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  Home > Research at the Lacito > Lexical structure: Typology and dynamics

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Lexical structure: Typology and dynamics



Coordination: Alexandre François and Lameen Souag


Lexicology is the study of the lexicon and of how it is structured within a language. It can be studied synchronically in a single language – for example, when putting together a dictionary, or when describing a particular semantic field in the language. It can also be studied from a typological perspective through the comparison of a specific semantic domain across many different languages' lexicons. For example, how do languages structure the domain of kinship? magic? emotions? speech and thought? Do we find the same concepts and the same semantic distinctions everywhere? Lexical typology allows us to identify recurrent patterns of polysemy, zones of stability and variation, even lexical universals.

Such lexical structures can also be studied dynamically, across time and space. Certain polysemies, certain semantic associations, have appeared historically, or on the contrary have disappeared - whether through internal developments or under the influence of contact with other languages. Bilinguals' tendency to match up semantic structures across the languages they speak has encouraged the diffusion of certain lexical categorisations across vast linguistic and cultural areas. Through this process, certain ways of carving up semantic fields, certain polysemies or figures of speech, have become characteristic of particular areas. In some cases, it is possible to explain these areal phenomena by the links between linguistic practices and social practices spread within the region in question; certain family structures, for example, are correlated with particular lexical structures in the domain of kinship, or in the vocabulary of marriage and interpersonal relations.

Over the next few years, this seminar will seek to put to good use a substantial and often underused data set: field data collected by our researchers on every continent. Existing dictionaries, in printed or electronic form, can also serve our purposes; so can our text corpora, though in this case our methods do not require frequent recourse to them. We will also seek to feed our theoretical and methodogical understanding from a variety of publications in the domain of lexical semantics, which are more and more numerous – see the references below.

A variety of approaches are possible, and LaCiTO may end up going for more than one of them. Depending on the participants' interests, we may opt to examine the typology of a particular semantic domain, or of a selection of different domains, through parallel studies. We can focus on the search for universals, on cases of areal convergence, on etymological developments, or on the theorisation of semantic change. We can consider a variety of methodological approaches: databases, questionnaires, statistics, semantic maps…


References :
-- François, Alexandre. 2008. Semantic maps and the typology of colexification: Intertwining polysemous networks across languages. In Martine Vanhove (ed.), From Polysemy to Semantic Change, Studies in Language Companion Series, vol. 106, 163–215. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. [accès en ligne]
-- François, Alexandre. 2013. Shadows of bygone lives: The histories of spiritual words in northern Vanuatu. In Robert Mailhammer (ed.), Lexical and Structural Etymology. Beyond Word Histories. Studies in Language Change 11. Boston/Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 185-244.
-- Juvonen, Päivi & Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm (eds.). 2016. The Lexical Typlogy of Semantic Shifts. Cognitive Linguistics Research 58. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
-- Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria, Ekaterina Rakhilina & Martine Vanhove. 2015. The semantics of lexical typology. In Nick Riemer (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Semantics. London: Routledge.
-- Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria, Martine Vanhove, & Peter Koch. 2007. Typological approaches to lexical semantics. Linguistic Typology 11.1, 159-185.
-- Mahieu, Marc-Antoine & Nicole Tersis (eds.) 2016. Questions de sémantique inuit / Topics in Inuit Semantics. Amerindia 38. 274 pp.
-- Mailhammer, Robert (ed.). 2013. Lexical and structural etymology: Beyond word histories. Studies in Language Change, 11. Berlin: DeGruyter Mouton.
-- Moyse, Claire & Volker Gast & Ekkehard Koenig. 2014. Comparative lexicology and the typology of event descriptions : A programmatic study. In Doris Gerland, Christian Horn, Anja Latrouite, Albert Ortmann (eds), Meaning and Grammar of Nouns and Verbs. Studies in Language and Cognition, 1. Düsseldorf : Düsseldorf University Press, 145-183.
-- Tersis, Nicole & Pascal Boyeldieu (eds.). 2017. Le langage de l'émotion : Variations linguistiques et culturelles. (Société d'Études Linguistiques et Anthropologiques de France, 469). Paris–Leuven: Peeters.
-- Urban, Matthias. 2011. Asymmetries in overt marking and directionality in semantic change. Journal of Historical Linguistics 1(1). 3–47​.
-- Vanhove, Martine (ed.) 2008. From Polysemy to Semantic Change. Studies in Language Companion Series, vol. 106. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ce séminaire aura lieu les jeudis, de 14h30 à 17h00 au Centre Haudricourt, 7 rue Guy Môquet - 94800 Villejuif Bâtiment D, salle de conférences du rez-de-chaussée.



