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Review of  Studies in English Historical Lexicography, Lexicology and Semantics

Reviewer: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Book Title: Studies in English Historical Lexicography, Lexicology and Semantics
Book Author: Javier E Díaz Vera
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
English, Middle
English, Old
Book Announcement: 15.605

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Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 17:00:51 +0530 (IST)
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash <>
Subject: Review Report

Díaz Vera, Javier E. (2002) A Changing World of Words: Studies in English
Historical Lexicography, Lexicology and Semantics. Rodopi, Costerus New
Series 141.

Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India


This volume comprises a number of significant contributions to the fields
of English historical semantics, lexicology and lexicography. The papers
offer a wide range of interests and approaches to the historical analysis
of the English lexicon. Based on the synthesis of different tendencies and
main approaches discussed here, the volume is divided into 5 broad parts.
Part 1 (Dictionaries of Early English) contains five papers dealing with
the information of the work in progress in English Historical
lexicography. Part 2 (Early dictionaries of English) contains two papers,
which are devoted to the lexical analysis of some of the earliest examples
of lexicographic practice in England. Part 3 (Semantic change and
reconstruction) has six papers, which focus on the variety of problems
related with the reconstruction of meaning and meaning change. Part 4
(Lexical variation and change in the history of English) has six papers,
which project on the evolution of the English vocabulary. The papers cover
a wide range of topics such as 'neologism and word-loss', 'lexical
borrowing and derivation', 'manuscript variation', 'etymological analysis
and lexical structure'. Part 5 (The interface between semantics, syntax
and pragmatics) has four papers, which aim to highlight the aspects of
intricate interface existing between semantics, syntax, and pragmatics.


In "A preliminary design for a syntactic dictionary of Old English on
semantic principles" (pp. 3-46) Francisco Cortés Rodríguez and Ricardo
Mairal Usón present a semantic domain-based guideline for designing a
syntactic dictionary of Old English verbs. Their methodology is based on
the Functional Lexematic model (Martín Mingorance 1990), which integrates
propositions of the Theory of Lexematics (Coseriu 1977) and Functional
Grammar (Dick 1997). Their main objectives are (a) to specify the semantic
architecture of the lexicon of a given language, and (b) to represent the
knowledge based on the definitions found in standard dictionaries. Since
there is no direct access to meaning definitions, they intend to focus on
the analysis of syntactic information to create the dictionary. They look
at the internal structure of a lexical sub-domain, and consider the
hierarchies to reconstruct a modified version of the lexicon. To
exemplify, they present a complete analysis of the internal structure of
the field of CHANGE, which includes both semantic and syntactic
information of the verbs under this heading.

In "The semantic architecture of the Old English verbal lexicon: a
historical-lexicographical proposal" (pp. 47-77) Javier E. Díaz Vera
proposes a method of internal reconstruction of the verbal predicates that
form the lexical sub-domain of TOUCHING in Old English. His takes into
account the dictionary definitions found in standard dictionaries of Old
English to combine with morphosyntactic and etymological data. Finally, he
reconstructs the internal structure of this lexical sub-field and proposes
a macronet connection with other domains to cover all the grammatical
aspects of the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. The type of dictionary he proposes
here can be visualised as not as a mere list of words and meaning, but as
grammar of Old English verbs.

In "Adapting functional-lexematic methodology to the structuring of Old
English verbs: a programmatic proposal" (pp. 78-108) Pamela Faber and Juan
Gabriel Vázquez González explore the paradigmatic organisation of the Old
English lexicon to structure an Old English dictionary. They use the FLM
principles to structure the lexical domain of POSSESSION, and adapt the
FLM methodology to the analysis of Old English. Their paradigmatic
structure of the verbs is enriched with sociocultural information to
provide essential inputs about the evolution of the language through ages.
Moreover, this structure focuses on the importance of metaphor as a means
of lexical creativity, and on the meaning parameters for encoding various
sociocultural relationships.

