously that’s not the case, because the questions show that, at the time of asking, I did not fully understand what the LDBT authors were talking about (one letter off and that acronym takes an entirely different meaning!).

3. (And this is a picky thing, but I think is also evidence for a larger issue) The website is once referred to as “Hebrew and Greek Reader: Bible, Language, Education”. This was not the title of the weblog. The taglines “Bible, Language, and Education” are simply taglines. When creating a weblog, gives bloggers the option to put taglines in the site header under the title. Again, this is the generation gap. Had the author ever created his own weblog or played around on or, he would have quickly seen that blogs are not like books or academic papers. Bloggers use keywords to get more hits, not to create formal titles. Further, an Eisenbrauns editor should have caught that.

In a footnote, Zevit cites the website haphazardly. Two of the four URLs given take a reader to the relevant page, the other two do not. The main website reference mistakenly has an @ symbol that looks like a Twitter handle, the specific interview pages have ellipses in the URL (though @Eisenbrauns has explained this. Follow them on Twitter!), and in (2) Robert Rezetko’s name has an ø symbol instead of a letter o (@Eisenbrauns has also explained this typo). While there are cleaner ad hoc ways to cite a blog in a footnote, there are guidelines for this now. MLA, Turabian, and SBL style handbooks all explain how a website is properly cited. In fact, §14.246 in the new Chicago manual is dedicated to citing blogs.  Zevit, and even worse Eisenbrauns, has followed no standard convention. For Zevit, this is evidence of the generation gap. For Eisenbrauns, it shows editorial sloppiness.

4. Zevit’s understanding of tone on the blog is also objectionable. In footnote 6 on p459, he writes that the answers given in response to 7 (except for Young’s) are “serious and on-point”. I disagree.  I think Rezetko’s response that includes detours into cooking is not “serious and on-point” but rather funny and conversational. One of the special things about Bible weblogs is that many of them, to follow Ian’s use of colloquialism, take the piss out of scholarship. Biblioblogs are funny and off-point and chase down detours and post lots of pictures of lol cats.

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 4.43.57 PM

5. Zevit also addressed my interviewing skills. He writes, “Question 7 is poorly worded from two unrelated questions (p461)”. I am grateful for the criticism. The question is poorly worded as evidenced by Zevit’s assertion that the two parts of question 7 are unrelated. They are indeed related, which is why they both make up question 7. By “writing style” and “research method”, I meant exactly what I said. I wanted to know if the authors wrote in a particular way. Do they do lots of re-writing as they go? Do they do one big blow-out draft, put it down, then edit it a month later? Do they write as if the paper might be read aloud? At the time, I was writing an MA thesis and my writing style was being forced to change from something I would call bop-prose to scholarly technical writing. It was hard and I wanted to see if others had similar struggles. Then by “research method” I meant the exact same thing. Do you write in a particular place? Do you stop to do push ups or stretches to break up the time? Do you listen to music when researching? I could have made the questions more specific, but I didn’t want to direct them too much. I was simply interested in how their scholarship works in daily life. I am satisfied with their answers. All three basically said, “No.”

The relatedness of the two parts of question 7 is a great issue to raise in the post’s comments section. Why this question was not first asked there instead of being taken to print, I do not know. It is worthy to note that in all the comments I’ve received about these interviews, this is first time I’ve ever heard of someone being confused over the interview.

6. Regarding question 13 in the interview, Zevit asserts that the phrase “linguistic dating” actually refers to the LDBT books and should thus be capitalized “Linguistic Dating”. This is incorrect. Again, why an author would assume this and publish a mistaken assumption before asking the question in the blog’s comments section baffles me. Again, perhaps Zevit is on the other side of the generation gap from me and did not wish to enter into an online discussion. Still, an editor or one of the peers who reviews such works before they are printed should have offered to ask the clarification question on the blog. This is why comments sections exist.

By “linguistic dating” I do not refer to the LDBT books, but rather the lack of formal historical linguistics in the authors’ work. To clarify this, I added “(like generative or cognitive linguistics)” to indicate that I was looking for a formal theory rather than their ad hoc process. Again, I could have worded the question clearer, but the interviewees clearly understood and answered accordingly.

There is also a pesky typo. “Cognitive linguistics” is misquoted as “cognate linguistics” (460).

7. Again on p461, Zevit mistakes what is happening in the interview. In question 15, I asked a question about their research, using their term “textual instability”, and then I formed the question in a way that was not conducive to their conclusions. They have concluded that linguistic dating of biblical Hebrew texts cannot be done with present evidence (and I agree). However, at the time (still three-quarters of the way through Vol. 1 back in 2009), I did not fully understand that. I was expecting them to propose an alternative dating system, as Zevit rightly notes. Upon discovering my ignorance, the authors did not call attention to my error, but quickly and simply corrected me. I am thankful for their time and answers.

There are some specific issues I take with Zevit’s handling of the interview, which I have detailed above. On the whole, there are three larger issues that this section of the new Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew book raises. 1) Just how big is the generation gap in biblical studies? 2) Are book publishers less strict with senior scholars in the peer review and editorial processes? 3) How do scholars go about deciding which weblog posts are worthy of being re-published in print media? And what etiquette should be observed when doing so?

But question 3 is the biggest. Some might even expand, should biblioblogs be used to analyze printed scholarly work at all? To that I answer- with discretion. Certainly little-to-nothing I’ve ever posted should be used in an Eisenbrauns book. You take the finished work to folks like Eisenbrauns. Hebrew and Greek Reader was a learning tool, a writing tool, a conversation tool. It was useful as an undergrad and a new masters’ level student to have a place to vomit out ideas and get feedback from others. Sometimes posts were good. Sometimes they were bad. But as for me, they were all good cause they all taught me something (“shut your mouth” was a common theme). I think many other bloggers have approached their sites the same way, like a comic doing open-mic night: just working out the new stuff.

But then I think of bloggers like John Hobbins and April DeConick and Kurk Gayle and Steve Runge who often write/wrote (Hobbins ain’t a country pastor no more) posts that should be referred to in scholarly works.

So when are biblioblogger posts appropriate for printed scholarly materials? When they’re not mine.


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Mark Signorelli: The Poet as Namer

I think it is from this author. Anyway, this is a great essay on the power and duty of the Poet:

What I am suggesting now is that it is the poet who most effectively names things in this way, who most powerfully arrests our attention from the seemingly chaotic tenor of experience and begins to display to us the determinate nature of the reality encompassing us. This is one of the key respects in which poetic language differs from non-poetic language. We customarily think of the language of poetry as being unique on account of its expressiveness, its sweetness, or even its loftiness of tone and diction.

via The Poet as Namer.

Go and doth readeth ye ole essay.

By the way, get a few of Mark Signorelli‘s books!

I’m pretty interested in the power of the Poet – the poet who changes history, writes it, tackles it. So, I am working on an epic poem, in the style of Lucan, Milton, and the like of a mythologized American history. Oh yes… there are gods and dragons and the what-not.

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