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Review of  Polysemy in Cognitive Linguistics: Selected papers from the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference, Amsterdam, 1997.

Reviewer: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Book Title: Polysemy in Cognitive Linguistics: Selected papers from the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference, Amsterdam, 1997.
Book Author: Hubert Cuyckens
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 12.2745

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Cuyckens, Hubert, and Britta Zawada, ed. (2001) Polysemy
in Cognitive Linguistics: Selected Papers from the
International Cognitive Linguistics Conference, Amsterdam,
1997. John Benjamins Publishing Company, hardback ISBN
1-55619-894-9, xxvii+296pp, $77.00. Current Issues in
Linguistic Theory 177.

Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata,

The volume contains a selection form the proceedings of the
5th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC97),
held at the Free University of Amsterdam from July 14-19. It
is claimed to be a companion to three other ICLC97
volumes: "Metaphor in Cognitive Linguistics", edited by
R.W. Gibbs, Jr. and G. J. Steen (CILT 175), "Discourse
Studies in Cognitive Linguistics", edited by K. van Hoek,
A. A. Kibrik, and L. Noordman (CILT 176), and "Constructions
in Cognitive Linguistics", edited by Add. F., and F. van der
Leek (CILT 178). The volume contains 10 papers besides a
reasonably large introduction, plus a name index, a subject
index and the addresses of the contributors to the volume.

In their Introduction (Pp. i-xxvii), the editors of the volume
rightly appreciate the importance of the study of polysemy in
the filed of(cognitive) linguistic semantics, psycholinguistics,
cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, and computational
linguistics. To my mind, the study of polysemy can also be
related to language understanding, language processing, language
acquisition, word-sense disambiguation, discourse analysis,
language translation and some other related fields where use of
any natural language is a prerequisite, because as it is taken
for granted that polysemy is an inherent quality of all natural
languages. Initially, they spend a few words explaining
'Cognitive Linguistics' and 'Polysemy' -- two head terms used in
the title of the book. Next, they highlight some of the specific
themes and issues surround the study of polysemy in twentieth
century linguistics semantics and specifically in Cognitive
Linguistics in the late nineties and at the turn of the century.
In the course of this discussion, they refer to the papers in
this volume, and how they contribute to these themes and issues.
In the last part of the introduction they give us a brief summary
of each of the papers included in this volume.

In the article entitled "The Spatial and Non-spatial Senses
of the German Preposition 'Uber'" (Pp. 1-35), Brigita Meex
proposes a corpus-based cognitive semantic analysis of the
German term (uber) focusing on its non-spatial senses. The
analysis is based on a corpus study of occurrences of 'uber'
obtained from some German newspapers, magazines, and
contemporary German literature. "The main purpose of the
analysis is to show how the multiple readings of 'uber'
constitute a continuum, ranging from the spatial relations
via the temporal relations to a variety of abstract
relations" (p.2). After providing a brief overview of the
spatial usages of the term, she discusses its range of
usages in the non-spatial (temporal, abstract,
etc.) domains. She assumes that space functions as a source
domain for the metaphorical structuring and understanding of
other conceptual domains. This helps her to demonstrate how
the specific characteristics of spatial 'uber' have
contribute to the development of its non-spatial senses. She
argues that in general, non-spatial extensions seem to have
developed from the image schemas PATH, COVERING, and
VERTICALITY, together with functional notions such as
control and obstacle/boundary traversal. She shows with
examples how each non-spatial usage can be related to a
corresponding spatial usage, which motivates it. Finally,
she shows how various spatial and non-spatial usages of
'uber' can be incorporated in one semantic structure and
constitute a continuum, ranging from the spatial relations
via the temporal relations to a variety of abstract

In the article entitled "Scalar Particles and the Sequential
Space Construction" (Pp. 37-56), Tumas Huumo presents a
semantic analysis of Finnish scalar particles ('jo', 'vasta',
and 'viela') within the general frameworks of Cognitive
Linguistics. He attempts to shed some new light on the range
of problems associated with scalar particles by giving a
detailed account of their uses in one specific construction
type in Finnish, namely the 'Sequential Space Construction
(SSC). This construction results from the combination of a
scalar particle with a locative element and the insertion of
that combination into a clause as a peripheral modifier
(p.38). Temporal as well as non-temporal uses of the SSC are
analyzed using such concepts and mechanisms as mental
spaces, subjective motion, construal, and conceived
vs. processing time. From these analyses, it becomes clear
that scalar particles are highly polysemous items, but that
the concept of time is always relevant in the scalar
particles in the SSC, even in the non-temporal uses. This is
because a scale (or a series of mental spaces) is always
approached in a serial manner, and therefore has a temporal
order as its central semantic facet. The scalar particles,
traditionally classified as temporal classifiers, therefore
have a deeply temporal meaning, which underlies their other

