[Lingtyp] Does bipolar polysemy exist?

Stela Manova stela.manova at univie.ac.at
Thu May 31 10:52:23 EDT 2018


In support of Volker Gast’s thoughts, I would like to approach the problem from a mathematical / computer science point of view, which allows for a clear generalization.

Words, like numbers, are sequence of elements, i.e. think of the word ‘human’ as similar to the number, let me say, 124.  In mathematics, a way to make 124 the opposite is through adding minus before it, thus -124. The same strategy exists in linguistics and it is called negation, in our case ‘non-human’. Alternative ways to change the meaning of a sequence of elements in mathematics and in linguistics are: 1) modifying the sequence, e.g. 224 instead of 124 and ’numan' instead of ‘human'; and 2) combining that sequence with other elements, i.e. putting a form into context in linguistics. However, in mathematics / computer science, in isolation, a sequence of elements always has a single meaning because if it has not, no computation is possible.  I think that the same logic applies to linguistics, i.e. it is impossible to have a form (lexeme) in isolation associated with two opposite meanings.

Best,

Stela

---
Dr. Stela MANOVA
Middle European Interdisciplinary Master Program in Cognitive Science
Department of Philosophy 
University of Vienna
Universitätsstraße 7
A-1010 Vienna
Austria

Email: stela.manova at univie.ac.at <mailto:stela.manova at univie.ac.at> 
URL: http://homepage.univie.ac.at/stela.manova/ <http://homepage.univie.ac.at/stela.manova/> 




> On 31.05.2018, at 15:32, Volker Gast <volker.gast at uni-jena.de> wrote:
> 
> 
> The question is, does Sahidic Coptic 'ehrai' mean 'up' and 'down' or simply 'changing its position on a vertical axis'?
> 
> Same for lexemes meaning both 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow' -- they could simply mean 'not today'. German has an adverb 'einst', which means either 'in the past' or 'in the future' -- it's an adverbial of (remote) non-present time.
> 
> There are languages that use the same word for 'son-in-law' and 'mother-in-law'. But then, these words simply mean 'non-[blood-related] relative'.
> 
> 'Host' and 'guest' (also etymologically related in English, as far as I know) can be subsumed under 'role in a context of hospitality'. Such cases are very common, I think. We Germans tend to confuse Engl. 'borrow' and 'lend', as we don't differentiate between these meanings. Germ. 'leihen' bassically means 'being involved in a temporary exchange of goods, with an obligation to return the exchanged goods'. The sentential context tells you who lends and who borrows.
> 
> There are probably languages that do not distinguish between dogs and foxes. A dog cannot be a fox, but a canid/canine can be either. That's a simple matter of hierarchical organization (heteronymy/hyperonymy).
> 
> With respect to 'personne' etc., polarity items interact with the sentential environment. I don't think that they 'mean' anything out of context.
> 
> I think the question is whether there are words denoting complementary sets. I don't see how this could work, as you would end up with an inherently contradictory predicate, as David pointed out. For instance, an adjective denoting both 'colorful' and 'colorless' -- and nothing else -- could not truthfully be predicated of any object (except perhaps in lexicalized cases of irony, but then, we'd have to assume that a new lexeme has been created).
> 
> And I agree that it is hard to think of an internally negated version of 'go'. Such a verb would denote events that imply the absence of going. 'Stay' is probably a candidate, but verbs are not normally organized in terms of complementarity.
> 
> To conclude, I think the question is not an empirical one. A word which indicates both membership to a category C and non-membership to that category cannot truthfully be predicated of any individual or object, and a word that cannot be used truthfully would likely drop out of use pretty soon; and it would probably not even emerge in the first place.
> 
> But it might be useful to provide more precise definitions to begin with, specifically of the syntagm 'bipolar polysemy'.
> 
> Volker
> 
> _____________
> Prof. V. Gast
> http://www.uni-jena.de/~mu65qev
> 
> On Thu, 31 May 2018, Eitan Grossman wrote:
> 
>> In the Sahidic dialect of Coptic (Afroasiatic), ehrai means 'up' and 'down.'
>> Eitan GrossmanLecturer, Department of Linguistics/School of Language Sciences
>> Hebrew University of Jerusalem
>> Tel: +972 2 588 3809
>> Fax: +972 2 588 1224
>> On Thu, May 31, 2018 at 2:15 PM, Mathias Jenny <mathias.jenny at uzh.ch> wrote:
>>      In Thai, cʰâj means 'be so', but in literary style it is also used to mean 'not be so'.
>> Mathias Jenny
>> mathias.jenny at uzh.ch
>> On Thu, May 31, 2018 at 1:07 PM Giorgio Francesco Arcodia <giorgio.arcodia at unimib.it> wrote:
>> I don't know if that counts, but: in Italian, ospite means both 'host' and 'guest'. In a given situation, you can't be both, so, (I guess) in a sense this word can be the
>> negation of itself.
>> Apologies, semantics is not my forte.
>> Best,
>> Giorgio
>> 馬振國
>> 2018-05-31 13:03 GMT+02:00 Mattis List <mattis.list at lingpy.org>:
>>      Wouldn't the frequent cases of pronouns or pronoun-like words in French
>>      (personne = "person, nobody", pas = "step, not", etc.) come close to
>>      this notion? And this process has historically also be claimed for other
>>      negation words, like Ancient Greek "ou", if I am not mistaken.
>> 
>>      Best,
>> 
>>      Mattis
>> 
>>      On 2018-05-31 12:57, Joo Ian wrote:
>>      > Dear all,
>>      >
>>      >  
>>      >
>>      > I would like to know if the following universal claim holds:
>>      >
>>      >  
>>      >
>>      > /There exists no lexeme that can mean X and the negation of X. (For
>>      > example, no lexeme can express “to go” and “to not go”)./
>>      >
>>      >  
>>      >
>>      > I wonder if such “bipolar polysemy” exists in any lexeme, because I
>>      > cannot think of any, and whether this claim is truly universal.
>>      >
>>      > I would appreciate to know if there is any counter-evidence.
>>      >
>>      >  
>>      >
>>      > From Hong Kong,
>>      >
>>      > Ian Joo
>>      >
>>      > http://ianjoo.academia.edu
>>      >
>>      >
>>      >
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>> --
>> Prof. Dr. Giorgio Francesco Arcodia
>> 馬振國博士 副教授
>> Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca
>> 米蘭比克卡大學
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