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Review of  The Dynamics of Meaning


Reviewer: Heli Tissari
Book Title: The Dynamics of Meaning
Book Author: Adam Glaz
Publisher: Wydawnictwo UMCS
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 14.2207

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Date: Thu, 14 Aug 2003 14:56:31 +0300
From: Heli Tissari <heli.tissari@helsinki.fi>
Subject: The Dynamics of Meaning: Explorations in the Conceptual Domain of EARTH

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.]

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 PITÄÄ.'
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 Anfängen bis zum Beginn des 13.
Jahrhunderts. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.




 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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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