In "Turning the dictionary inside out: some issues in the compilation of
historical thesauri" (pp. 109-135), Christian Kay and Irené Wotherspoon
refer to their experience of making historical thesauri from historical
dictionaries. After a small description on the editorial procedure used in
the 'Thesaurus of Old English' (1995) and the 'Historical Thesaurus of
English' (1982), they refer to the original paper slips, as well as to the
database obtained from the interlinked semantic classifications of words.
Next, they discuss the issues related with lexical semantics and
lexicography in the context of historical linguistics. Here they integrate
both the structure of particular semantic field and insights of individual
lexical meaning. Finally, they conclude with a reference to the
onomasiologically-organised wordbook, which can tell us about the way in
which the English lexicon has developed over the history.

In "Word studies on early English: contexts for a thesaurus of Middle
English" (pp. 136-159) Jane Roberts and Louise Sylvester offer a sketch of
a thesaurus of Middle English, which they are building. This Middle
English Thesaurus is based on the data obtained from the Glasgow
Historical Thesaurus to cross-refer to the new evidence for Middle English
vocabulary presented in the Middle English Dictionary (1954). During the
compilation of the thesaurus they were troubled with the problem of
identification of Early Middle English vocabulary, which they overcome
with much difficulty. For example, the new evidence for Early Middle
English are drawn from the semantic fields of AGRICULTURE and EDUCATION.
To dissolve the problem, they clinically examined the representation of
word senses for the Early Middle English period by comparing with the Old
English, and later with the Middle English period. The process enabled
them to consider the links so far unexamined between the Old English
vocabulary and the evidence for Old English available within the 'Oxford
English Dictionary'.

In "The origin of 17th century canting terms" (pp. 163-196) Maurizio Gotti
reflects on the main processes of word-formation followed in the coinage
of 'cants', which are referred to in some major lexicographic works of the
17th century. Definitionally, 'cant' is a particular type of jargon spoken
by the thieves, anti-socials, and vagabonds - the people who live outside
the mainstream of a society. Generally, cant is identified as an
'antilanguage' typical of an 'antisociety', because the activities of its
users are considered criminal by the rest of the society. For his study,
Gotti uses a corpus of terms obtained from the dictionaries included in
Richard Head's 'The Canting Academy' (1673), chosen as a paradigmatic
lexicographic work for this research. In his final observation, Gotti has
rightly highlighted that some of the compilers of these early canting
dictionaries and glossaries showed a high degree of metalinguistic
awareness of these word-formation processes.

In "Early dictionaries of English and historical corpora: In search of
hard words" (pp. 197-226), Anne McDermott shows how one can carry out path
breaking research into the question of the provenance of 'hard words' by
using electronic corpora, dictionaries and other available resources.
However, the term 'hard word' needed to be defined for better
understanding of the readers. What I understand - the term refers to those
head-words, which "were never in contemporary usage, but remained as
'dictionary' words, living a kind of half-life, passing from one
lexicographer to another and were never really a part of the language" (p.
197). Throughout the her discussion, McDermott tries to establish the fact
that most of these words were never used as part of the actual vocabulary
of English, but mere entry of dictionary. Finally, she redirects her
analysis towards the earliest citations for these 'hard words' recorded in
the different editions of the Oxford English Dictionary to highlight that
most of these words have their first use in earlier texts.