In the article entitled "A Frame-based Approach to
Polysemy" (Pp. 57-81), Willy Martin emphasizes on the roles
of slots and fillers in a powerful representational
formalism, Artificial Intelligence (AI) frames, in
understanding the various sense of polysemous words, as well
as in generating novel sense extensions. He argues that the
polysemous senses of a word (all of which are represented in
a frame) can be accounted for in two ways. Firstly, a word's
different senses can be seen as the different, interrelated
perspectives assumed by certain slots in the frame, or as
the varying prominence given to them. Secondly, the slots in
a frame, which are expectation patterns, can be filled in
various ways to create novel sense extensions. To
substantiate his proposition he first presents frames as
they are known and used in AI (Minsky 1975, Ringland 1988),
and in linguistics (Fillmore 1977, Sowa 1988). Next, he
treats the importance of the frame-based approach for the
description of word meaning and for
lexicology/lexicography. Finally, he discusses the
implications and possibilities of such approach in the
treatment of polysemy. Thus he tries to show how the slots
and fillers can act in the treatment of polysemy in frames,
how frames might help in understanding polysemous words, and
finally, how they perform in generating sense
extensions. Moreover, he suggests that the frame approach
may be helpful in understanding, producing and acquiring
language, not only within the framework of polysemy, but
within that of lexical behavior in general as well (p. 78).

In the article entitled "Where Do the Senses of Cora 'Va'a-'
Come From?" (Pp. 83-114), Eugene H. Casad examines the
polysemy of the locative verbal prefix 'va'a-', which can be
glossed in its static locational as well as in its dynamic
directional usages in Cora, a Southern Uto-Aztecan language
of Northwest Mexico. These respective usages cluster around
two distinct prototypical meanings. One cluster of meanings
relates to the occurrence of a state of affairs or a quality
within a given surface area of a complex configuration that
can be modeled as an oriented cube incorporating a canonical
viewer's vantage point, whereas the other cluster of
meanings relates to motion toward a primary reference point
(p.110). He considers its usages with both the prefixes (a-
"outside", and u- "inside") to show that there is no single
prototype in terms of which to characterize all of 'va'a-'s
directional and locational usages. This leads Casad to
assume that they reflect at least two distinct mental
models, each of which correlates with distinct lexical items
that have merged phonologically and semantically. In
particular, Casad tries to demonstrate that the locational
and directional usages derive historically from distinct
main verbs, one of which meant 'to cover over an area', and
the other 'to come towards X'. Finally, he proposes the
grammaticalization paths that the locational and directional
usages follow, and tries to substantiate his proposal in
terms of the following facts: both senses undergo vowel
harmony, both senses occupy the same class position within
the Cora verb word, and the two basic senses have distinct
cognates in the related Uto-Aztecan Language of Southeastern

In the article entitled "Why 'Quirky' Case Really isn't
Quirky or How to Treat a 'Dative Sickness' in
Icelandic" (Pp. 115-159), Michael B. Smith shows how quirky
case can be motivated and explained (though not strongly
predicted) from the cognitive grammar perspective, which
assumes that case are meaningful, but polysemous. This claim
is more justified since the circumstances determining quirky
case marking are not strongly predictable semantically, and
it is usually assumed to be lexically idiosyncratic,
accidental, and exclusively syntactic in nature. He shows
with examples that different cases reflect different
construals of a situation: quirky dative accentuates a
nominal's role as being experience-like in some way, whereas
quirky accusative accentuates a patient-like
role. Impersonal experiencer constructions with quirky case
markings (rather than he expected nominative) on apparent
subject nominals are thus analyzed as setting-subject
constructions with oblique-marked objects whose case marking
is meaningful. In the following analysis he offers some
speculations on how apparently peripheral uses of the
Icelandic dative and accusative cases might be related to
more central uses, with the understanding that in some
instances the notion of motivation might be stretched to
some extent. Evidence has been offered to substantiate that
when nominative, dative, accusative, and 3SG verb agreement
in Icelandic are assumed to be meaningful and polysemous,
their occurrence in a variety of constructions can be
explained and semantically motivated; this is in contrast to
autonomous syntactic accounts which simply treat their
patterning as accidental (p.155). Thus Smith is able to
show, by assuming a few basic notions such as imagery and
the polysemy of grammatical markings represented in a
network-prototype model of categorization, that it is
possible to explain the occurrence of so-called 'quirky'
case in Icelandic in a satisfying way, which does not seem
possible in standard syntactic theories that focus
mechanically on getting the appropriate cases on the
appropriate nominals.

