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Words and their meanings: principles of variation and stabilization

Abstract : This article, entrenched in cognitive linguistics, examines the different reasons behind linguistic variation and proposes a multidimensional approach to the layering of the lexicon and its semantic organization, aiming at explicating the principles of variation and stabilization of lexical networks. Semantic variation is considered as inherent to language structure and driven by common universal cognitive mechanisms which are accounted for by a dynamic conception of meaning construal. Intra-linguistic plasticity of meaning echoes inter-linguistic variation. The discourse level is the seat of meaning construal mechanisms which contribute to the general polysemy of lexical units and to the stabilization of their meaning within a particular utterance. Units appear to be the seat of most variations, within and across languages, because meaning is construed in extremely varied ways according to common mechanisms. The author shows how the linguistic units trigger representations which are caught up in a complex network of relations, both language internal and external, semantic and formal, what she calls “the depth dimension of language”. This includes cultural organization, referential paths, internal architecture (figure and ground), metaphor and metonymy, referential scales, application domains, scenarios ands semantic universes, networks of formal and semantic relations between terms, connotations and social roles, associations between linguistic and extralinguistic representations, structured relations within a specific verbal or situational context, pragmatic inferences, (de)motivations, landmarks, attractors and “active zones”, prototypes, “semantic isotopics”, and anchor points. In addition, she also points to the two modes for forming meaning, construction and quotation, which both play a role in the construction of meaning and reference access.
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Stéphane Robert. Words and their meanings: principles of variation and stabilization. Martine Vanhove. From polysemy to semantic change: towards a typology of lexical semantic associations, John Benjamins, pp.55-92, 2008, Studies in Language Companion Series 106. ⟨hal-00382676⟩

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