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Review of  Words in Time

Reviewer: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Book Title: Words in Time
Book Author: Regine Eckardt Klaus von Heusinger Christoph Schwarze
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.2770

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Date: Mon, 4 Oct 2004 13:41:56 +0530 (IST)
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Subject: Words in Time: Diachronic Semantics from Different Points of View

EDITORS: Eckardt, Ergine; von Heusinger, Klaus; Schwarze, Christoph
TITLE: Words in Time
SUBTITLE: Diachronic Semantics from Different Points of View.
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2003

Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India

The plan for the present volume originated in the context of the Sonderfor-schungsbereich (collaborative research centre) 471 "Variation and Evolution in the Lexicon", funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation). This umbrella project was funded in the year 1997 with an aim for better understanding of innovation and diversification as processes inherent in language learning and use. The lexicon is perceived as one major locus of mental representation and of variation as a cause of change. The proposed project investigates language variation from the perspective of neighboring disciplines, in particular history, literary studies, psychology and sociology.

A substantial part of the contributions to this anthology was first presented in the International Colloquium on "Methodology for the interdisciplinary investigation of the lexicon" held at the Konstanz University, Germany in 1998 and in the workshop on "Meaning Change -- Meaning Variation'" held at the XXI Annual Meeting of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft in 1999. Additional scholars were invited to contribute, with the aim to strengthen the interdisciplinary profile of the volume.

The volume contains a number of significant articles related to the fields of lexical semantics, and lexicology with a wide range of interests and approaches to the historical analysis of lexicon. Based on the synthesis of different tendencies and main approaches discussed here, the volume is divided into 3 broad sections.

Section A (Changing believes, diversifying words, and flexible meanings) contains four papers dealing with diachronic cognitive onomasiology, variation and change in lexical fields, semantic change of words through time, and words within the changing frame of discourse. Section B (The meaning of meaning change) includes three papers devoted to the analysis of theories and concepts of lexical meaning, courses in meaning change, and the notions of Montague semantics. Section C (The force of Grammar) contains four papers, which focus on the grammatical as well as sociolinguistic aspects of some individual languages (e.g. Greek, Urdu, Molise and German) related with the reconstruction of meaning and meaning change.

In "Introduction: Historical linguistics as a transdisciplinary field of research" (pp. 1-33) Regine Eckardt, Klaus von Heusinger and Christoph Schwarze present a global introductory description about the present theories and analyses on word meaning along with a brief a reference to the content of the papers included in the volume. In the course of their discussion they weave an interface of word meaning with cultural, psychological, sociological, historical and philosophical aspects of human life and society. Next, they refer to the theories of language change and meaning change, and project on the colorful prism of diachronic semantics from different points of view.

In "Words and concepts in time: Towards diachronic cognitive onomasiology" (pp. 37-65) Andreas Blank aims to discuss the potentials of modern onomasiology in the light of cognitive linguistics. With an aim to develop a framework of diachronic cognitive onomasiology, he shows how both onomasiology and cognitive linguistics reveal their full explanatory power in a diachronic perspective. In general, diachronic cognitive onomasiology investigates the main strategies that exist in a language sample for conceptualizing and verbalizing a given concept. It also tries to explain these against a cognitive background in terms of salient perceptions, prominence, convincing similarities, etc. It looks for source concepts that seem to be universally recurrent, reveals the associative relations underlying source and target concepts, and describes the lexical processes used by the speakers. It thus fabricates a double framework of associative relations, which can combine with virtually any process of lexical innovation. This theoretical foundation allows the description and explanation of lexical changes towards a cognitively more prominent strategy as well as of reorganizations of conceptual structures. Furthermore, to a certain extent it is possible to predict which strategy speakers will most probably take when they produce lexical innovations. In this sense, a history of concepts that integrates semasiological change on the level of the individual designation contributes to a better understanding of how reality (or what people hold it to be) is perceived and interpreted. Thus its serves as a modest linguistic contribution towards the better understanding of human mind.

