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Results and Prospects in the Study of Semantic Change: A Review of From Polysemy to Semantic Change (2008)

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The topic of this review article is a volume addressing the relationship between polysemy and semantic change, a relationship which has been important in discussions of semantic theory and method particularly in recent years, and which has the potential to unite synchronic and diachronic approaches. The first part of this article consists of thorough reviews of the fourteen chapters in the volume, entitled From Polysemy to Semantic Change, edited by Martine Vanhove (2008). We review each of them in turn, providing a brief summary of the content of each chapter, as well as comments on the impact of the contribution to the study of polysemy and semantic change, and/or on its limits. The second part of the article presents a general evaluation of the volume, and reflects upon the achievements, limits and perspectives of the study of polysemy and semantic change. Some of the chapters demonstrate that a degree of generalization can be reached on these questions, and provide new and potentially productive ways forward in theory and method; others either do not have such aims, or struggle to provide a useful general framework. We consider why this may be the case, and suggest hypothetical solutions. In particular, we examine the difficulty met with drawing conclusions across semantic domains, and the lack of a framework taking language contact and diffusion into account in the study of semantic change.

Affiliations: 1: a) Australian National University, Canberra, ; 2: b)Australian National University, Canberra, Centre de recherches et de documentation sur l’Océanie (CNRS, Marseille),


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