LINGUIST List 14.2207

Wed Aug 20 2003

Review: Semantics: Glaz (2002)

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  1. Heli Tissari, The Dynamics of Meaning

Message 1: The Dynamics of Meaning

Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2003 19:32:18 +0000
From: Heli Tissari <heli.tissarihelsinki.fi>
Subject: The Dynamics of Meaning

Glaz, Adam (2002) The Dynamics of Meaning: Explorations in the
Conceptual Domain of EARTH, Maria Curie-Sklodowska University Press,
PASE Studies & Monographs Vol 9.

[The ''l'' in the author's surname and in the name of the publisher is
''l-stroke''. --Eds.]

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-2194.html


Heli Tissari, Department of English, University of Helsinki

Glaz sets himself an intriguing goal, namely to combine Langacker's
(1991a: 266-277) lexical network model with Fuchs's (1994) model of
dynamic meaning. He describes the meaning of the English word EARTH as
simultaneously forming a set of nodes and being on the move. This
reminds me of Trier's (1931: 13) mournful observation: ''Die
Forderung, dem ewigen Fluss des Werdens wissenschaftlich nahezukommen,
bleibt in ihrer ganzen Wucht bestehen .'' (''The challenge of
scientifically approaching the eternal flow of coming-to-be remains
enormous .'')

To look at the study from another angle, Glaz wants to combine lexical
semantics with text linguistics by focusing both on the meanings of
single items and on their interplay in the cotext. Here he deviates
slightly from the tradition in linguistic semantics of focusing on
single words and the relationships between them rather than their
co-effect in text. This tradition has continued in the era of
prototype theory which inspired network modelling (e.g. Brugman 1988
[1981], Geeraerts 1997).

The book consists of two parts, ''The Model'' and ''The Dynamics of
Word Meaning.'' The first part deals with theoretical issues, and the
second describes three analyses. These concern the word EARTH, its
relationship to WORLD, SOIL, LAND, and GROUND, and the question of how
these words are translated from English into Polish.

Glaz's first aim is to situate himself in the field of cognitive
linguistics. As indicated in the title of his book, he emphasises the
conceptual nature of meaning, which he assumes to be grounded in
gestalts and embodiment. To prepare for the network model, he
discusses categorisation, prototypes and schemas. While he leans
towards certain authors, he still maintains a critical attitude and
seems to weigh various options carefully, opting for a middle ground
between extreme claims.

A similar attitude of polite guardedness characterises his chapter on
semantic space and the network model, in which he explicates the
methodological background for the analyses. He gives a detailed
treatment of the nature of ''the conceptual interface between the
linguistic forms we use and the physical environment to which the
forms relate'' (p. 48). Then he makes a major distinction between what
he calls the senses of an item and its textual meaning: ''a word's
sense is the concept it evokes within the (conventionalized)
conceptual network, its textual meaning is its semantic value,
i.e. conceptualization, in a given instance of use'' (pp. 57-58). This
leads him to briefly consider the importance of context before
specifying the details of the network model. In the model, a lexical
item can consist of several prototypes, which in turn may have
extensions. The general features of the prototypes can be abstracted
to a schema.

Glaz seems to be quite familiar with Langacker's thinking on the
nature of meaning. Fuchs's dynamic model of semantic space is treated
more briefly, the main emphasis being on the assumption that there is
constant interaction between the meanings of co-occurring words and
that these meanings can potentially move in several directions. This
reminds one of other claims about words as ''slippery customers'' and
the flexibility of meaning which have been characteristic of the
prototype approach from its beginnings (e.g. Labov 1974 [1973]: 341,
Raukko forthcoming).

The second part of the book opens with a lexical network definition
for EARTH, based on various dictionaries. EARTH is seen to have four
major or prototypical senses: 'planet', 'world', 'surface (opposed to
sky)', and 'material of the surface (opposed to bedrock)'. Glaz's
textual examples come from six novels by Martin Amis and the complete
1995 edition of The Times and The Sunday Times on CD-ROM. He begins
with close matches between the senses in the network and textual
meanings of EARTH, but soon moves on to more complex cases.

He points out that textual meanings can simultaneously cover several
nodes in the lexical network. Moreover, he considers the interplay
between various senses of EARTH, and between these and contextual
idioms. These considerations lead him to schematise some network
reconfigurations. For example, he notes that the abstract schema
'planet' for EARTH can be elaborated to 'a planet versus other
heavenly bodies' and 'a planet versus other planets', and that these
two elaborations could be said to instantiate 'the planet on which we
live', the only node initially in the network. He summarises his
findings as follows: ''[T]he semantics of EARTH is constantly being
altered through a rich universe of diverse textual forces'' (p. 113).

In his comparison between EARTH and WORLD, Glaz points out that one
can move from narrow to wide scope, beginning with WORLD 'the
immediate environment around us, the life of humans on this planet.'
This is contained by EARTH 'this planet with everything on it,' in
turn contained by WORLD 'everything that exists' (p. 120).

A favourite example of his compares the sentence

(1) 'Yeah cheers,' murmured Nicola, who had only twenty days and
nights ON EARTH to go. (Amis, London Fields p. 332)

with several other instantiations of both EARTH and WORLD. Glaz
explains that the meaning of EARTH in (1) is closest to the network
sense 'realm of mortal existence', but simultaneously extended towards
'planet' and 'world', the latter activated by the word WORLD in the
same cotext (p. 122).