Upcoming Seminar

  • Friday 25 May 2018
    Talk by Masha Koptjevskaja-Tamm (Stockholm University) on Hot as fire
    My currents research interests are in cross-linguistic variability in semantic systems and its limits, both in space and time, approached through empirical cross-linguistic research with a special focus on the interaction between language structures, culture and cognition. Is linguistic categorization universal or language/culture-specific, how do semantic systems emerge and develop, where do words for categories in one semantic domain come from and how can they be used for others?
         My talk will revolve around two very basic and important semantic domains – TEMPERATURE and FIRE.
         TEMPERATURE is something I have been engaged in for quite a few years, as partly witnessed by the (huge) edited volume The linguistics of temperature (Koptjevskaja-Tamm, ed. 2015, John Benjamins). I am right now working on its sequel, the book "Temperature in language: typology, evolution and extended uses", which is also the main reason for my present stay at Llacan/Lacito. In my talk I will first present a general overview of the ways in which languages of the world carve up the temperature domain among their expressions. I will then focus on two particular issues:
         -- How (dis-)similar can closely related languages be in their semantic systems, with lexicalization of the temperature domain across Slavic as case study, and
         -- Co-lexification patterns of temperature expressions, with the metaphor "AFFECTION IS WARMTH" (cf. warm words, warm heart) as a case study
    The other semantic domain, fire, is obviously related to temperature, among other things, because 'fire' is one of the cross-linguistically recurrent sources for temperature expressions. I present a few ideas and illustrations on how this domain can be approached cross-linguistically


Latest Seminars

  • 31 January 2018
    Talk by Alexandre François on Typologie de la colexification : Une base de données
    Abstract in French:
    La ​​colexification est la propriété structurale par laquelle une langue peut utiliser la même forme lexicale pour exprimer deux significations S1 et S2 (François 2008). Ainsi, certaines langues colexifient "pays" avec "village", ou "tête" avec "chef", ou "devant" avec "avant"… Comme toute propriété typologique, la colexification peut être étudiée sous divers angles : description d'un domaine sémantique particulier; identification de tendances typologiques; reconstruction historique; études aréales, etc. Parmi les travaux que notre opération de lexique pourrait aborder en commun, figurerait CoLex, une base de données de colexifications – base générique (ouverte à tous les domaines du lexique) et collaborative.
          L'unité d'observation ne serait pas le sens unique, mais un couple de sens S1-S2. Chaque couple (en abscisse) serait croisé avec diverses langues (en ordonnée), afin d'observer dans quelles langues il est colexifié. Cet exposé présentera un échantillon de 165 couples de sens, croisés avec 5 langues de Mélanésie et d'ailleurs. Mais cette base accroîtra son intérêt à mesure qu'y seront ajoutés plus de couples lexicaux, et surtout plus de langues de familles diverses — en profitant de la variété des langues qui sont représentées au LaCiTO.
          Au travers de quelques exemples, l'exposé illustrera l'intérêt d'une telle base comparative, notamment dans la réflexion sur la dimension aréale des structures lexicales (cf. Juvonen & Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2016). Nous discuterons ensemble des choix présidant à la constitution d'une telle base, des écueils possibles, des décisions à prendre, et des perspectives de développement et d'exploitation de nos futures observations.
    -- François, Alexandre. 2008. Semantic maps and the typology of colexification: Intertwining polysemous networks across languages. In Martine Vanhove (ed.), From Polysemy to Semantic Change, Studies in Language Companion Series, vol. 106, 163–215. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
    -- Juvonen, Päivi & Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm (eds.). 2016. The Lexical Typology of Semantic Shifts. Cognitive Linguistics Research 58. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

  • 29 November 2017
    Talk by Lameen Souag on Kinship terms in proto-Berber: Using colexification patterns in reconstruction
    The reconstruction of kinship terminology in Berber presents a number of difficulties. Northern Berber kinship systems are profoundly influenced by Arabic at the level of lexicon as well as structure. Saharan ones paint a different picture, broadly reflecting an Iroquoian system rather than the Sudanese one characteristic of Arabic and Northern Berber; in this respect, they match several neighbouring languages of the Sahel. To determine the original situation, it is necessary to examine the history of colexification patterns. Colexification patterns shared across distantly related branches are likely to be original, while more localized ones are likely to be innovative. Innovative lexicalizations, expressing meanings not originally independently lexicalized, tend to be formed through loanwords, transparent compounding, or metaphorical extensions from other domains. A further aid to reconstruction is the fact that particular family residence patterns promote particular colexicalization patterns. Taking all of this data into account, it appears that proto-Berber kinship terminology reflected a bilateral Hawaiian system unlike any Berber group today, and that Tuareg kinship systems have been profoundly influenced by Sahelian ones just as Northern Berber ones have by Arab ones…

  • 1st June
    Exposé d'Alexandre François visant à présenter le domaine – avec une attention particulière portée aux phénomènes de colexification (François 2008), et la possibilité de créer des cartes sémantiques en typologie lexicale.
    ​L'exposé sera suivi d'une discussion collective pour réfléchir à la manière dont nous voudrions mener ce groupe de recherche au cours des prochaines années.

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