In "The Semantic structure of lexical fields: Variation and change" (pp. 67-114) David Kronenfeld and Gabriella Rundblad use the lexical field 'a natural watercourse' as their base to present a description of the interrelation between the synchronic state of language and the diachronic changes ever evident in it. They show how the lexical field was structured in the earlier periods of English, and how and (possibly) why it has come to take on its current shape. To achieve their goal, they use an anthropological approach, whereby the cultural influence on language is used to help delineate the semantic and lexical changes and the reasons behind them. The study of a semantic domain (including its paradigmatic structure, its relationship to the pragmatic and communicative experience of the language's speakers, speakers' cultural ambience, frequency of use of the terms, etc.) derives in a large part, though not exclusively, from the works of ethnoscience and cognitive anthropology.

In "Khalifa -- A word study" (pp. 115-133) David Wasserstein trails through the long history of origin, development, orthographic modification, and semantic change of the Arabic word khalifa 'caliph'. After a short description on the etymology and meanings in section 2, the author presents a moderately lengthy description about the origin of the use of the title 'khalifa' both in Arabic as well as in English and other languages, eventually to end up with a line of parallelism with 'papacy'. In essence, the author tries to establish the fact that the term has acquired a wider semantic dimension over the centuries because of its religious element that plays an important, or even, a decisive role it its development. Strikingly, the purely semantic, lexicographical aspect of the term, shorn of the religious element, has remained impressively durable -- a quality that controls the basic nature of lexico-semantic changes of the term.

In "Words in discourse -- On the diachronic lexical semantics of 'discours'" (pp. 135-171) Judith Meinschaefer presents a lexical semantic investigation of the French noun 'discours', one of the most important cultural keywords in the twentieth century, on the basis of its usage in historical literary texts. First, the paper draws a brief sketch on the semantic evolution of the term in the preceding five centuries. Next, it analyses the usage of the term in the writing of two French authors: Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Here the emphasis is on the analysis of the combinatorial properties of the word in question, of its position within a network of lexicosemantic relations, its relation to semantic frames of complex situations, and its use for reference to linguistic representations of a discourse in the text, with the aim of developing a methodology for the linguistic analysis of different uses of a word in historical texts. The results of this study are discussed in the light of Putnam's (1975) conception of the 'division of linguistic labor' to show how the semantic evolution of the term is characterized by decreasing polysemy and increasing specialization.

In "Theoretical concepts in flux: Conceptual knowledge and theory change" (pp. 175-205) Hans Rott considers theoretical terms, terms that come from the theory in the sense that their correct application or determination of their values is not possible independently of the theory they are part of. In the following, he uses the term 'theory' also, but not exclusively, to refer to theories as produced by an established science; his considerations are also meant to apply to belief systems that might be termed 'naive' or 'folk theories'. In essence, he puts forward for discussion a way of making philosophical sense of the meaning of theoretical terms and of the changes thereof. The proposal is based on an explication of analytic judgements that is in turn inspired by Quinean ideas without, however, subscribing to his skepticism about meaning. Inspiration from Quine is drawn in three respects: the use of the revisability of sentences as a vehicle for the explication of 'analyticity'; the acknowledgement of substantial difficulties in drawing a line between knowledge of facts (beliefs, theories) and knowledge of language (meaning); and the recommendation of a pragmatic solution to these difficulties that refers to speakers and communities of speakers. Finally, he argues that making a sense of the difference between substantial changes of theories and mere changes of ways of speaking is crucial if we want to understand how theoretical concepts can be in flux.

