Elisabeth Norcliffe and Asifa Majid
Typologists and documentary linguists have laid bare a striking amount of variation in the lexically named categories found in the world’s languages (Evans 2010, Koptjevskaja-Tamm & Vanhove 2012, Majid 2015, Malt & Majid 2013), reflecting the diverse cultural preoccupations and ecological interests of different communities of speakers. Indeed, substantial cross-linguistic diversity has been identified for every semantic domain that has so far been studied. The observed diversity concerns not only differences in the degree of lexical differentiation within domains, but also differences in the (often cross-cutting) dimensions along which languages lexically partition them (e.g., Bowerman 2005, Levinson 2003, Nerlove & Romney 1967).
At the same time, there are compelling recurring patterns to be found in the organisation of lexicons that imply general constraints on the evolution of form-meaning mappings. Recent years have seen a surge in interest in uncovering cross-linguistic commonalities and developing causal theories of how they arise (Carr et al. 2020, Jackson et al. 2019, Kemp et al. 2018, Xu et al. 2020, Youn et al. 2016). For example, according to one theory the lexical organisation of semantic domains reflects language-specific solutions to a communicative trade-off between simplicity and informativeness (e.g. Kemp & Regier 2012, Regier et al. 2015), and according to another the relative cross-linguistic frequency with which any two concepts colexify reflects the relative strength of conceptual relatedness between the two (Xu et al. 2020; see also Gentner & Bowerman 2009, Youn et al. 2016).
With the growing cross-disciplinary interest in variability and regularity in the lexical expression of meaning, it is timely and necessary to bring together the assorted approaches to the topic, in order to integrate findings, explore limitations of proposed theories, and generate new ideas. To this end, this session features contributions from across the language sciences that engage with lexical meaning cross-linguistically and the factors — cognitive, communicative, historical, socio-cultural – that shape and constrain it. A wide range of topics will be explored including colexification, the evolution of word meaning, word entropies, polysemy and learnability, metaphoric processes and the directionality of semantic change. The talks exemplify diverse empirical and theoretical perspectives and range from those exploring overarching principles regarding the lexicon as well as focused domain-specific studies (perception, temperature, motion, space). Taken together, this theme session uniquely brings together a wide range of speakers coming from diverse perspectives but who all bring new light to the conference topic of modelling language and cognition.
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Carr, J. W., Smith, K., Culbertson, J., and Kirby, S. 2020. Simplicity and informativeness in semantic category systems. Cognition 202:104289
Evans, N. 2010. Semantic Typology. In The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology, edited by Jae Jung Song, 504–33. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gentner, D., and Bowerman, M. 2009. Why some spatial semantic categories are harder to learn than others: The typological prevalence hypothesis. In J. Guo, E. Lieven, N. Budwig, S. Ervin-Tripp, K. Nakamura, & S. Ozcaliskan (Eds.), Crosslinguistic approaches to the psychology of language: Research in the tradition of Dan Isaac Slobin (pp. 465–480)
Karjus, A., Blythe, R. A., Kirby, S., Wang, T., and Smith, K. 2021. Conceptual Similarity and Communicative Need Shape Colexification: An Experimental Study. Cognitive Science, 45(9).
Kemp, C., Xu, Y., and Regier, T. 2018. Semantic typology and efficient communication. Annual Review of Linguistics, 4, 109–128.
Koptjevskaja-Tamm, M. and Vanhove, M. (Eds.). 2012. New directions in lexical typology. Special issue of Linguistics 50(3). 373–710.
Levinson, S. C. 2003. Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Malt, B. C. and Majid, A. 2013. How thought is mapped into words. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 4, 583– 597.
Majid, A. 2015. Comparing lexicons cross-linguistically. In J. R. Taylor (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Word, 364–379. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nerlove, S and Romney, A. K. 1967. Sibling terminology and cross-sex behavior. American Anthropology 69:179–187.
Xu, Y., Duong, K., Malt, B. C., Jiang, S., and Srinivasan, M. 2020. Conceptual Relations Predict Colexification across Languages. Cognition 201: 104280.
Youn, H., Sutton, L., Smith, E., Moore, C., Wilkins, J. F., Maddieson, I., Croft, W. and Bhattacharya, T. 2016. On the Universal Structure of Human Lexical Semantics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (7): 1766–71.
Jackson, J. C., Watts, J., Henry, T. R., List, J.-M., Forkel, R., Mucha, P. J., Greenhill, S.J., Gray, R.D. and Lindquist, K. A. 2019. Emotion semantics show both cultural variation and universal structure. Science, 366, 1517–1522.