Call for papers: Re-thinking synonymy

jylikosk at jylikosk at
Tue Nov 10 14:25:54 UTC 2009

(apologies for multiple postings)

Dear Colleagues,

Please note the annual call for papers for the annual symposium of the  
Linguistic Association of Finland that always tends to gather quite a  
few Uralists to share their knowledge with other linguists, this time  
on synonymy sensu lato.

Best regards,

Jussi Ylikoski


Re-thinking synonymy: semantic sameness and similarity in languages  
and their description

SKY (The Linguistic Association of Finland) organizes a symposium  
‘Re-thinking synonymy: semantic sameness and similarity in languages  
and their description’ in Helsinki, October 28-30, 2010. The official  
website of the symposium, with the Call for Papers and other  
information (to be added/updated later), is found at:

Traditionally, synonymy refers to a situation where a language has two  
(or more) linguistic forms for expressing one meaning. Synonymy is by  
no means uncommon in languages, exemplified also by the large number  
of synonym dictionaries and thesauri. However, it is important to note  
that the existence or lack of synonymy is largely a matter of  
definition. On one hand, if we define synonymy as (very close)  
semantic similarity or (essentially) identical reference, it  
definitely exists to some extent in all languages. On the other hand,  
if we confine the notion to absolute synonymy (comprising not only  
reference, but also, for example, stylistic and sociolinguistic  
factors as well as contextual preferences), it becomes less clear  
whether synonymy really exists.

Many theories of grammar (such as Cognitive Grammar and Construction  
Grammar) do not acknowledge the concept of synonymy at all. Synonymy  
seems to militate against the expected relation of meaning and form: a  
difference in form should always and necessarily correspond to a  
difference in meaning. However, within these theories (and within  
linguistics in general), a recurring topic of study is lexical,  
constructional, functional and formal similarity. In addition, current  
research seems to steer clear of synonymy (and sameness), but at the  
same time puts a great deal of emphasis on similarities, e.g. when and  
why two or more constructions with seemingly similar meanings are used  
as each other's alternatives. But where does the boundary lie between  
the two, i.e. when do we cross over from synonymy to mere similarity,  
or vice versa, and, moreover, how different can two constructions or  
expressions be and yet still be considered similar in terms of their  
meaning/function? Do all synonymous expressions share a common  
conceptual (abstract) schema, and are the formal differences merely  
‘coincidental’? What is the relation between these schemas and lexical  
(i.e. ‘traditional’) synonymy?

The idea of the symposium is to challenge linguists both to re-think  
the synonymy and sameness of linguistic expressions and to approach  
the concept of synonymy from a broader perspective. What we propose is  
that synonymy is best seen as sameness or similarity of forms and  
functions – whether words, constructions or syntactic structures – not  
only as a notion related to lexical semantics. For example, many  
languages, such as Finnish and Estonian, allow the expression of  
location through both cases and adpositions, and many languages have  
both intransitive and transitive reflexive forms; these expressions  
may be identical in meaning in certain contexts, but upon closer  
examination they also display differences.

In brief: Does a difference in form always correspond to a difference  
in meaning/function? If so, is there any justification for the  
validity of the notion of synonymy in linguistic description? If  
synonymy really exists on some level, do we need to broaden the  
concept of synonymy and if so, how? What does the way that synonymy  
has been studied tell us about language and, perhaps as interestingly,  
about linguistics?

We welcome contributions dealing with synonymy from various  
perspectives and backgrounds (including theoretical, empirical and  
experimental approaches), ranging  from studies of lexical, functional  
and formal synonymy to studies of synonymy within and across  
languages. Possible topics for talks include (but are by no means not  
restricted to) the following:

