Prepositions in Their Syntactic, Semantic, and Pragmatic Context (Excerpt)

From sign to text: Noah and the ark (Genesis 6–7)
In the story of Noah and the ark, Noah is commanded to collect all the animals
of the earth and bring them to the ark (Genesis 6:19–20). The first time this
task is introduced, all the various kinds of species appear with mi- save for the
cattle that appears with the unmarked min – this collocation, on the surface, at
least – appears to be arbitrary: i.e., mi- and min are synonyms:
(16) u-mi-kol
and-from-all
ha-xai
the-living
mi-kol
from-all
basar
flesh
shnayim
two
mi-kol
From-all
tavi
you-will-bring
el
to
ha-teva
the-ark
le-haxayot
to-keep-alive
itxa
with-you
zaxar
male
u-nekeyva
and-female
yehiyu.
they-will-be.
me-ha-of
From-the-fowl
le-minehu
to-kind-his
u-min
and-from
ha-behema
the cattle
le-mina
to-kind-her,
u-mi-kol
And-from-all
remes
creep
ha-adama
the-earth
le-minehu,
to-kind-his,
shnayim
two
mi-kol
from-all
yavou
they-will-come
eleixa
to-you
le-haxayot.
to-keep-alive.
‘And of (mi-) every living thing of all flesh, two of (mi-) every sort shalt
thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male
and female. Of (mi-) the fowl after their kind, and of (min) the cattle
after their kind, of (mi-) every creeping thing after its kind, two of (mi-)
every sort, shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.’
The collocation of behema ‘cattle, beast’ with the unmarked form min, however, turns out not to be arbitrary. Later in the passage (Genesis 7:2–3) one
learns that the cattle or beasts alone are further subdivided into two subcategories: clean (those that are permitted to be eaten like the fowl) versus unclean (those that are forbidden to be eaten). All the clean beasts and the fowl,
therefore, form one category for which seven are to be put in the ark, on the
one hand, but the unclean beasts, on the contrary, form a separate and distinct
category of which only two are placed in the ark, on the other hand. Therefore
the unique collocation of the behema (‘cattle’) in the previous example (16)
with the unmarked form min is semantically motivated. By the same token,
in the next example (17), the collocation of ha-behema ha-tehora (‘the clean
beast’) with the marked form mi- together with the fowl – all of which are to
enter the ark “seven-seven” and form one integral group or set – is semantically
motivated as is the collocation of ha-behema ha-lo tehora (‘the unclean beast’)
with the unmarked form min as an “exception” (or as the idiom goes: yotse min
ha klal):
 Yishai Tobin
(17) mi-kol
rom-all
ha-behema
the-cattle
ha-tehora
the-pure
tikax
you-will-take
lexa
to-you
shiva
seven
ish
man
ve-ishto
and-wife-his
u-min
and-from
ha-behema
the-cattle
ha-lo
the-no
tehora
pure
hu
he
shnayim
two
ish
man
ve-ishto.
and-wife-his.
gam
also
me-of ha-shamayim
of-fowl the-sky
shiva
seven
shiva
seven
zaxar
male
u-nekeyva
and-female
le-haxayot
to-keep-alive
zera
seed
al-pnei
on-the-face-of
kol
all
ha-arets.
the-land.
‘Of (mi-) every clean beast thou shall take to thee seven and seven, each
with his mate; and of (min) the beasts that are not clean two [and two],
each with his mate; of (mi-)the fowl also of the air, seven and seven; male
and female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.’
As the text continues (Genesis 7:8–9) and the loading of the ark takes place
before the flood, Noah, his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, enter the ark
individually, and then there is a list of all the classes of creatures that enter the
ark. In this antediluvian part of the text, each class of creature enters separately,
as if it is being “counted off”, not unsurprisingly, this is done exclusively with
the unmarked form:
(18) min
from (min)
ha-behema
the-beast
ha-tehora
the-pure
u-min
and from (min)
ha-behema
the-beast
asher
that
einena
is-not
tehora
pure
u- min
and from (min)
ha-of
the-fowl
ve-xol
and-all
asher
that
romes
creep
al
on
ha-adama:
the-earth
shnayim
two
shnayim
two
bau
came
el
to
noax
Noah
el
to
ha-teva
the ark
zaxar
male
u-nekeyva
and-female
kaasher
as-that
tsiva
commanded
elohim
God
et noax.
OM Noah.
‘Of min clean beasts, and of min beasts that are not clean, and of min
fowls, And of everything that creepeth upon the ground, there went in
two and two unto Noah into the ark, male and female, as God commanded Noah.’
After “the windows of heavens were opened and the rain was upon the earth
forty days and forty nights” the text reiterates the roster of who had entered the
ark and which classes of creatures (all listed in the previous examples) without
using the prepositions. This is then followed by a general summary (Genesis
The Hebrew prepositions mi-/min ‘from, of’ 
7:15–17) of what occurred where all the creatures are grouped into a single
set or category referred to as ‘of all flesh’ with, not unsurprisingly, the marked
form mi-kol basar:
(19) … mi-kol
… from (mi-)-all
basar
flesh
asher
that
bo
in-it
ruax
spirit
xayim
life
… mi-kol
… from (mi-)-all
basar
flesh
bau . . .
came . . .
‘. . . of (mi-)-all flesh wherein is the breath of life . . . went in . . . of (mi-)
of all flesh . . . ’
The text continues with the story of the flood that destroyed all the living creatures on earth of all sorts and types, which, once again, are listed without the
use of these prepositions. At the close of the text, when the devastation is again
summarized we have the use of the marked form (translated as ‘whatsoever’
and ‘both’) when listing the creatures that ‘were blotted out from the earth’
where their physical separation from the earth is emphasized by the use of the
unmarked form: ‘all (kol asher )in whose nostrils was the breath of life, whatsoever (mi-kol asher) was in the dry land died. And he blotted out every living
substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man, (mi-adam) and
cattle, and creeping thing, and fowl of the heaven; and they were blotted out
from the earth (min ha-arets); and Noah only was left and they that were with
him in the ark.’ (Genesis 7:22–24)