In the article entitled "When A Dance Resembles a Tree: A
Polysemy Analysis of Three Setswana Noun Classes"
(Pp. 161-184), Kari-Anne Selvik presents a polysemy
analysis of three Setswana (a Bantu language spoken in
Botswana and South Africa) noun classes. She argues that
although these classes have traditionally been labeled
'miscellaneous', it is clearly possible to arrive at
semantic characterizations in the form of networks involving
chains of meaning associations (p.181). In support of her
claim, the semantics of these noun classes is represented in
terms of schematic networks of fairly conceptual/semantic
schemas and abstract conceptual schemas (or class schemas),
which emerge as generalizations over the specific
schemas. These abstract schemas prove to be in accordance
with semantic principles reflected in gender systems in many
other language groups, such as: contrasts in shape, degree
of animacy, degree of individuation, and participation in
action chains. She has also briefly presented a
psycholinguistic experiment aiming to show whether (or to
what extent) the conceptual schemas making up networks could
be regarded as cognitive units. The results suggest that
many subjects, in dealing with experimental items,
subconsciously employed semantic associations that were in
accordance with the proposed analysis of these noun
classes. Thus, her findings support the view that polysemy
is not the strictly lexical phenomenon that it has
traditionally been said to be, but it is much more

In the article entitled "Systemic Polysemy in the Southern
Bantu Noun Class System" (Pp. 185-212), A. P. Hendrikse
attempts to show that polysemous character of the
categorizing affixes of the Bantu noun is not monolithic,
but rather multidimensional. That is, in addition to the
intracategorial or local polysemy attested in the individual
noun classes, there is also intercategorial or systemic
polysemy in the class prefix system as a whole, which
contributes to the polysemous character of individual class
prefixes. He gives an overview of the shift of the views on
polysemy, from a purely lexical to a lexico-grammatical
phenomenon which is followed by a brief survey of several
recent studies that address the polysemy associated with the
Southern Bantu noun class prefixes. His argument is
illustrated in the context when polysemy has been
reinterpreted within Cognitive Linguistics as a categorizing
phenomenon, which has paved the way for extending the scope
of this notion to phenomena such as affixes that lie on the
border between the lexicon and grammar. His discussion
becomes highly relevant to us when we note that some recent
studies (including the work of Selvik present in this
volume) of selected Bantu noun class prefixes attempt to
identify intracategorial motivations such as family
resemblance relations, a network of meanings based on a
category prototype or culturally motivated chaining, to
account for the seemingly unrelated multiplicity of meanings
expressed by the lexical items in the relevant class.

In the article entitled "Psycholinguistic Perspectives on
Polysemy" (Pp. 213-239), Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. and Teenie
Matlock discuss some of the recent developments in Cognitive
Linguistics, demonstrating that the meanings of polysemous
words can be organized in the form of family resemblances,
and that the study of polysemy reveals important insights
into categorization behavior. Besides, they describe some of
the challenges in verifying linguistic accounts of polysemy
as being psychologically valid. Then they present the
findings of three research projects, looking at the roles of
linguistic context, embodied experience, conceptual
knowledge, and lexico-grammatical constructions in speaker's
intuitions about the meanings of three polysemous words
('just', 'stand', and 'make'). In the first project, they focus
on how speaker's conceptualizations of real-world events and
their different communicative intentions in discourse
influences their intuitions about the different meanings of
the adverb 'just'. In the second project, they examine the
role embodied experience plays in speaker's judgments of
similarity of different uses of the word 'stand'. In the
third project, they investigate how speakers' conceptual
knowledge of grammatical constructions influences when they
interpret different meanings of 'make'. They methods
employed here enable them to make important claims about
speakers' systematic intuitions about polysemous words and
how these intuitions are motivated by conceptual knowledge
and embodied experience (p. 217). In conclusion, they
discuss the implications of their research projects for
psychological and cognitive linguistic theories of polysemy.

In the article entitled "The Embodied Approach to the
Polysemy of the Spatial Preposition 'on'" (Pp. 241-260),
Dinara A. Beitel, Raymond W, Gibbs, Jr. and Paul Sanders
describe three experiments investigating the role that
recurring bodily force experiences and perceptual
interactions, which give rise to such image schemas as
motivating various uses of the polysemous spatial position
'on'. The purpose of this study was to investigate he
polysemy of the spatial preposition 'on'. Their main
hypothesis was that various physical and figurative uses of
the spatial preposition 'on' are not arbitrary, but are
motivated by the force dynamic and perceptual image schemas
that arise as the result of bodily sensorimotor and
perceptual experiences and interactions (p. 243). In their
experiment they investigates whether speakers tacitly
recognize connections between image schemas relevant to the
bodily experience of 'on' and various uses of the word
'on'. Next they examined whether this tacit knowledge can be
used to predict speakers' judgments of conceptual similarity
between various uses of 'on'. Their findings suggest that
various uses of the word 'on', including its figurative
uses, are not arbitrary, but are related via the embodied
image schemas through metonymic extensions and metaphoric
instantiations of these schemas in various conceptual

