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Hebrew Homographs and Logos

Getting to the right definitions in Hebrew lexicons.


Homophones - One of two or more words that sound the same (whether or not they are spelled the same) but have different meanings such as their and there.

Homographs – One of two or more words that have the same spelling (whether or not they are pronounced the same) but differ in meaning such as wind (air current) and wind (to twist or wrap) or fair (pleasing in appearance) and fair (market).

Homonyms – One of two or more words that is a homophone, or a homograph or both. Bank (embankment) vs. bank (a place to store money) vs. bank (to turn a plane) are examples of homonyms that are both homographs and homophones.


Trying to automatically link to Hebrew words based on how they are spelled is a fairly inaccurate method due to the presence of many homographs and major differences in how Hebrew lexical forms are spelled. The Libronix DLS version 3.0a has some exciting new developments in lexicon look-up to overcome these issues.


The Problem

In biblical Hebrew there are approximately 1,750 cases of homographs (unique homographic lemmas). Unlike English, Hebrew homographs represent nearly twenty percent of all the words in the text. When working with databases that don't use vowel points to distinguish between words that share the same consonants, the percentage of homographs in the text skyrockets to over forty percent (exact percentages vary widely from database to database).

For scholars using print resources this doesn't present too many difficulties. The reader simply reads several lexicon entries and determines from the context and the information in the articles which homograph is being used in the instance under study. This is really no different than the same problem of looking up the English word bank in an English dictionary. Because you may be more familiar with English, your eye immediately searches through the different meanings for the homograph "bank" until you spot the correct meaning.

However, Libronix Digital Library System is designed to perform a number of information retrieval tasks for the user, to facilitate more efficient study. The Display Information window, the Exegetical Guide and the Bible Word Study report all extract articles from lexicons. And even when KeyLinking directly into a lexicon, where it is easiest to simulate the type of skimming you would do in a print resource, jumping to the correct word every time is a worthwhile goal.

Of course, homographs aren't the only difficulty when working with Hebrew and Aramaic. There is a fair bit of variety in how the different lexicons and Hebrew morphological databases spell their lexical forms. So any solution to the problem of getting to the right article in a lexicon has to account for the abundance of alternate spellings.

Certain Hebrew morphological databases have introduced a system of adding numbers to the lexical forms to help distinguish between homographs. These homograph numbers are incredibly useful for searching purposes, but insufficient to resolve all the issues involved in getting to the right word in a lexicon. For instance, bara is divided into 4 homographs in HALOT but only 2 homographs in BDB.

The Solution

To overcome the limitations of the spelling-based approach to lexicon look-up, version 3.0 of Libronix DLS introduced tables that map each unique word in the biblical text directly to articles in specific lexicons. This isn't a matter of more or less automatically mapping 'every instance of bara IV' to a given article - this is mapping bara in Genesis 1:1 to a given article in each lexicon. Each of the 422,000+ lexemes in the Hebrew bible will have its own look-up in each lexicon table. This level of exhaustive detail is the only way to solve all of the problems listed above. It is the only way to have a maintainable system, so that if a user reports an error, Logos can correct the look-up for a single word to a single lexicon without risking breaking other look-ups.

The old, spelling-based, KeyLink system will still work for Hebrew quotes in commentaries and other reference books that won't have these exhaustive look-up tables, but the accuracy of moving from the biblical text to the lexicons will be tremendously improved.

The State of the Art

This process of creating KeyLink look-up tables is ongoing. Not every Hebrew Bible is linked into this system, and not every lexicon has look-up tables. To make use of the look-up tables, execute your KeyLinks or reports from one of the following Bibles:

Other texts, such as the WIVU Morphology will be hooked into the new system soon, but for now, use one of the above texts.

The following Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicons have been updated for version 3.0a to include KeyLink look-up tables:

All of the Hebrew texts listed above and almost all of the lexicons have already been significantly updated since 3.0 was first released, so it is highly recommended that you run Libronix Update from the Tools menu and download new copies of all the Hebrew texts and lexicons released with the current version, 3.0a.

We are continuing to make new look-up tables for the remaining lexicons.

A Note on Other Languages

In version 3.0, all the Targums have been updated to use the new look-up table technology to get to the right entries in the Targum lexicon.

The Syriac Peshitta has been updated with lexical form tags and morphological tags, and also has look-up tables to accurately link to the Analytical Lexicon of the Syriac New Testament.

While Greek tends to work much better than the Semitic languages when linking to lexicons based on spelling, there are still some benefits to applying the same look-up table solution to the Greek New Testament. So far, BDAG and DBL Greek have been updated for version 3.0a to use look-up tables.

See also:

Hebrew KeyLinking: A Strategy

Homograph Indicators

Last Updated: 4/20/2012