Their real identities

Somewhere in the Bible and the like, there is a mention of the behemoth and the leviathan though their actual identities have been debated. The former assumed to be a hippo or an elephant, the latter a whale. It turns out in some languages, those words have become the words for actual animals.

It’s like in Yiddish where the word behemoth begat the word for cattle (and buffoon). Interestingly enough, the same word’s now used as a synonym for hippopotamus in Russian. Likewise in Hebrew, ‘leviathan’ means whale. One might wonder if those sea monsters are actually whales.

(For an interestingly side fact, the character Jonah was said to survive being swallowed by a whale which happened to a person in real life.)

It’s also been assumed in the history of the Chinese language that the word for dragon came from the word for alligator and if I’m not mistaken, alligators are referred to as earth dragons. The Chinese dragon’s watery association makes sense if it’s based on crocodilians.

The Western languages word for dragon came from the word for snake ‘draco’. In Russian, the masculine version’s used to refer to dragons but the feminine version’s for snakes. Initially Western dragons looked very much like snakes.

So the association makes sense as the constellation ‘Draco’ resembles a snake. But it’s a curious case of the mythical creature inspiring the actual animal’s name and vice versa.

The semantic boundaries of colour terms

There was a study on the Japanese language with regards to its word for blue (ao) which also historically described things that were green. Actually English did something similar at some point or another. A good point of comparison is that dark grey furred mammals are often called blue. So is the greenish-blues which would have a specific name in other languages.

For another matter, red. Purple vegetables are called red, so is the dull orange-brown of mammalian fur. The red coats of some English hunters were called pink. German and Irish call some mountains blue, especially if they’re far away. Though this isn’t always the case, it seems in some early French dictionaries rouge and roux were already that differentiated.

Rouge being most red things (especially a brighter red, barring the robin, wood* and some vegetables) whereas roux often refers to dull-orange mammalian hair and what’s called the red moon. Roux was historically referred to as the colour between red and yellow, the original colour term for orange so to speak. Russian, Polish, Belarussian, Irish and Ukrainian languages likely do similar things.

So this is what I’ve gleaned over time when it comes to colour terms at all.

