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Lexical tectonics: Mapping structural change in patterns of lexification

Abstract : Whether it is based on philological data or on comparative research, historical linguistics accounts for modern words by formulating etymological hypotheses that entail changes both in form and in meaning. One way to represent semantic change is to describe modifications in “patterns of lexification”: a polysemous word, which once lexified senses s1–s2–s3, has evolved so it now encodes s3–s4– s5. Meanings that used to be colexified are now dislexified, and vice versa. Leaning on empirical data from Romance and from Oceanic (Vanuatu), this study proposes a general approach to historical lexicology, by identifying five types of structural innovations: split, merger, competition, shift, and relexification. The theoretical discussion is made easier by using a visual approach to structural change, in the form of diachronic maps. Semantic maps have already proven useful to represent synchronic patterns of lexification, outlining each language’s emic categories against a grid of etic senses. The same principle can be profitably used when analysing lexification patterns in diachrony: lexical change is then viewed as the reconfiguration of sense clusters in a semantic space. Maps help us visualize the “lexical tectonics” at play as words evolve over time, gradually shifting their meaning, gaining or losing semantic territory, colliding with each other, or disappearing forever.
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-03092510
Contributor : Alexandre François <>
Submitted on : Saturday, January 2, 2021 - 2:00:31 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, January 5, 2021 - 5:28:08 PM

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  • HAL Id : halshs-03092510, version 1

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Alexandre François. Lexical tectonics: Mapping structural change in patterns of lexification. Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft, De Gruyter, In press, The future of mapping: New avenues for semantic maps research. ⟨halshs-03092510⟩

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