In the article entitled "Processing Polysemous, Homonymous,
and Vague Adjectives" (Pp. 261-284), Frank Brisard, Gert Van
Rillaer, and Dominiek Sandra investigate, by a series of
on-line experiments, the representational status of polysemy
in the mental lexicon. They put three hypotheses to the test
regarding the types of linkage a polysemous item can display
over its various uses. The first hypothesis, which states
that one representation can cover all uses, is essentially
compatible with the results they obtain from priming
experiments in which contextualized primes of senses from
polysemous adjectives facilitate access of a semantically
related target of identical word forms. The idea of
monosemy, which assigns one meaning to a polysemous
expression, is good to explain this facilitation effect. The
second hypothesis posits independently stored
representations, i.e., the same format as is assumed for
homonyms. Its prediction that priming should not occur
between polysemous senses is not borne out by the data,
which also show a systematic divergence between the
condition of polysemy and that of homonymy. The third
option, which assumes representations that are linked
processually, not just semantically, cannot be ruled out and
leaves room for the possibility of a schematic meaning
linking a number of de facto separated representations. This
schema can also be held responsible for effects that point
to the processing relevance of a level of underspecified
meaning in the mental lexicon.

>From the very beginning of language study, the problem of
multiplicity of meaning of a single lexical item has been an
issue of regular investigation by different scholars. For
most of this time, this area of study was mainly
confined within the broad spectrum of semantics, where the
topic had its due importance similar to other topics of
semantics. We can find relevant and fruitful discussions on
polysemy in Firth (1957), Ullmann (1962), Lyons (1963),
Leech (1974), Palmer (1995), Kreidler (1998), Cruse (2000),
Allan (2001), and others, with close reference to homonymy,
monosemy, and synonymy. The majority of these studies are
based on data obtained intuitively or retrieved form a small
sample of texts.

However, the emergence of new fields of research and
investigations such as corpus linguistics, natural language
processing, computational linguistics, cognitive
linguistics, lexical semantics, word-sense disambiguation
etc., has raised a need for looking at polysemy form a
different perspective for obtaining relevant information
required in these domains. This has resulted in quick
publication of a few books on polysemy which implies that
the topic of polysemy is now gaining is identity as an
independent area of study in linguistics. Among some recent
publications, the volume edited by Ravin and Leacock
(2000) is entirely devoted to the theoretical and
computational approaches to polysemy whereas this (under
review) volume is entirely devoted to understanding polysemy
in cognitive linguistics. A simple comparison between the
two shows that their goal, approach, treatment, and
observations are vastly different - though at certain times,
the writers have obtained data from various corpora for
establishing their arguments. This leads us to hope for the
publication of some more volumes on this topic in future,
may be form different angle or perspective.

Allan, K. (2001) Natural Language Semantics. Oxford:
Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Cruse, A. (2000) Meaning in Language: An Introduction to
Semantics and Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fillmore, C. (1977) "Scenes-and-Frames Semantics", in
Zampolli, A. (ed.) Linguistic Structures Processing.
Amsterdam: North Holland. (1977). Pp. 55-81.

Firth, J. R. (1957) 'Modes of Meaning'. Papers in
Linguistics 1934-1951. London: Oxford University Press.

Kreidler, C. W. (1998) Introducing English Semantics.
London: Routledge.

Leech, G. (1974) Semantics. Middlesex, England:
Penguin Books Ltd.

Lyons, J. (1963) Structural Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Minsky, M. (1975) "A Framework for Representing Knowledge",
in Winston, P.H. (ed.) The Psychology of Computer
Vision. New York, N.Y.: McGraw Hill. (1975). Pp. 211-277.

Palmer, F. R. (1995) Semantics. (2nd
Edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ravin, Y., and Leacock, C. (eds.) (2000) Ploysemy:
Theoretical and Computational Approaches.
New York: Oxford University Press Inc.

Ringland, G. (1988) "Structured Object Representation
Schemata and Frames", in Ringland, G., and Duce,
D. A. (eds.) Approaches to Knowledge Representation: An
Introduction. Letchworth: Research Studies
Press. (1988). Pp. 81-99.

Sowa, J. F. (1988) "Using a Lexicon of Canonical Graphs in a
Semantic Interpreter", in Evens, M. (ed.) Relational Models
of the Lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press. (1988). Pp. 113-137.

Ullmann, S. (1962) Semantics: An Introduction to the Science
of Meaning. Oxford: Blackwell.

Niladri Sekhar Dash works as a Linguist in the Computer Vision
and Pattern Recognition Unit of the Indian Statistical
Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest includes
corpus linguistics, text annotation, lexical semantics,
word-sense disambiguation, generative morphology etc.