Date: Thu, 14 Aug 2003 14:56:31 +0300 From: Heli Tissari Subject: The Dynamics of Meaning: Explorations in the Conceptual Domain of EARTH
Glaz, Adam (2002) The Dynamics of Meaning: Explorations in the Conceptual Domain of EARTH, Maria Curie-Sklodowska University Press, PASE Studies & Monographs Vol 9.
[The "l" in the author's surname and in the name of the publisher is "l-stroke". --Eds.]
Heli Tissari, Department of English, University of Helsinki
Glaz sets himself an intriguing goal, namely to combine Langacker's (1991a: 266-277) lexical network model with Fuchs's (1994) model of dynamic meaning. He describes the meaning of the English word EARTH as simultaneously forming a set of nodes and being on the move. This reminds me of Trier's (1931: 13) mournful observation: "Die Forderung, dem ewigen Fluss des Werdens wissenschaftlich nahezukommen, bleibt in ihrer ganzen Wucht bestehen ." ("The challenge of scientifically approaching the eternal flow of coming-to-be remains enormous .")
To look at the study from another angle, Glaz wants to combine lexical semantics with text linguistics by focusing both on the meanings of single items and on their interplay in the cotext. Here he deviates slightly from the tradition in linguistic semantics of focusing on single words and the relationships between them rather than their co-effect in text. This tradition has continued in the era of prototype theory which inspired network modelling (e.g. Brugman 1988 , Geeraerts 1997).
The book consists of two parts, "The Model" and "The Dynamics of Word Meaning." The first part deals with theoretical issues, and the second describes three analyses. These concern the word EARTH, its relationship to WORLD, SOIL, LAND, and GROUND, and the question of how these words are translated from English into Polish.
Glaz's first aim is to situate himself in the field of cognitive linguistics. As indicated in the title of his book, he emphasises the conceptual nature of meaning, which he assumes to be grounded in gestalts and embodiment. To prepare for the network model, he discusses categorisation, prototypes and schemas. While he leans towards certain authors, he still maintains a critical attitude and seems to weigh various options carefully, opting for a middle ground between extreme claims.
A similar attitude of polite guardedness characterises his chapter on semantic space and the network model, in which he explicates the methodological background for the analyses. He gives a detailed treatment of the nature of "the conceptual interface between the linguistic forms we use and the physical environment to which the forms relate" (p. 48). Then he makes a major distinction between what he calls the senses of an item and its textual meaning: "a word's sense is the concept it evokes within the (conventionalized) conceptual network, its textual meaning is its semantic value, i.e. conceptualization, in a given instance of use" (pp. 57-58). This leads him to briefly consider the importance of context before specifying the details of the network model. In the model, a lexical item can consist of several prototypes, which in turn may have extensions. The general features of the prototypes can be abstracted to a schema.
Glaz seems to be quite familiar with Langacker's thinking on the nature of meaning. Fuchs's dynamic model of semantic space is treated more briefly, the main emphasis being on the assumption that there is constant interaction between the meanings of co-occurring words and that these meanings can potentially move in several directions. This reminds one of other claims about words as "slippery customers" and the flexibility of meaning which have been characteristic of the prototype approach from its beginnings (e.g. Labov 1974 : 341, Raukko forthcoming).
The second part of the book opens with a lexical network definition for EARTH, based on various dictionaries. EARTH is seen to have four major or prototypical senses: 'planet', 'world', 'surface (opposed to sky)', and 'material of the surface (opposed to bedrock)'. Glaz's textual examples come from six novels by Martin Amis and the complete 1995 edition of The Times and The Sunday Times on CD-ROM. He begins with close matches between the senses in the network and textual meanings of EARTH, but soon moves on to more complex cases.
He points out that textual meanings can simultaneously cover several nodes in the lexical network. Moreover, he considers the interplay between various senses of EARTH, and between these and contextual idioms. These considerations lead him to schematise some network reconfigurations. For example, he notes that the abstract schema 'planet' for EARTH can be elaborated to 'a planet versus other heavenly bodies' and 'a planet versus other planets', and that these two elaborations could be said to instantiate 'the planet on which we live', the only node initially in the network. He summarises his findings as follows: "[T]he semantics of EARTH is constantly being altered through a rich universe of diverse textual forces" (p. 113).
In his comparison between EARTH and WORLD, Glaz points out that one can move from narrow to wide scope, beginning with WORLD 'the immediate environment around us, the life of humans on this planet.' This is contained by EARTH 'this planet with everything on it,' in turn contained by WORLD 'everything that exists' (p. 120).
A favourite example of his compares the sentence
(1) 'Yeah cheers,' murmured Nicola, who had only twenty days and nights ON EARTH to go. (Amis, London Fields p. 332)
with several other instantiations of both EARTH and WORLD. Glaz explains that the meaning of EARTH in (1) is closest to the network sense 'realm of mortal existence', but simultaneously extended towards 'planet' and 'world', the latter activated by the word WORLD in the same cotext (p. 122).
