LINGUIST List 14.675

Sun Mar 9 2003

Disc: "Deflation" and "Inflation"

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. R�my Viredaz, Disc: "Deflation" and "Inflation"

Message 1: Disc: "Deflation" and "Inflation"

Date: Sat, 08 Mar 2003 08:01:18 +0100
From: R�my Viredaz <>
Subject: Disc: "Deflation" and "Inflation"

Re Linguist 14.637

I think inflation and deflation should not be used as technical terms
in linguistics at all. It is all right to use metaphors either as a
stylistic device to make our texts more vivid or as a tentative means
to refer to a phenomenon that is not well understood yet. However,
such metaphors may become more confusing than helpful if they are
given the status of technical terms. Usually, a metaphore takes only
one aspect or feature of the original meaning, ignoring the
others. The reader may not know to what aspect the writer is thinking.
(Indeed, the more you know about e.g. mathematics, chemics, music or
whatever, the more you are surprised by metaphors of mathematical,
chemical , musical origin. Metaphors are usually coined by outsiders,
who often seem to have only schoolboy knowledge (or misknowledge) of
the proper meaning, e.g. French alg�brique, osmose, point d'orgue.)
I cannot research this now, but it is likely that the linguistic
phenomenon now called inflation or deflation - increased use of a word
with accompanying weakening of its meaning - had probably already been
known and described under other names by the first semanticists (see
perhaps Michel Br�al, Ars�ne Darmesteter, or their counterparts in
other countries), later perhaps in relation with information theory
(low frequency 3D high information content and vice versa). In more
traditional semantic terms: if the extension of a word increases
(inflates) then its comprehension decreases (deflates). You cannot use
the word inflation or deflation unless it is clear whether you are
talking about extension or comprehension. Another reason why
inflation or deflation is definitely not a good metaphor is that you
cannot compare a word to a currency. The currency is rather the
language itself, while a word would be an individual coin or note. A
better term would be "devaluation" of a word. This term does not
necessarily imply a comparison with a national economy since
etymologically it simply means a decrease in value. Sinnentleerung
(14.637) is of course an excellent term in German, and other terms
such as semantic weakening, dilution, have been used or can be thought

R�my Viredaz
1, rue Chandieu
CH - 1202 Gen�ve
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