A Semantic Analysis of Psalm 51
Babatunde (1995, p2) submits that “semantics” is coined from a Greek verb which means to “signify”. He further explained semantics to be the study of meaning that seeks to covey and classify human experience through language. This implies that expressions are used to refer and efforts are made to enable the hearer to perceive the reference and the overall mode of referring. “Getting the overall meaning is certainly the concern of semantics” (Babatunde 1995, p2).
It is the study of meaning in language. Semantics, according to Goddard (1998, p1), is the study of meaning which stands at the very centre of the linguistic quest to understand the nature of language and human language abilities. To understand how any language works, we need to understand how its individual design works to fulfill its function as an intricate device for communicating meanings (Goddard 1998, p1). Palmer (1981, p206) states that:
Semantics is not a single-well-integrated discipline. It is not a clearly defined level of linguistics, not even comparable to phonology or grammar. Rather it is a set of studies of the use of language in relation to many different aspects of experience to linguistics and non-linguistic contexts, to participants in discourse, to their knowledge and experience, to the conditions under which a particular bit of language is appropriate.
This implies that the study of semantics is not limited only to the linguistic context but also to non-linguistic context. Thus, using semantics to analyze Psalm 51 will expose the overall meaning and the intentions of the writer in the text. Psalm 51 is divided into nineteen verses written by King David (Leupold 1969, p399) and (Stamps 1992, p852). Stamps submitted that Psalm 51 was written after David had deliberately sinned against God. “He feared that God’s presence and spirit would depart from him, leaving him spiritually destitute. Thus, he wrote the Psalm to plead for forgiveness” (Stamps 1992, p852) and Nelson (1989, p503).
1.2 PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
This study aims at exploring the message in Psalm 51 through a semantic theoretical framework. It is embarked upon to identify the meanings and the intentions of the user of those words in Psalms 51. It is also intended to bring out the wealth of meaning in the Psalm and to show how the psalmist logically selects his words to plead with God for forgiveness.
Though, people have embarked on the pragmatic analysis of this text, the semantic analysis of Psalm 51 to the best of our knowledge has not been carried out. Thus, by exploring the underlying messages in the text through the semantic theoretical framework, the works strung together in the text to make meaning shall be exposed.
However, this research work is carried out to serve as a guide for future researchers who are interested in the field of semantics. In addition, this research work is embarked upon to add to the already existing pool of knowledge.
1.4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
This project is pre-occupied with the semantic analysis of Psalm 51. The text (Psalm 51) of King James’ Version shall be the data for our analysis. The entire nineteen verses of Psalm 51 shall be analyzed in chapter three of this study. The elements we shall be using in analyzing these data are the seven types of meaning by Geoffrey Leech (1974), which include Denotative, Conotative, Collocative, Thermatic, Stylistic, Reflexive and Affective meaning. We shall also review some theories of meaning namely, Referential and Image theory of meaning as part of our tools for our data analysis.
1.5 THE BOOK OF PSALMS
The ‘Book’ of Psalms according to Donald C. Stamps (1992, p80) is the Bible’s longest and largest book which contains the Bible’s longest chapter (Psalm 119:1 – 176) and shortest chapter (Psalm 117: 1- 2) and perhaps the most widely used book in the Bible, written in 10th to 15th centuries BC. Stamps (1992, p80).
The Psalms explores the full range of human experience in a very personal and practical way. Its 50 “songs” run from the creation story through the patriarchal, theocratic, monarchical, exilic and postexilic periods. The tremendous breath of subject matter in the psalms includes diverse topics such as jubilation, war, peace, worship, judgment, messianic prophesy, praise and lament (Nelson 1989, p483). The psalms were set to the accompaniment of stringed instrument and served as the temple hymn book and devotional guide for the Jewish people (Nelson 1989, p483).
However, Stamps (1992, p808) submits that the book of psalms was not written by a single author. He added that, King David, King Solomon (son of David) and sons of Korah are among the people mentioned as writers of Psalms. However, it is certain that Psalm 51 was written by David to plead for his sins of adultery and murder after Nathan the prophet had disclosed his sins (Stamps 1992, p852)
1.6 DATA DESCRIPTION
The body of Psalm 51 can be divided into three main sections respectively. The first section, (verse 1 – 2) focuses on prayer for mercy. Section two (verses 3 – 11), majorly on confession of sins and section three (12 – 19) focuses on prayer for redemption.
The second section can be subdivided into verse 3 – 4, 5 – 8, and 9 – 11, while the third section can be divided into verses 12 – 14, 15 -16, and 17 – 19. However, both sections are structured in terms of concentric patterns.
1.7 SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER
This chapter has provided information on what this research work would be all about. They include the definitions of semantics by various scholars, brief information about our work, the purpose of the study, justification of the study, the methodology, the version of the bible we are using and brief information about the ‘Book’ of Psalms itself. From this, we have made known what we shall be expecting in this project work. Let us therefore proceed to the next chapter, which is our literature review.