In "The HORSE family: On the evolution of the field and its
metaphorization process" (pp. 229-254), Isabel de la Cruz Cabanillas and
Cristina Tejedor Martínez discuss some of the reasons which, have been
usually addressed to explain word loss and semantic change. They also
examine how these reasons can be applied to the field of generic
denominations of 'horse'. They explore "the various ways in which the
introduction of new items has an influence on the recipient language and
to what extant native words are affected" (p. 229). They take into account
the descriptive meaning of the terms, and evaluate the process of
metaphorisation, which has affected to some of the items in the process of
the development. Finally, to highlight the active role of metaphor in
semantic change, they refer to some of the proverbial usage related with
horse, mare, ass, donkey, mule, and colt. According to them, "the original
straight meanings have shifted to more metaphorical ones, which usually
refer to human beings and denote an objectionable quality" (p. 250).
In "A semantic analysis of FEAR, GRIEF, and ANGER words in Old English"
(pp. 255-274) Malgorzata Fabiszak deploys a cognitive perspective to
investigate the meaning of these three emotion words in Old English texts.
The study closely refers to the works of Lakoff and Kövecses (1987), and
Wierzbicka (1992). After detail analysis of the types of situations and
the individual and group reactions they produce, Fabiszak argues that
'fear', 'grief' and 'anger' are deeply interwoven in the texture of the
Anglo-Saxon social life. She is probably right in her observation when she
argues that fear ensures loyalty. "Disloyalty arouses God's or a king's
anger, which reinforces the fear. Toss of a king leads to the subject's
grief, because his death may cause internal strife or an aggression from
the neighbouring nations" (p. 271).

In "The evolution of the lexical and conceptual field of ANGER in Old and
Middle English" (pp. 275-299) Caroline Gevaert reconstructs the lexical
field with the information obtained from the Oxford English Dictionary,
the Historical Thesaurus of English, and the Toronto Corpus. The author
takes into account literal, metaphorical and metonymical sense to refer to
the concept expressed by the term. Her analysis of the results in the
reconstruction of a lexical field which, shows direct Latin influence and
is clearly dominated by the central metaphors SWELL and HEAT. In Middle
English, the lexical field is reconstructed, so that the central SWELL
metaphor gradually disappears and the HEAT metaphor is reinterpreted,
possibly under the influence of the humoral doctrine. She shows that the
conceptual field of ANGER undergoes some influence of more Latinate
concepts to redress the balance in favour of more Germanic concepts. One
must agree with her observation that "variety of evolutions and their
interactions can only be discovered by an approach that combines
historical, cognitive, and prototype semantics and is based on
quantitative corpus analysis" (p. 294).

In "Prototypes in semantic change: A diachronic perspective on abstract
nouns" (Pp. 300 - 331), Päivi Koivisto-Alanko analyses the diachronic
perspective to Modern English in order to investigate whether the pattern
of increasing subjectification in semantic change is discernible in the
filed of cognition. The work, is an extension of her previous research
(Koivisto-Alanko 2000) where she studies the process of semantic change of
the prototypical structure of the noun WIT and its near-synonyms (e.g.
ingenuity, intellect, cleverness, understanding, mind, conscience) in late
Middle English and early Modern English. She shows that the semantic field
of WIT is narrowed down and that some of the changes studied earlier have
been completed. However, she finds that the multiple senses of WIT do not
disappear entirely; they are rather transferred to its former
near-synonyms. At the same time, some new words have entered the field and
they appear to carry on the pattern of increasing subjectification in
their semantic process of change.

In "A morphodynamic interpretation of synonymy and polysemy in Old
English" (Pp. 332-352), Manuela Romano Pozo addresses to some basic issues
related to synonymy and polysemy, and explores their relevance to the
field of historical lexicography. She begins with an analytical
description of some of the intricacies involved between the behaviour of
natural chaotic-complex systems and meaning. Next, she directs her
analysis towards the interface existing between the morphodynamic and
cognitive approaches to language and meaning. After this, Pozo proposes an
approach for interpretation of semantic fields as topographic landscapes
where different stable structures and catastrophic jumps determine their
general frame. Finally, she argues for a description and representation of
the overall structure of the semantic field where a combination of
semantic, cognitive and social factors interact in mutual interdependence.
She affirms, such reconstruction (which includes both synchronic and
diachronic aspects) has multiple applications to lexicographic research of
other older periods of a language (p. 347).