Scope as in WORLD-EARTH-WORLD is related to the 'zooming- in' effect which Glaz notes with respect to the phrase A STRIP OF EARTH/LAND. He points out that EARTH in A STRIP OF EARTH can mean a 'portion of world,' while LAND in A STRIP OF LAND means 'terrain of any size,' nevertheless zooming on a smaller entity. However, sometimes A STRIP OF EARTH is merely a minor 'bare surface of a terrain' (pp. 134-135).
As for the translations from English into Polish, Glaz notes that even a single translator's decisions can vary a great deal. After overtly shunning prescriptivism, he nevertheless makes the point that "the use of a particular lexeme may have far-reaching consequences, as it has the potential to activate or downplay the nature of the whole conceptual scene" (pp. 154, 162). The Polish word ZIEMIA applies to almost the whole range of EARTH, SOIL, LAND, GROUND and WORLD, but translators employ other words and expressions as well, not to mention the times when they come up with translations that entirely leave out the relevant word.
The appendix is a short chapter in itself. There Glaz deals with the capitalisation of EARTH and the use of the definite article. He arrives at the paradigm "earth - Earth - the earth - the Earth" which he thinks reflects whether the conceptualiser is focusing on himself/herself or on the object of conceptualisation. He claims that capitalisation and the definite article convey an emphasis on the object EARTH, which is therefore strongest when they are combined in "the Earth." Following Langacker (1991b: 93), he calls this the subjectification-objectification asymmetry.
In his conclusion, Glaz formulates two wishes: "First, I hope that the analysis proposed here will serve as a step towards a fuller description of the meaning of EARTH in a broader, cultural context. Second, I hope that the analytic apparatus will prove helpful in descriptions of other lexical items." (p. 170) Glaz's ambitions seem rather modest, given that he is dealing with the big issue of the dynamics of meaning.
One ought to give him credit for addressing important questions about the nature of lexical meaning: words, their meanings, and the interplay of these in conceptualisation and cotext, all of which could together be labelled the "eternal flow of coming-to-be." In Fuchs's words, "MOVEMENT . [is] imprinted in the very essence of language." (1994: 97)
Glaz deserves further credit for an informed, insightful, concise and clear presentation of the issues. His familiarity with various authors and approaches is especially evident in the footnotes. Many of them could have been included in the main text without damage to the dynamics of the argument.
Glaz's argument appears weakest at two points. The first is when he addresses his choice of data, especially since he himself hedges in introducing it. He says that his choice of texts is "arbitrary" (p. 81), but he then defends it by claiming that the texts are fairly homogeneous. He could have been more careful in discussing this matter and describing his data.
The same applies to the introduction of the senses of EARTH which are taken from dictionaries. The justification for this choice, following the previously established pattern, reads as follows: "The selection I have proposed is obviously somewhat arbitrary, although care has been taken to include dictionaries of diverse formats, methodological backgrounds and publishing traditions." (p. 87)
At this point, I also felt the lack of a general motivation for using dictionaries as the basis for the analysis. An explanation finally arrived in the conclusion: "[T]he conventionalized senses of a word can be treated as such only after they have been recognized . I have simply assumed . that most of these abstractions and schematizations have already been identified by lexicologists and lexicographers." (p. 169)
The overall impression is that Glaz has an ability to "zoom" his claims and data down to a scale which both he and the reader can handle. This makes it possible for him to get his message across. He also resembles the Biblical "owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." (Matthew 13: 52)
This kind of research could obviously be continued either by going into greater detail or by examining longer stretches of text and attempting to formulate what is going on. Currently Glaz's illuminating diagrams are limited to characterising the relationships between isolated words and idioms: what about the other words which occur in the cotext, and what about the larger scale? It will be interesting to see what follows.
Amis, Martin. 1989. London Fields. London: Jonathan Cape.
Brugman, Claudia. 1988 (1981). The Story of Over: Polysemy, Semantics, and the Structure of the Lexicon. New York & London: Garland Publishing.
Fuchs, Catherine. 1994. "The challenges of continuity for a linguistic approach to semantics." Continuity in Linguistic Semantics, ed. by Catherine Fuchs & Bernard Victorri. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Geeraerts, Dirk. 1997. Diachronic Prototype Semantics: A Contribution to Historical Lexicology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Langacker, Ronald W. 1991a. Concept, Image, and Symbol: The Cognitive Basis of Grammar. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Langacker, Ronald W. 1991b. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Vol. II: Descriptive Application. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Labov, William. 1974 (1973). "The boundaries of words and their meanings." New Ways of Analyzing Variation in English, ed. by Charles-James N. Bailey & Roger W. Shuy. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 340-373.
Raukko, Jarno. Forthcoming. 'Polysemy as flexible meaning: Experiments with the English GET and the Finnish PITÄÄ.' Polysemy: Patterns of Meaning in Mind and Language, ed. by Brigitte Nerlich, Zazie Todd, Vimala Herman & David C. Clarke.
Trier, Jost. 1931. Der deutsche Wortschatz im Sinnbezirk des Verstandes: Die Geschichte eines sprachlichen Feldes. Bd. 1: Von den Anfängen bis zum Beginn des 13. Jahrhunderts. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Heli Tissari, PhD, is co-ordinator of the Research Unit for Variation and Change in English at the University of Helsinki. She is above all interested in emotion words and their semantic development.