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Friday, January 21, 2011

apologetics, exegesis and cognitive linguistics

The code model[1] (CM) of natural language is still being used in biblical exegesis by many of those who engaged in christian apologetics. The doctrine of scripture that was hammered out during the  late great battle for the bible which culminated in the Chicago Statement(CS) is still hovering in background of the apologetic discourse. The Chicago Statement is constructed on the code model of language. In the world of bible translation the code model is not totally passe. However, since the early 90's Ernst-August Gutt has been publishing on Relevance Theory (RT) and has been joined by a growing number of his colleagues.

RT is an inferential model of communication. For an act of communication to succeed there needs to be a mutually shared cognitive framework between the author and the addressee. The meaning and intent of the message is not totally encoded in the language used. What is encoded is sufficient to trigger an inferential process in the addressee which will fill in the meaning from shared cultural assumptions. This model entails a certain level of cultural relativity which will wave a red flag for proponents of propositional revelation.

In the last paragraph the expression "wave a red flag" illustrates the inferential dynamic. If the addressee was Chinese,  born and raised in China after 1949 the inference prompted by the expression "wave a red flag" will probably not match what was intended when I wrote the sentence. The communication breaks down because author and addressee have a different set of cultural assumptions.

Natural language is ambiguous. The traditional apologist has often viewed ambiguity as the enemy of orthodoxy. When two different interpreters of scripture come the same scriptural text they often bring with them a different cognitive framework, a different set of cultural assumptions. The ancient author wrote the passage with a certain target audience in view who had yet another set of cultural assumptions. The well trained apologist is normally well aware of these cultural issues. But because she is working with a code model of language she will probably try and resolve the problem by attention to the details of the language code. In this manner she places a burden on the language of scripture which it cannot bear. She is looking for the meaning in the text and according to cognitive approach to semantics the meaning is not in the text[2].

... more on this later. 


According to the code model, a communicator encodes her intended message into a signal, which is decoded by the audience using an identical copy of the code. According to the inferential model, a communicator provides evidence of her intention to convey a certain meaning, which is inferred by the audience on the basis of the evidence provided. An utterance is, of course, a linguistically coded piece of evidence, so that verbal comprehension involves an element of decoding. However, the linguistic meaning recovered by decoding is just one of the inputs to a non-demonstrative inference process which yields an interpretation of the speaker's meaning.
Relevance Theory D. Wilson & D. Sperber
[2] Kevin J. Vanhoozer  Is There a Meaning in This Text?  1998


Blogger Bill said...

I read your reply over on Ratio Christi about Bart Ehrman and decided to take a look at your blog. That was a very good thing for me to do. You clearly have a lot more training in Biblical Studies than I do but your posts are eminently readable and this one is really important in terms of discussing the Bible.

I appreciate the distinction between the Code Model and Relevance Theory and recognize that there is a whole body of research that I need to do some reading on in addition to the work I have begun to undertake with the Bible. I am concentrating on the New Testament at the moment but spent much of last year immersed in my first real, careful, critical reading of the Hebrew Bible . I recognize that I will be coming back to your post as I get back to reading the Hebrew Bible again later this year.

Thanks for the insight, any more blogs on this would be appreciated and I will start reading on RT. Any suggestions for sources online?
Bill A

5:48 AM  
Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Greetings Bill,

Good to meet you and hear about what you your interest in RT. Hear are some titles and links:

A Relevance Theoretic approach
to the particle hINA in Koine Greek
Margaret Gavin Sim
PhD, 2006
Submitted in satisfaction of the requirements of the degree of PhD
in the University of Edinburgh.

Scenarios, Discourse, and Translation
The scenario theory of Cognitive Linguistics,
its relevance for analysing New Testament Greek
and modern Parkari texts,
and its implications for translation theory
Richard A. Hoyle

The bibliographies in these should be helpful.

Some books you might be able to get a glimpse of online or through inter lib loan if your local lib does that:

Blakemore, Diane. 1992. Understanding Utterances. Oxford: Blackwell.

Carston, R. 2002. Thoughts and Utterances: The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gutt, Ernst-August 1992.  Relevance Theory: A Guide to Successful Communication in Translation, Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and New York: United Bible Societies.

Gutt, Ernst-August 2000. Translation and Relevance: Cognition and Context , Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing (2 nd edition).

Thanks for your comment.

8:20 AM  

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