YANG XU, University of Toronto
Title: Colexification across languages reflects cognitive economy
Ebbinghaus Empire Series 2017-2018
Abstract: The lexicon is central to the mapping between language and thought, but languages rely on a finite lexicon to express a potentially infinite set of ideas. A key result of this tension is polysemy: A single word form is used to express multiple different meanings. Polysemy logically entails colexification -- there exist sets of meanings that share a single word form. Some patterns of colexification occur frequently across languages (e.g., languages often have a single word form to express the meanings of both "fire" and "flame"), while other patterns occur less often (e.g., fewer languages have a word form that expresses the meanings of both "fire" and "fever"). We ask why it is that languages display the gradient of colexification patterns that they do. We argue that frequencies ofcolexification across languages are non-arbitrary and reflect a need for cognitive economy. We demonstrate that these frequencies can be accounted for by measures of conceptual associative strength. As such, association may provide one of the chief constraints on the development of polysemy.
Joint work with Khang Duong (Minerva), Barbara C. Malt (Lehigh), Serena Jiang (UC Berkeley), and Mahesh Srinivasan (UC Berkeley).
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