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  • Words in time: Diachronic semantics from different points of view
  • Dirk Geeraerts
Words in time: Diachronic semantics from different points of view. Ed. by Regine Eckardt, Klaus von Heusinger, and Christoph Schwarze. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2003. Pp. 415. ISBN 3110176750. $132.30 (Hb).

The present collection of eleven studies on lexical semantic change grew out of the Sonder-forschungsbereich 'Variation and Evolution in the Lexicon' of the Deutsche Forschungsge-meinschaft, and more specifically, out of a colloquium on 'Methodology for the interdisciplinary investigation of the lexicon' held at the University of Konstanz in 1998, together with a workshop on 'Meaning Change—Meaning Variation' held at the annual meeting of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft in 1999.

The papers may be classified into four groups according to the specific type of diachronic semantic study that they illustrate. This is not the grouping that is used in the volume, as the onomasiological papers, the second group below, are not distinguished as a separate category.

First, three papers broadly situate semantic changes in the context of historical and cultural changes. In 'The semantic structure of lexical fields: Variation and change', DAVID KRONENFELD and GABRIELLA RUNDBLAD take a structuralist starting point: they study the lexical field of natural watercourses. Comparing the situation in earlier periods of English with the present situation, they show how the field is restructured over the course of time. Historical explanations are suggested within the context of cognitive anthropology and cultural linguistics. For instance, changes in the frequency of brook in comparison with burn are attributed to changes in colonization patterns in the earlier periods of English.

David Wasserstein, in 'Khalîfa: A word study', describes the historical evolution of the Arabic word khalîfa from an originally religious term to a political title. He identifies specific historical developments (like the position of the Umayyad dynasty in Spain with regard to the Abbasids in Baghdad) as the driving force behind the changes.

In 'Words in discourse: On the diachronic lexical semantics of discours', JUDITH MEINSCHAEFER conducts a historical investigation of the French noun discours, with specific emphasis on the way it is used in the writings of Michel de Montaigne and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The increasing specialization that the word appears to undergo is interpreted against the background of Hilary Putnam's conception of the 'division of linguistic labor'.

Two papers take an explicitly onomasiological perspective. Situated within the framework of cognitive linguistics, 'Words and concepts in time: Towards a diachronic cognitive onomasiology' by the late ANDREAS BLANK (whose untimely demise constitutes a major loss for diachronic semantics), argues that a crosslinguistic typology of onomasiological naming processes yields a better insight into the mechanisms of semantic change than the more widespread semasiological [End Page 626] approach. Comparing how different languages and cultures conceptualize the same entity in different ways leads to a privileged insight into the mechanisms of conceptualization and conceptual change.

Walter Breu, in 'Bilingualism and linguistic interference in the Slavic-Romance contact area of Molise', investigates the language contact between the Italian superstratum and the Slavic substratum in the Molise area in Southern Italy. He focuses on the polysemous configurations that may arise through the interaction of the two language systems, and shows how a tendency toward isomorphic form/meaning mappings plays a role in the resolution of such situations.

A third group of papers addresses meaning change from the point of view of philosophical semantics. A central question for all three papers involves the distinction between change of meaning and change of knowledge: when whales were discovered to be mammals rather than fish, we would say that our knowledge of whales changed, not that the meaning of fish changed. But how systematically can that distinction be maintained?

Hans Rott, in 'Theoretical concepts in flux: Conceptual knowledge and theory change', locates his starting point in the traditional distinction between analytical and synthetic statements. By explicitly acknowledging, in Quinean fashion, the social, conventional aspects that are inherent but largely implicit in the notion of analyticity, the theoretical difficulty of distinguishing between changes of knowledge and changes of meaning is resolved in a pragmatic fashion, by invoking the notion of...


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