In "Using dictionary to predict and arrange the past: Giving and
transferring landed property in Anglo-Saxon times" (Pp. 353-371) Juan
Gabriel Vázquez González exemplifies the onomasiological basis of the
Functional-Lexematic Model (Martín Mingorance 1990, Faber and Mairal Usón
1997), which is recently used for semantic analysis of lexical items for
inclusion in dictionary. With reference to some English examples, he shows
that the lexical domain of POSSESSION is a 'Solomon's mine' for
sociocultural information both of the present and the past. To
substantiate his observation, he uses the FLM to analyse the evolution of
social relationships as represented by the giving and transforming
property in Anglo-Saxon England. Thus, he shows how the onomasiological
structure of the Old English lexicon reflects the evolution of social
relationships in Anglo-Saxon times.

In "Words for MAN in the transition of Piers Plowman" (Pp. 375-409) Merja
Black Stenroos initiates a pilot study within the 'Middle English Grammar
Project' undertaken in Glasgow and Stavanger since 1997. Here she analyses
a single lexical set, words for "man, (male) person", in the scribal
transmission of Piers Plowman. Her aim is to study, with focus on a
specific group of words, the behaviour of Middle English scribes with
regard to lexis (p. 375). The present study focuses on the particular
piece of text "as suitable material for the study of word geography" (p.
380). Black constructs two basic assumptions: (a) the usage of any given
scribe with regard to lexis is systematic, rather than random, and (b)
geographical, rather than textually conditioned, patterns in the
distribution of words do occur and can be studied. However, she concludes
that development of "a reliable methodology for large-scale surveys of
word geography is a task that still lies in future" (p. 405).

In "Diachronic word-formation and studying changes in productivity over
time: Theoretical and methodological considerations" (pp. 410-437), Claire
Cowie and Christianne Dalton-Puffer explore new empirical methods of
tracing change in word formation patterns. Also, they address the general
question of how the dynamics of word-formation can be dealt with from a
historical perspective. To achieve their goal, they "examine the ways in
which morphological productivity is amenable to study in a historical
context" (p. 411) from a mainly methodological perspective. By using
empirical methods (e.g. productivity as a qualitative, quantitative and
diachronic notion), the authors trace various processes of change in
word-formation patterns undergone by English in different historical
periods, covering the whole history of the language. They note that
"morphological productivity is not only a theoretical concept but a
measurable property of word-formation rules". Thus, they try to establish
a theoretical basis for viewing productivity from a diachronic
perspective, which can be operationalised through the measurement of
productivity over time in historical corpora (p. 432).

In "Cognitive etymological search for lexical traces of conceptual
mappings: Analysis of the lexical-conceptual domain of the verbs of
'POSSESSION' (Pp. 438-463) Eulalio Fernández Sánchez argues for the
application of Functional Lexematic Model to the analysis of lexical
evolution. The main purpose of this paper is "to stress the relevance of
diachronic analysis to the cognitive study of language, in particular, and
to the comprehension and understanding of our cognitive system, in
general" (p. 438). The author tries to prove the existence of different
levels of lexical categorisation through the etymological analysis of the
linguistic categories that constitute the lexical domain of the verbs of
POSSESSION. However, according to the author, "this kind of analysis must
be integrated into a systematic description of the linguistic phenomenon"
(p. 446) because several levels of lexical categorisation can be obtained
through the dimensional structure of the lexical field.

In "The Innsbruck Prose Corpus: Its concept and usability in Middle
English Lexicology" (pp. 464-483) Manfred Markus discusses on some
possible applications of historical corpora (with special interest on the
'Innsbruck Prose Corpus', a collection of 129 unabridged Middle English
prose texts from 1150 to 1500) to lexical studies. According to Markus,
corpus-based research on Middle English words is progressively focusing on
the analysis of individual words, often with an interest in their syntax.
Normalised and tagged texts are especially useful for this type of
research, and the 'Innsbruck Prose Corpus' project will try to contribute
to the achievement of that aim. The author offers several illustrative
examples of words linked to various linguistic subsections. Finally, the
following directions are provided, along which, as the author thinks, the
research on Middle English words could move: (a) more research is required
on the syntax of function words, (b) the syntax and semantics of fixed
expressions and idiomatic phrases should be explored more exhaustively,
and (c) pragmatic and stylistic features connected with certain words or
word combinations should be elucidated. (p. 479).

