Maps of Semantic space & change

Sun Aug 8 15:29:40 UTC 1999

For very distant language comparisons:

If we create "maps" of nearest-neighbors in semantic space,
or rather of PATHS of known change possibilities,

and if what we map are "USES" rather than "GESAMTBEDEUTUNGEN"

(since the latter is usually an attempt to simplify our thinking by positing
some common element even if it is not in the heads of the users,
although a cluster of neighboring USES can reinforce each other)

Then, comparing any proto-language to its descendant language,
we should be able to do both statistics and detailed studies
on HOW MANY STEPS of CHANGE-OF-USE have occurred along
paths of semantic change
(on average, or a histogram of frequencies, or in particular cases),

and then if we take many such studies and compare the results
VERSUS THE TIME DIFFERENCE between ancestral and descendant

this would be one way of quantifying the issues which are important
to very deep language comparisons, and estimating how the data changes
as we gradually move to greater time depths.


We could do similar studies using two cousin languages,
rather than one descendant and a proto language,
to get estimates on the kind of situation we normally face
with two languages or families which are NOT YET KNOWN to be
genetically related.  This would involve extrapolation from cases
where the cousin languages are known to be related, but are
increasingly distant, to what the data would look like with
even greater distance.


Although we can begin measuring time as a substitute for distance
in linguistic change, we might (in the recent past at least) be able to
correlate with other sense of distance, since different social conditions
may lead to different rates of change per unit of time.


I happen to be aware of my own work on maps of semantic spaces,
which I intended as tools of this sort.  I would love it if others can
add more examples from other authors.  I am sure such exist.

Papers by Lloyd Anderson on Maps of Semantic Space & Change

"Evidentials, Paths of Change, and Mental Maps:
Typologically Regular Assymetries"  1982
pp.273-312 in Wallace Chafe and Johanna Nichols (eds.):
Evidentiality: The Linguistic Coding of Epistemology.
Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation

"The "Perfect" as a Universal and as a Language-Specific Category"
pp.227-264 in Paul J. Hopper (ed.):
Tense-Aspect: Between Semantics & Pragmatics
Amsterdam: John Benjamins 1982

"Adjectival Morphology and Semantic Space"
CLS-23, 1987
Papers from the 23rd Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society


Best wishes,
Lloyd Anderson
Ecological Linguistics

More information about the Indo-european mailing list