Editor’s note: this article was originally published on the blog Old School Script. We have taken over its archives and are slowly republishing pieces that have continuing importance and value. This article was originally published in May 1st, 2016. We continue to appreciate Kris Lyle’s willingness to share his writing with our readers here at Koine-Greek.com.
In an article titled, “Where does prototypicality come from?” Dirk Geeraerts (2007:175–77) provides a number of factors that beget this phenomenon; and when it comes to identifying the prototypical usage of a word he discusses how introspection can prove useful.
Before we can deal with the introspective evidence in favour of the prototypicality hypothesis, two preliminary questions have to be answered. In the first place, how trustworthy is the introspective methodology? The paradoxical fact of the matter is that it is exactly the unreliability of introspection that makes it interesting for our purposes. If introspection were able to yield a completely adequate picture of the facts of linguistic usage (which is doubtful), it would simply reduplicate the results reached in the previous paragraphs on the basis of a direct examination of linguistic usage.
But given the presupposition that introspection yields only a partial insight into the semantic structure of the words that are investigated, we can also presuppose that it will be exactly the prototypical kinds of usage of those words, that reach the introspective consciousness of the language user. We can use the results of the introspective method as support for the prototypical hypothesis if we presuppose that prototypical kinds of usage (precisely because they are more salient than other applications) will more easily pass the threshold of conscious attention. Given this presupposition, the introspective judgements of native speakers may shed light on the question which kinds of usage are predominant within a certain concept.
We can use the results of the introspective method as support for the prototypical hypothesis if we presuppose that prototypical kinds of usage (precisely because they are more salient than other applications) will more easily pass the threshold of conscious attention.—Geeraerts
With ancient languages, like Biblical Hebrew and Greek, this is of course irrelevant as there are no native speakers. Such limitations in studying ancient languages should always be borne in mind and provide further motivation to ground one’s analysis in methods that are as empirical as possible. This means replicability, cross-linguistic typological studies and the like are the closest allies of the ancient language inquirer.