In "Meaning change as character change" (pp. 207-224) Ulrike Haas-Spohn offers a reconstruction of Putnam's (1975) account of natural-kind terms and theoretical terms with David Kaplan's (1989) context theory. This allows the author to represent epistemic as well as metaphysical aspects of the determination of reference within single notion of meaning, namely, the Kaplanian 'character'. It also entails an account of meaning change, which confirms the familiar doctrine of the theory of dependence of meaning and at the same time retains Putnam's insight that the reference of natural kind terms remains constant across theoretical change. The author starts with an informal sketch of Putnam's theory of natural-kind terms, emphasizing its motivation from philosophy of science. Next, he proposes a format for the meaning of natural-kind terms in terms of Kaplanian characters, a task that crucially relies on an explication of the notion of usage of words. Finally, he reconstructs meaning change within the account presented to distinguish three kinds of meaning change (normally understood as character change) and demonstrates the utility of this approach with some central examples.

In "Meaning change in conceptual Montague semantics" (pp. 225-247) Regine Eckardt aims to extend the Montague theory of meaning (1974) by a diachronic dimension in a meaningful way. The author intends to proceed in two distinct and sequential steps. First, she proposes a theory of how a new word and its meaning are introduced into language. The proposal is nominalistic in spirit and replaces the currently favored causal theory of reference. Second, she shows how context of language use can, in retrospect, be interpreted as hypothetical contexts of meaning introduction, and thus gives rise to new meanings of an old word -- depending on the historical, cultural, and social circumstances -- in a systematic fashion. Finally, she discusses how the resulting account for word meaning in Montague grammar integrates notions like 'stereotype' and 'default knowledge', notions that capture indispensable aspects of our semantic competence and yet often are treated in a way strangely independent of the core semantic theory.

In "Tense in time: The Greek perfect" (pp. 251-293) Eva-Carin Gerö and Armin von Stechow deal with the diachronic development of the form and meaning of the Greek perfect. The reason for focusing on this language is two fold: first, it has often been neglected in the modern linguistic literature about tense; second, in Greek, it is possible to observe (even without taking into account the form and meaning of the Perfect in Modern Greek) a very interesting diachronic behavior of the Perfect which may have a great deal to tell about the 'tense' more generally. After re-examining the diachronic development of the data in the light of older as well as more recent theories of the perfect tense, the investigators find that the Archaic (Homeric) Perfect displays properties most typical of an intensifier or an aspect (result). The two meanings connected with the Perfect of this time are, however, too different to allow serious assumptions as to their (historical) common denominator. The investigation ends with the claim that the Greek Perfect up to the Byzantine period, with the exception of Archaic Greek, should be understood in terms of an 'Extended Now' model (cf. McCoard 1978). Thus Greek Perfect shows much similarity with the English and Swedish Perfect.

In "Light verbs in Urdu and grammaticalization" (pp. 295-349) Miriam Butt and Wilhelm Geuder take up the issue of light verbs as grammaticalized elements, and present a synopsis of the historical development and the synchronic status of light verbs in Indo-Aryan, with special reference to Urdu. While the explanation in terms of grammaticalization is intuitively appealing at first glance, several observable properties of the light verbs in Urdu do not quite submit to the proposed model. Therefore, the present authors put forth an alternative account that stresses the lexical, as opposed to grammatical, nature of light verbs. Their main claim is that the pairing of light and full verb readings of the same item constitutes a case of lexical polysemy, but not of grammaticalization. To substantiate their claim they present a faithful sketch of a lexicosemantic account of light verbs that reconciles the semantic intuitions and the observed data with the lack of grammaticalization effects. Overall, their findings show that light verbs do not fit in with the usual model of grammaticalization from full verbs to auxiliaries and further on to morphological markers for grammatical categories.

