Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

Analyzing Semantic Maps: A Multifactorial Approach

Academic journal article Linguistic Discovery

Analyzing Semantic Maps: A Multifactorial Approach

Article excerpt

In this paper I argue that semantic similarity is not the only factor which motivates polysemy patterns cross-linguistically; I also show that these other factors (markedness, distinguishability, etc) may give rise to polysemies which are problematic for established semantic maps. Only when these other interfering factors, both functional and structural, are featured out, does a semantic network emerge and a "similarity map" reduce to a semantic map.

1. Introduction (1)

There are two general approaches to semantic maps, which are also represented in this issue. These approaches are sometimes characterized as traditional vs. statistical approaches, as implicational vs. probabilistic maps (Walchli, this issue), or as first- vs. second-generation maps (Sanso, this issue). In the traditional approach (conceptual) categories/functions are preselected, and a network of categories is constructed in such a way that the arrangement reflects formal similarities between adjacent categories. The connections between categories, represented in the form of lines, are usually taken as indicative of semantic overlap, which can be captured in terms of shared semantic components (e.g., features; cf. Zwarts, this issue). The traditional approach has been developed by Anderson, Croft, and Haspelmath, among others; the details are well known and need not be rehearsed here. In the alternative approach (maybe in its clearest form represented in the work by Walchli, this issue) the categories are not preselected, and semantic maps are automatically generated from parallel corpora through the use of statistical scaling methods.

As noted by Cysouw (2007), the traditional approach faces a number of problems. First, it cannot represent frequencies of individual polysemy patterns. (2) A related problem is that as the amount of data increases vacuous maps become more and more widespread since frequent, rare, and exceptional patterns will all be represented on the map. Second, the traditional method is overgenerating since not all the predicted patterns are actually attested (3). The most common response to the first problem by practitioners of the traditional approach is that semantic maps reflect most frequent polyfunctionality patterns in a certain domain; thus, exceptional patterns would be featured out in a larger sample. For example, Narrog & Ito (2007) do not represent polysemies of (instrumental) case markers found in less than 10% of cases. There may be more principled methods to distinguish between recurrent and exceptional patterns; for example, Rice and Kabata (2007) use Fisher's exact test to determine which patterns of case polysemy (involving allative markers) are statistically significant. In other words, those polysemy patterns that are rare and have been overlooked in the early work on semantic maps, based on small scale comparison, are likely to be featured out in a larger sample as statistically insignificant. Indeed, maps proposed in earlier work are often confirmed in a larger sample. Thus, Narrog & Ito's (2007) study largely corroborated Haspelmath's (2003) map of instrumental and related functions, and Mauri's (this issue) map of coordination is "slightly different" from Malchukov's (2004) map of contrast markers as far as same categories are addressed. From this perspective, exceptional polysemies do not constitute a major problem for the semantic map approach because they would not make it into the map. While this is a legitimate approach, it involves data reduction; so the question arises as to what extent such data reduction is justified. This question can only be answered by analyzing motivations behind common vs. rare polysemy patterns. In this paper I will show that rare patterns are often not indicative of (immediate) semantic relatedness of respective categories, but are due to other factors. This does not mean that such minority patterns should be dismissed; on the contrary, they deserve to be analyzed in their own right as they can provide important insights into motivations behind polyfunctionality. …

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