*If it was in Irish, it would be adhmad rua.

They are dogs

As to why some languages call dingoes wild dogs, don’t blame them if their point of reference seems as limiting as conflating red with yellow at some point or another. It’s like from going to websites in certain languages that seemingly their word for dingo is ‘wild dog’. To make matters worse, dingo came from a word that’s more or less equivalent to ‘Fido’ (owned dog) as the word for stray/feral dog would be warrigal.

(If I’m not mistaken, the Nufi word for wolf and jackal’s derived from the word for dog, which again could indicate that point of reference.)

It’s like if somebody considers dingoes separate from dogs (even if the former also get owned by seemingly negligent Aboriginal individuals) but the fact that they’re interfertile and dogs are perfectly capable of killing prey on their own, it might indicate a curious bifurcation of what’s practically the same thing. In Japan, they used to call wolves ‘mountain dogs’.

Makes me think in reality, either the line between dingoes, wolves and dogs are actually a lot blurrier or perhaps even if somebody considers dogs wolves they might still be separate in their minds even if sometimes those behaviours and ecologies can overlap. Entre chien et loup in French even if it’s used to mean the witching hour. (As if dogs and wolves are indistinguishable in the dark.)

Redder than red hair in this story

I sometimes think when it comes to depicting redheads, at least in Anglophone comics (and to a lesser extent, their Francophone counterparts) the colour runs the gamut from bright red to a duller orange (as in real life though there are people who dye their hair a red so bright it’s practically pink). In fact, just a few characters that I can think of (Starfire and Strawberry Shortcake) are redheads who sometimes sport pink hair.

Another problem’s that in the French language, though not always the case, the colour of red hair’s often that differentiated from red in general going by old dictionaries. (You’d get the same thing in Irish, Russian, Polish, Belarussian, Ukrainian and Scottish Gaelic.) Again not always the case (though it may be that some are mistranslated). But it does make sense.

Especially if some languages can differentiate the colour of red hair from red better than others then it makes sense that it would be generally that distinct from red. (Actually if I’m not mistaken, some old French dictionaries describe roux as the colour between red and yellow and often associate it with mammalian hairs.)

When is red not red?

I sometimes think when it comes to linguistic relativity, I get the impression that some languages (especially French, Irish, Russian, Polish, Belarussian, Ukrainian and Scottish Gaelic and to some extent, Catalan and Portuguese) do treat the word for red hair as separate from the word for red proper. Let’s say if I speak in French, I’d say that Asuka est une rousse or Asuka a les cheveux roux.

But the same can’t be said of Kakyoin where I’d say il a les cheveux rouges. (You’d get the same thing in Ukrainian, Polish, Irish and Russian really.) His hair’s such a bright shade of red that it’s practically pink and sometimes so in some fan art. I think I recall going to a fansite in French where one character‘s said to have red hair (cheveux roux) but the other redhead has a bright red shade that she’s considered to have pink hair (cheveux roses).

Many languages historically didn’t seem to differentiate the dull red of red hair from bright red. But some languages do and I recall this one 17th century French dictionary where the word for red hair’s separate from the word for red. This may not always be nor consistently the case but I do get the impression that some languages do treat the colour of red hair as separate from red proper.

Red Alert, people

If I’m not mistaken, some languages really do have oddly separate words to describe red hair as distinct from focal red. It’s like in French, Portuguese, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Polish and Russian, there’s an oddly separate word for red hair as to be distinguished from focal red. In French, this would be the difference between roux and rouge. Similar things can be said about Portuguese, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Polish.

Some languages like Italian, French and Russian may have oddly separate/specific words used to describe light brown/dark blond hair. If it sounds nauseating, such a hair colour that’s in-between brown and blond proper would be hard to describe on paper. Let alone without derogatory or unflattering descriptors like mousy, dishwater, ash and the like. It’s that complicated. Some languages may historically have not much of words for brown and blond hair.

That’s other than comparing it to metals and that’s still saying. Sometimes in some languages, you need a very specific word to describe a hair colour. If I speak in Irish, red hair is rua (roux) but the dress is dearg (rouge). Ad infinitum, et cetera.