Scope as in WORLD-EARTH-WORLD is related to the 'zooming- in' effect
which Glaz notes with respect to the phrase A STRIP OF EARTH/LAND. He
points out that EARTH in A STRIP OF EARTH can mean a 'portion of
world,' while LAND in A STRIP OF LAND means 'terrain of any size,'
nevertheless zooming on a smaller entity. However, sometimes A STRIP
OF EARTH is merely a minor 'bare surface of a terrain' (pp. 134-135).

As for the translations from English into Polish, Glaz notes that even
a single translator's decisions can vary a great deal. After overtly
shunning prescriptivism, he nevertheless makes the point that ''the
use of a particular lexeme may have far-reaching consequences, as it
has the potential to activate or downplay the nature of the whole
conceptual scene'' (pp. 154, 162). The Polish word ZIEMIA applies to
almost the whole range of EARTH, SOIL, LAND, GROUND and WORLD, but
translators employ other words and expressions as well, not to mention
the times when they come up with translations that entirely leave out
the relevant word.

The appendix is a short chapter in itself. There Glaz deals with the
capitalisation of EARTH and the use of the definite article. He
arrives at the paradigm ''earth - Earth - the earth - the Earth''
which he thinks reflects whether the conceptualiser is focusing on
himself/herself or on the object of conceptualisation. He claims that
capitalisation and the definite article convey an emphasis on the
object EARTH, which is therefore strongest when they are combined in
''the Earth.'' Following Langacker (1991b: 93), he calls this the
subjectification-objectification asymmetry.

In his conclusion, Glaz formulates two wishes: ''First, I hope that
the analysis proposed here will serve as a step towards a fuller
description of the meaning of EARTH in a broader, cultural
context. Second, I hope that the analytic apparatus will prove helpful
in descriptions of other lexical items.'' (p. 170) Glaz's ambitions
seem rather modest, given that he is dealing with the big issue of the
dynamics of meaning.

One ought to give him credit for addressing important questions about
the nature of lexical meaning: words, their meanings, and the
interplay of these in conceptualisation and cotext, all of which could
together be labelled the ''eternal flow of coming-to-be.'' In Fuchs's
words, ''MOVEMENT . [is] imprinted in the very essence of language.''
(1994: 97)

Glaz deserves further credit for an informed, insightful, concise and
clear presentation of the issues. His familiarity with various authors
and approaches is especially evident in the footnotes. Many of them
could have been included in the main text without damage to the
dynamics of the argument.

Glaz's argument appears weakest at two points. The first is when he
addresses his choice of data, especially since he himself hedges in
introducing it. He says that his choice of texts is ''arbitrary''
(p. 81), but he then defends it by claiming that the texts are fairly
homogeneous. He could have been more careful in discussing this matter
and describing his data.

The same applies to the introduction of the senses of EARTH which are
taken from dictionaries. The justification for this choice, following
the previously established pattern, reads as follows: ''The selection
I have proposed is obviously somewhat arbitrary, although care has
been taken to include dictionaries of diverse formats, methodological
backgrounds and publishing traditions.'' (p. 87)

At this point, I also felt the lack of a general motivation for using
dictionaries as the basis for the analysis. An explanation finally
arrived in the conclusion: ''[T]he conventionalized senses of a word
can be treated as such only after they have been recognized . I have
simply assumed . that most of these abstractions and schematizations
have already been identified by lexicologists and lexicographers.''
(p. 169)

The overall impression is that Glaz has an ability to ''zoom'' his
claims and data down to a scale which both he and the reader can
handle. This makes it possible for him to get his message across. He
also resembles the Biblical ''owner of a house who brings out of his
storeroom new treasures as well as old.'' (Matthew 13: 52)

This kind of research could obviously be continued either by going
into greater detail or by examining longer stretches of text and
attempting to formulate what is going on. Currently Glaz's
illuminating diagrams are limited to characterising the relationships
between isolated words and idioms: what about the other words which
occur in the cotext, and what about the larger scale? It will be
interesting to see what follows.

REFERENCES

Amis, Martin. 1989. London Fields. London: Jonathan Cape.

Brugman, Claudia. 1988 (1981). The Story of Over: Polysemy, Semantics,
and the Structure of the Lexicon. New York & London: Garland
Publishing.

Fuchs, Catherine. 1994. ''The challenges of continuity for a
linguistic approach to semantics.'' Continuity in Linguistic
Semantics, ed. by Catherine Fuchs & Bernard Victorri. Amsterdam &
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Geeraerts, Dirk. 1997. Diachronic Prototype Semantics: A Contribution
to Historical Lexicology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1991a. Concept, Image, and Symbol: The Cognitive
Basis of Grammar. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1991b. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Vol. II:
Descriptive Application. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Labov, William. 1974 (1973). ''The boundaries of words and their
meanings.'' New Ways of Analyzing Variation in English, ed. by
Charles-James N. Bailey & Roger W. Shuy. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown
University Press. 340-373.

Raukko, Jarno. Forthcoming. 'Polysemy as flexible meaning: Experiments
with the English GET and the Finnish PIT��.' Polysemy:
Patterns of Meaning in Mind and Language, ed. by Brigitte Nerlich,
Zazie Todd, Vimala Herman & David C. Clarke.

Trier, Jost. 1931. Der deutsche Wortschatz im Sinnbezirk des
Verstandes: Die Geschichte eines sprachlichen Feldes. Bd. 1: Von den
Anf�ngen bis zum Beginn des 13. Jahrhunderts. Heidelberg: Carl
Winter.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Heli Tissari, PhD, is co-ordinator of the Research Unit for Variation
and Change in English at the University of Helsinki. She is above all
interested in emotion words and their semantic development.
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