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Continu et discret en sémantique lexicale

Abstract : Which type of mathematical tools must be used to represent the meaning of a linguistic unit in a sentence ? Discrete algebraic representations, like sets of semantic features and graphs of semantic relations, or continuous geometrical representations, like regions in semantic spaces ?
Starting from Saussure's famous schema illustrating how discrete linguistic units demarcate regions in a continuum of meaning, we show that the choice between discrete and continuous modelling relies on the nature of the division of the continuum. If the division were a partition without any overlapping, a discrete model would be perfectly justified. But as shown by the phenomena of polysemy and partial synonymy, the relation between units and meanings is much more complex and a discrete model cannot take into account these properties, and particularly their diachronic evolution.
To illustrate this idea we present an extremely simple model of dynamic evolution of the division of a continuous semantic space by discrete units. We show that emergence and stabilisation of polysemy and partial synonymy in the model rely on a few hypotheses about how the units are used. The model does not allow realistic simulations of the diachronic evolution of the lexicon of a natural language but it shows that continuity is necessary even in much simpler systems with similar properties. Moreover, it strengthens functionalist explanations of the persistence of polysemy and partial synonymy through evolution in natural languages.
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00009491
Contributor : Bernard Victorri <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, March 7, 2006 - 7:43:45 PM
Last modification on : Saturday, March 28, 2020 - 2:22:00 AM
Document(s) archivé(s) le : Saturday, April 3, 2010 - 9:05:09 PM

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  • HAL Id : halshs-00009491, version 1

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Bernard Victorri. Continu et discret en sémantique lexicale. Les cahiers de praxématique, Montpellier : Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2006-, 2004, pp.75-94. ⟨halshs-00009491⟩

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