I was questioned on another thread about my views on creation and I referenced my belief that it is an act of communication and would not be clear in the same way to different audiences.
My view is grounded on a linguistic theory called relevance theory, that I have referenced elsewhere.
As a summary of the key points of the theory, horrendously simplified and hopefully with little jargon
When we see an act of intentional communication we presume that it has the following features
a. it is at worth our attention top spend the effort processing it
b. it is the most relevant that the communicator can make it according to their preferences and abilities.
All other things being equal, the more changes, additions or falsifications of our current views that we take on the more relevant the communication is. The strength of those is also key.
All other things being equal, the more processing effort it takes to understand the message, the less relevant it is
Basically it is a balancing act of the above
The human mind is geared towards maximisation of relevance and will engage in that balancing act. It will assess interpretations and fill in bits where needed in order of cognitive accessibility and stop when it achieves enough effects to justify the processing effort. The communicator communicates in such a way as to try to ensure that we stop at the interpretation that they desired. We can go further than that, but at that point we take responsibility for the fact that this may not be intended at all!
So, with the above in place we need to deal with what is communicated.
For RT words such as nouns and verbs are pointers to conceptual spaces. These comprise
- lexical information such as tense, aspect, person, number etc
- Logical information related to such things as category membership (cat / feline / animal / mammal)
- Encyclopaedic data. This is a “grab-bag” of information around attitudes towards something, cultural knowledge, information around associations with other things.
Contextual information around the co-text (surrounding text/speech), context etc all shape the communicative situation
The problem is that for every act of communication the audience doesn’t share the exact same set of information. This is true for people in the same culture, but especially in different cultures. So the communicator makes a trade off - they inform as much as they have to for the communication to make sense, without overburdening the hearer/reader with information that is not needed. The more information they give which the hearer doesn’t need to make sense of what is being communicated, the more effort that reader has to go through to process the message. What could have been said in 10 words ends up being said in 30-40. An example is a trip abroad I took, when waiting for the coach the driver looked at me and said “English?”. I inferred that he meant “are you English / can you speak English” I responded accordingly. If he were to say “are you able to speak in the language that is called English” I would probably have assumed he was trying to be funny, because it is just unnecessary verbage
The hearer/reader on the other hand has their own job in this communicative situation. Their job is to go through an inferential process of fleshing out the meaning of the message. The actual words themselves do not encode all the information in a message, the communicator gives enough information to point to their intention and leaves the rest to inference. This means that we ALL go through a process of interpretation, and we ALL will have a slightly different set of beliefs, knowledge, cultural assumptions etc that we bring to it.
This also means that what was clear to one audience and involved little processing may be unclear to another audience. They don’t share the same cognitive environment, nor even the same categories, so clarity may require additional words to make it make sense to them in the same way. Those additional words would have burdened the original audience and made the text less relevant, their lack of burden is our burden though
The Bible is an act of communication. To say it can communicate with the same clarity across cultures is to deny the way that humans process information and communication specifically. We ought to approach it as such and recognise that our “clear reading” may be based on something completely different to what is “clear” to others because of the factors above
I ought to point out that this theory is not the only theory of linguistics (pragmatics in particular) out there, but it is one that has a LOT of experimental work going on in it and is well regarded. It has also been extensively applied to biblical studies
The scope of the theory can be seen by the size of the online bibliography maintained by Dr Yus
I don’t think I should go more into this theory right now, although I am happy to flesh out more on elements. I also don’t want to get into examples right now of how I see this applying to specific texts. Until people who want to interact on this one are clear on the approach I am taking then there isn’t much point in me then going on and trying to defend things that I derive from taking this approach
Hope this makes sense