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Elsen, Hilke (21. October 2000): The Structure of Meaning. Semasiological and Onomasiological Aspects of Development. In: Onomasiology online, Vol. 1: pp. 1-17 [PDF, 108kB]


The present work is a plea for a cognitive-based view of lexical meaning. Traditional, usually taxonomically based descriptions such as trees or feature bundles are rather reductive and abstract and often cannot thoroughly represent reality. They lack a psychological foundation. This has been criticized repeatedly as a serious flaw in recent years. This article investigates how the meaning of words might be represented in a neurobiologically plausible way. To this end, the development of early word acquisition is described with several recurring phenomena, such as early underextensions, later overextensions, the interplay of linguistic and non-linguistic aspects and variable word-referent-mappings. The data are then explained in the light of network processing. In such an approach, the development of a category is seen to be influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Lexical acquisition means building a pattern of nodes and connections that represents a cognitive concept, building a pattern that represents a linguistic form and connecting these patterns. This might happen in parallel. The framework offers the possibility of integrating structuralistic feature analysis with psychologically based prototype theory and cognitive grammar. It enables us to understand the gradedness of the relevance of examples and exceptions, the possibility of change, context-dependent categorization, shifts of the decisive features, family resemblances and the relevance of the lexical field. It shows that these are crucial aspects of linguistic organization. Finally, some consequences for our conception of universals are sketched. A universal conceptual foundation is the consequence of many factors and no given precondition.

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