- The role of synonymy in linguistic theory
- Corpus-based studies of (lexical/functional) synonymy
- Psycholinguistic studies of synonymy/processing of synonymy
- Seemingly synonymous/similar categories across languages (e.g.  
dative, reflexive, person, tense, deixis etc.), comparability of  
functions across languages
- The role of synonymy in lexical typology: do ‘identical’ lexemes in  
different languages express identical/similar meanings?
- Translatability of lexemes
- The development of synonymy; competition of synonymous forms in  
- Synonymy in different theories of grammar
- The relation between lexical (‘traditional’) synonymy and functional  
- Potential differences between sameness and similarity; is the  
distinction meaningful or necessary?
- What does synonymy (at any level/in any form) reveal about language?
- What motivates the use of seemingly synonymous forms? Context,  
meaning, sociolinguistic factors, disambiguation, verbal semantics etc.
- The synonymy of syntactic structural variants (e.g. differences in  
comparative constructions)
- Synonymy of constructions within and across languages
- Semantic vs. pragmatic synonymy

The deadline for submission of abstracts (in English; max 500 words  
excluding data, tables and references) is April 16, 2010. Please  
submit your abstract by e-mail to the address of the organizing  
committee (synonymy-2010 /at/ Send your abstract as  
attachment to an e-mail message (in both .pdf and .doc formats).  
Please indicate clearly whether your abstract is intended as a poster  
or a section paper. The abstracts will be evaluated by the organizing  
committee and by the members of the scientific committee (see below).  
Participants will be notified about acceptance by May 15, 2010. The  
book of abstracts will be published on the web pages of the symposium  

Body of the message should include the following information  
(preferably in this order):

Name of the participant
Title of presentation
E-mail address
Is the paper meant as a section paper or, a poster, or a workshop


Proposals for workshops should be submitted no later than March 15,  
2010. Notification of acceptance will be given by April 9. These  
one-day workshops will run in parallel sessions with the main  
conference program. Alternatively, the first day of the symposium may  
be dedicated to workshops. The symposium organizers will provide the  
lecture rooms and other facilities, but the workshop organizers will  
be responsible for the organization of their workshops (choosing the  
speakers etc.).


- Presentations by invited speakers
- Presentation by other participants
- Posters
- Workshops

Confirmed invited speakers

Dirk Geeraerts (University of Leuven)
Martin Haspelmath (MPI, Leipzig)
Beth Levin (Stanford University)

Scientific committee

Antti Arppe (University of Helsinki)
Peter Austin (SOAS, London)
Denis Creissels (University of Lyon)
Dagmar Divjak (University of Sheffield)
Adele Goldberg (Princeton University)
Stefan Gries (UCSB)
Tuomas Huumo (University of Tartu)
Laura Janda (University of Tromsø)
Jarmo Jantunen (University of Oulu)
Silvia Luraghi (University of Pavia)
Sally Rice (University of Alberta)
Anna Siewierska (University of Lancaster)
Bernhard Wälchli (University of Berne)

Organizing committee

Antti Arppe (University of Helsinki)
Seppo Kittilä (University of Helsinki)
Aki Kyröläinen (University of Turku)
Maarit Niemelä (University of Oulu)
Alexandre Nikolaev (University of Joensuu)
Jouni Rostila (University of Tampere)
Turo Vartiainen (University of Helsinki)
Laura Visapää (University of Helsinki)


The registration deadline is October 1, 2010. An on-line registration  
form to the symposium will appear on the webpage of the symposium  
after the evaluation of abstracts.

Registration fees

General: 100 Euro
Members of the association: 80 Euro
Undergraduate students: 50 Euro

Finnish participants are requested to pay the registration fee to the  
SKY bank account when they register for the conference (bank account  
number 174530-71243 (Nordea)). Participants from abroad are likewise  
requested to pay in advance by bank transfer, if at all possible, to  
the SKY bank account in Finland (Bank: Nordea; IBAN: FI76 1745 3000  
0712 43, BIC: NDEAFIHH). However, we may also accept payment IN CASH  
(only in Euros; moreover, we CANNOT accept credit cards of any sort)  
upon arrival in case bank transfer is not possible. If you have paid  
via bank transfer from abroad, we would kindly ask you to bring a COPY  
of the original transaction receipt with you and present it upon  

Conference venue

University of Helsinki


Please send all queries to synonymy-2010 /at/

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