The biblical roots of english 'love': The concept of 'love' in a historical and cross-linguistic perspective

Anna Wierzbicka*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Seen from a broad cross-linguistic perspective, the English verb (to) love is quite unusual because it has very broad scope: it can apply to a mother's love, a husband's love, a sister's love, etc. without any restrictions whatsoever; and the same applies to its counterparts in many other European languages. Trying to locate the origins of this phenomenon, I have looked to the Bible. Within the Bible, I have found both continuity and innovation. In the Hebrew Bible, the verb'āhēb, rendered in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint with the verb agapao, implies a “preferential love”, e.g. it is used for a favourite wife of a favourite son. In the New Testament, the concept of 'love' loses the “preferential” components and thus becomes applicable across the board: between anybody and anybody else. The paper argues that the very broad meaning of verbs like love in English, aimer in French, lieben in German, etc. reflects a shared conceptual heritage of many European languages, with its roots in the New Testament; and it shows that by taking a semantic perspective on these historical developments, and exploring them through the rigorous framework of NSM and Minimal English, we can arrive at clear and verifiable hypotheses about a theme which is of great general interest, regardless of one's own religious and philosophical views and commitments.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)225-254
    Number of pages30
    JournalInternational Journal of Language and Culture
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2019


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