Status of Polysemy Network Analyses

Colin Harrison colinh at OWLNET.RICE.EDU
Mon Nov 13 17:51:00 UTC 1995

Polysemy networks...

What do image-schematic analyses of polysemy networks, such as that for the
English word "over" in Lakoff's "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things",
actually represent?

It strikes me that although quite plausible arguments can be presented for
relatedness of meaning at some abstract level, it is not at all clear what
is actually being shown.  Do we really have an idealized representation of
part of the "average English speaker's" cognitive system, or are we in
danger of recreating diachronic change, and collapsing it into apparently
synchronic systems?

Taking a case like "over", it strikes me that a connectionist view of
cognition allows that the results of experimentation such as that recently
described by Rice and Sandra [in Cognition 6-1 (1995), 89 ff.] can be
explained in terms of feedback activation from the simple (diachronically
explicable) existence of a like phonological form, requiring no essential
connection at the conceptual level.  Of course, that's not to say that such
conceptual connections are necessarily absent, but the mere possibility of
interactive activation of non-conceptual elements of the cognitive system
seems to raise serious questions about the status of polysemy network

I would be interested to get any feedback on this (preferably at the
conceptual level....)


Colin J.Harrison
Linguistics Department
Rice University
6100 South Main                   ph. +1 (713) 630 9312
HOUSTON  TX  77005                e-mail: colinh at

Have a nice day!

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