Core vocabulary in a typological perspective: semantic shifts and form/meaning correlations (TypVoc)

Project leader

Funding source

EU - INTAS, International Association for the promotion of co-operation with scientists from the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union

Project Details

Start date: 19/10/2006
End date: 19/04/2009
Funding: 106000 EUR


The general aim of the project is to reveal and describe cross-linguistically recurrent semantic shifts and form/meaning correlations (e.g. patterns of polysemy, lexical connotations, lexical motivation in general) in the core vocabulary of human languages and to achieve a better understanding of the general mechanisms underlying these phenomena. On the one hand, the project takes up the idea of polygenetically recurrent patterns of semantic and lexical change, which goes back to researchers like Schröpfer and Trubachev and surfaces again with Cognitive Semantics. On the other hand, it updates thetraditional research in lexical motivation by integrating the idea of general cognitive tendencies. Core vocabulary is defined onomasiologically, representing basic and, most probably, universal human physical, mental and social activities, e.g., BODY, SPACE, TIME, PERCEPTION, MOTION, etc., and by frequency and salience of lexical units. Within the general aim the project sets up several descriptive, methodological and theoretical objectives: 1) compilation of a Database of Cross-linguistically Recurrent Semantic Shifts in the core vocabulary of human languages; 2) suggesting and testing a general methodology for describing semantic shifts and form/meaning correlations within the lexicon, and working out a theoretically interesting typology of concepts and languages based on it; 3) suggesting and testing a general methodology for crosslinguistic semantic research on several cognitive domains and providing their detailed semantic analysis across a number of languages; 4) achieving a better understanding of the relationship between synchronic and diachronic lexical semantics; 5) achieving a better understanding of the interaction among the various factors relevant for cross-linguistic similarities or differences in semantic shifts and form/meaning correlations, such as universal cognitive parameters, genetic and / or contact relations, and culturally specific stereotypes and discourse practices. The project will be based on a language sample comprising at least Indo- European, Uralic, Altaic, Caucasian, Semitic, some branches of the Niger-Congo, Sinitic and Pidgin languages – and will involve multiple sources for data collection. A more detailed synchronic and diachronic analysis will be carried out for the domains of PAIN; TEMPERATURE AND TACTILE PERCEPTION; LIFE, BIRTH and DEATH; SOCIAL RELATIONS. The synchronic branch of the project additionally works on lexical motivation establishing motivational profiles based on speaker judgments and on derivational potential of lexemes. The semantic analysis will be based on a combination of the methodologies used in the Moscow school of semantics and in Cognitive Semantics. The results of the project have a significant potential for application within linguistics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, history, philosophy, cultural studies, computer studies, medical diagnostics and theater actor training.

External Partners

Last updated on 2017-24-03 at 12:57