[FUNKNET] 'Hear' as 'understand'

Tue Feb 2 23:51:46 UTC 2010

Dear Nino, dear all,

I have followed this discussion with great interest, but I think that an
analysis in terms of English as a metalanguage (or of any other language
for that matter)is not very helpful, as was already obvious in Paul
Hopper's example of Fr. ENTENDRE.
Consider the following uses of the three verbs HEAR, LISTEN and UNDERSTAND:

(i) This boy does not hear (= he is deaf) (GERMAN Hoeren)
(ia) I can't hear you. it is too noisy. (German HOEREN)
(ii) This boy does not listen (does not obey) (German HOEREN)
(iia) This boy is not listening (German: ZUHOEREN)
(iii) I understand Mandarin, but I cannot speak it.
(iv)You just don't understand me. (book title, D. Tannen))

Let me now look at German VERSTEHEN, normally rendered as 'understand' in

(v) Ich verstehe kein Wort (I can't hear you. /telephone conversation)
(vi) I verstehe Chinesisch ( I can understand Mandarin)
(vii) Du verstehst mich einfach nicht. (D. Tannen's book)

So, which uses of HEAR or UNDERSTAND are under consideration? It is not
perfectly clear whether the examples given above are manifestations of
polysemy or of vagueness. But it is certainly possible to differentiate
between these use:

German VERSTEHEN can denote an integration into (or matching with) a
phonetic structure (v) into a mental/linguistic structure (vi), a
structure of empathy and perhaps many more things. With these
differentiations in mind the question raised looks much more complicated
and the crude information provided by dictionaries is not really helpful.


Ekkehard Koenig
Department of Linguistics
UC, Davis
DAVIS, CA 95616-8685

> In Kiswahili -/sikia/ = 'hear, understand, feel/have sensation'. With
> reflexive -ji- as in /-ji-sikia/ always means 'feel, lit. hear self'.
> In many Gur languages /hear/ = 'hear, understand, feel/have sensation',
> e.g. Buli /wom/.
> Kwa languages Akan, Ewe /hear/ = 'hear, understand', e.g. Akan /te/, Ewe
> /se/.
> Assibi Amidu
> ******************************************
> Assibi A. Amidu, Ph.D.
> Professor of Swahili/Kiswahili
> Norwegian University of Science and Technology
> Department of Language and Communication Studies
> N-7491 Trondheim
> Norway
> Phone   +47 73 596522
>              +47 73 596529
> Fax       +47 73 596119
> *******************************************

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