In "Words of EMOTION in Old and Middle English" (pp 484-499), Michiko
Oguru focuses on different processes of lexical supersession that affected
the Old English vocabulary of emotions after the Normal Conquest. To
illustrate, the author analyses various Old and Middle English
translations, and describes the use of native and loanwords in some late
Old and early Middle English alliterative poems. Lexical replacement
becomes a regular phenomenon when change in verse forms and literary genre
affects the contexts in which words of EMOTION are used. Thus, for several
decades in the 13th century, the coexistence of many Old French and Old
Norse loanwords with the native words of emotion, contributed to increase
the degree of lexical variety that characterised English medieval
literature (p. 497).

In "'Touched by an alien tongue': Studying lexical borrowings in the
earliest Middle English" (pp. 500-521) Janne Skaffari deals with the study
of the lexical borrowings in a historical corpus. To elucidate, the author
focuses on the quantitative examination of the French, Scandinavian, and
Latin loanwords in the Middle English in one subsection of the Helsinki
Corpus. One of the central questions addressed here has to do with the
capacity of synchronic material to reveal a diachronic perspective on the
transitional period between late Old and early Middle English. Quantified
information, although fails to shed light on all issues relevant to the
studies of lexicon can serve to illustrate their linguistic developments
over ages. "The internal linguistic and textual context in which loanwords
are used is likely to provide more material for in-depth explorations of
loanwords" (p. 519).

In "Rhetorical factors in lexical-semantic change: The case of 'at least'
(Pp. 525-538), Diana M. Lewis examines the importance of rhetorical
purpose and rhetorical context in lexical semantic change. To show how 'at
least' has developed since Middle English from a purely scalar qualifier
into a polysemous expression serving epistemic and evaluative functions in
addition to the original representational function. The expression shows
evidence of subjectification of meaning, which arises from its use in
regular rhetorical patterns that eventually leads to semantic shift via
local analogies which allows its extension to new domains (p. 526).
Quantitative analysis of the expression from Middle English to the present
day shows that co-occurrence of the expression with particular rhetorical
pattern to generate new polysemy. Moreover, it acquires an information
structuring role by introducing rhetorical satellites, i.e. marking its
host unit as informationally subordinate to the adjacent, foregrounded

In "Modal change: A corpus study from 1500 to 1710 compared to current
usage" (Pp. 539-562), Silvia Molina Plaza uses a database of private
letters from the Helsinki Corpus to study modal change in early Modern
English as well as to compares it with the modality used in Present-day
English. The letters come from various sources and belong to private,
informal registers. She provides the definition of the term 'modality'
(Stubbs 1996: 202) and gives detailed account of modal verbs, modal
adverbs, conjunctions with modal content, and introductory formulae. The
modal tokens in her corpus illustrate the diachronic process of
grammaticalisation where lexical verbs have progressively acquired
grammatical values as modal verbs. "This change of use undergoes a period
of structural redundancy, characterised by analogic formations that appear
close to the old and new structures and also by the formal duplicity
created by the insecurity of an incomplete process"(p. 559).

In "The rise of new meanings: A historical journey through English ways of
'looking at'" (Pp. 563-571) Anna Poch and Isabel Verdaguer Clavera analyse
in detail the semantic evolution of the troponyms of 'look at (stare,
gaze, gape, gawp, gawk, goggle, glare, glimpse, glance, peek, peep, peer,
squint, leer, gloat, and ogle) in the field of visual perception. From a
cognitive perspective, they want to show how the present state has been
reached, highlighting the diverse semantic domains from which these verbs
originate (p. 563) and what factors have motivated the transfer of their
senses from one domain to another. A preliminary diachronic survey shows
that only a few of the above-mentioned verbs were present in the Old
English vocabulary, since most of them entered the English lexicon in the
Middle and Modern English period. Their origin is sometimes obscure, but
it is noteworthy that their first documented sense is often not related to
visual perception. The most striking observation made by the authors is
that not only these verbs but also those connected with visual perception,
reflect the fact that the eyes, apart from their basic functions of seeing
or looking at can also express feelings, emotions and attitudes (p. 571).