In "Bilingualism and linguistic interface in the Slavic-Romance contact area of Molise (Southern Italy)" (pp. 351-373) Walter Breu presents the outcome of his work on a dictionary of the linguistic interface of the Slavic minority language in the southern Italian region of Molise. The aim of this dictionary is to describe not only the actual state of the vocabulary but also the origin of the single lexicon entries, as well as phonetic, semantic and grammatical changes in a situation of total language contact. The main emphasis of the present article is on language change in the lexicosemantic and grammatico-functional areas. I doing so, the present author shows that his data support the hypothesis that bilingual speakers do not strictly separate the vocabulary and grammar of two or more languages. Instead, they combine them with each other in the most economical manner available under their disposal. Special attention is paid to the questions, to which extent language change through contact leads to the adaptation of different language systems, which pathways of development are chosen in this process, but also which areas resist adaptation and possibly may even shows signs of independent developments distinct from the contact language.

In "Lexical-grammatical variation and development: The use of conjunctions as discourse markers in everyday spoken German" (pp. 375-403) Susanne Günthner presents the study that projects at the interface of lexicon and grammar. Based on conversational data from colloquial German collected from 1983 to 1999, the study aims at uncovering how 'new' uses for 'old' words have developed in spoken colloquial German. The analysis focuses on the growing tendency over the last 20 to 25 years to use the traditionally subordinating conjunctions 'weil' (because) and 'obwohl' (although) with main-clause syntax. The conjunction 'weil' no longer provides a reason for the preceding proposition, conclusion, or speech-act; instead it has mainly discourse-organizational functions. It is used to introduce additional explanatory information, to initiate a topical change, and to function as a conversational 'continuation marker' signaling that the present speaker does want to continue talking. On the other hand, German speakers reinterpret the traditional concessive conjunction 'obwohl' as a correction marker to limit or correct the validity of the preceding utterance. As with 'weil' it has structural and functional distinctions between its use at verb-final and verb-second positions. Thus, the author observes a functional change from meaning based on the referential/propositional level to meaning based on the discourse level; or from sentence grammar to discourse grammar.

This volume is worthy addition to the recent trend of lexical analysis in the field of historical lexicology, lexical semantics, and lexicography following the line of contribution of Coleman and Kay (2002) and Díaz Vera (2002). It offers a collection of studies in meaning change from linguistic as extralinguistic perspectives conducted by scholars in the fields of linguistics, philology, lexicology, sociology, anthropology and history. The volume allows comparing as well as making in-depth investigations of language change from different angles and scientific paradigms. Each of the contributions demonstrates the methods and techniques of its own core field whilst showing the fruitful mixing of perspectives of more than one discipline. In bridging the gap between disciplines, the contributors want to strengthen sensitivity of the many dimensions of language as a social, cultural, cognitive, formal and historical object. With sincere emphasis on the neighboring disciplines, which arrest attention in the task of semantic study of words of a language, the volume directs us towards a new path we would like to traverse in future. Enriched with data, analysis, and information the volume promises growth of the field with newer inputs from other disciplines. Probably, the only tangible limitation of the volume lies in some typographical errors, which could have been easily avoided with little more attention.

Coleman Julie and Christian J. Kay (Eds.) (2002) Lexicology, Semantics and Lexicography: Selected Papers from the 4th G. L. Brook Symposium. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Díaz Vera, Javier E. (2002) A Changing World of Words: Studies in English Historical Lexicography, Lexicology and Semantics. Amsterdam-New York, NY: Rodopi (Costerus New Series 141).

Kaplan, David (1989) "Demonstratives". In Joseph Almog, John Perry, and Howard Wettstein (Eds.) Themes from Kaplan. Pp 481-563. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCoard, Robert W. (1978) The English Perfect: Tense Choice and Pragmatic Inferences. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Thomason, Richmond (Ed.) (1974) Formal Philosophy: Selected Papers of Richard Montague. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Putnam, Hilary (1975) "The meaning of meaning", in Keith Gunderson (Ed.) Language, Mind and Knowledge. Pp. 131-193. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Dr. Niladri Sekhar Dash works in the area of Corpus Linguistics and Language Technology at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest includes Corpus Linguistics, Lexicology, Lexical Semantics, and Lexicography. Presently he is working on corpus generation, lexical polysemy, corpus-based dictionary, and corpus-based machine translation in Indian languages.