In "Lexical analysis of Middle English passive constructions" (Pp.
572-610), Junichi Toyota presents a corpus-based study of the lexical
system of the passive voice in Middle English. He focuses on the lexical
influence on some functions of the passive in stativisation to
disambiguate several types of stative and non-stative construction denoted
by the passive: verbal passive, adjectival passive, and resultative, as
well as to find some lexical link to these distinctions. As the author
states, these three different constructions seem to possess varying
degrees of semantic characteristics of the passive: whereas verbal passive
creates dynamic reading, adjectival passive and resultative construction
create stative reading. However, the author opines, it is better to
consider these three constructions as a sort of gradient, where verbal
passive is fully passive, adjectival passive is less passive, and
resultative construction is an intermediate level between the two (p.


This volume is worthy addition to the recent trend of lexical analysis in
the field of historical lexicology, semantics and lexicography (Coleman
and Kay 2002). In general, it focuses on three vital issues of lexical
study: (a) impact of prototype theory on semantics, (b) cognitive approach
to lexico-semantics, and (c) effect of empirical resources on the study of
lexical semantics and lexicography. The result is a collective volume,
which represents the work of a wide range of scholars in different fields
of English Historical Linguistics. With special attention to those
linguistic branches that focus on the word as the basic unit of
description, analysis and evaluation, this volume has incorporated some
works, which aim to travel on a new path never traversed before. It also
draws our attention towards some new directions and approaches to lexical
study, which will be beneficial to lexicology, lexical semantics,
lexicography and historical linguistics. Rich with information, analysis,
and introspection the volume indicates a promising growth of the field
with regular input from other related disciplines. The lack of a general
index is probably the only deficiency of the volume.


Coleman Julie and Christian J. Kay (eds.) (2000) Lexicology, Semantics and
Lexicography: Selected Papers from the 4th G.L. Brook Symposium.
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Dick, Simon C. (1997) The Theory of Functional Grammar (Part 1: The
structure of the clause, Part II: Complex and Derived Constructions) (2
Volumes). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Faber, Pamela and Ricardo Mairal Usón (1997) "Definitional analysis in the
Functional-Lexematic Lexicographic Model". Alfinge. 9: 217-232.

Koivisto-Alanko, Päivi (2000) "Mechanisms of semantic change in nouns of
cognition: a general model?", in Coleman Julie and Christian J. Kay (eds.)
(2002) Lexicology, Semantics and Lexicography: Selected Papers from the
4th G.L. Brook Symposium. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Pp.

Lakoff, George and Zoltan Kövecses (1987) "The cognitive model of anger
inherent in American English", in Holland, D. and N. Quinn (eds.) Cultural
Models in Language and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp.

Martín Mingorance, Leocadio (1990) "Functional grammar and lexematics in
lexicography", in Tomaszczyk, J. and B. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (eds.)
Meaning and Lexicography. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Pp. 227-253.

Stubbs, Michael (1996) Text and Corpus Analysis: Computer-Assisted Studies
of Language and Culture. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Wierzbicka, Anna (1992) "Defining emotion concepts". Cognitive Science.
16: 539-581.

Niladri Sekhar Dash works in the area of Corpus Linguistics and Language
Technology at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit of the
Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest
includes Corpus Linguistics, Lexicology, Lexical Semantics, and
Lexicography. Presently he works on corpus generation in Indian languages,
corpus-based lexicography, and lexical polysemy.

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