Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2006 16:26:30 -0800 From: Zouhair Maalej Subject: The Semantics of Polysemy: Reading Meaning in English and Warlpiri
AUTHOR: Riemer, Nick TITLE: The Semantics of Polysemy SUBTITLE: Reading Meaning in English and Warlpiri SERIES: Cognitive Linguistics Research PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2005
Zouhair Maalej, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Manouba-Tunis
Riemer offers a cross-linguistic cognitive semantic view of polysemy based on a typology of metaphoric and metonymic relations in keeping with the problematics of general cognitive science. Apart from the Introduction and the Conclusion, the book offers six chapters, of which the first two are a review and a repudiation of cognitive semantics and the Natural Semantic Metalanguage as currently practiced, with the rest of the chapters presenting evidence for polysemy (chapter 3), a theory for polysemy (chapter 4), and two case studies, one about English (chapter 5) and the other Warlpiri (chapter 6).
Ch 1: Cognition and linguistic science Riemer presents the objective of his monograph as consisting in analyzing polysemy in English and Warlpiri's percussion (hitting) verbs using ordinary language paraphrase in cognitive semantics, where polysemy is seen as a function of three metonymic and one metaphoric relation. However, the author disagrees with pairing semantic structure and conceptualization within cognitive semantics, and elaborates a distinction between the observability of phono- morpho-syntactic features of language and the non-observable nature of semantic phenomena, concluding that semantics has no data that constitute its object of investigation.
The author devotes the rest of the chapter to discussing his disagreement with cognitive semantics in pairing meaning and conceptualization. Riemer argues that to meet scientificity a theory needs to satisfy two conditions: causal explanation condition and empirical identity condition. It fails to satisfy the former as the theory does not attempt to characterize the causal succession of cognitive states which result in linguistic tokens (p. 27). Riemer qualifies the latter as ''at a prescientific point in its development'' (p. 28).
Ch 2: Meaning, definition and paraphrase Riemer presents the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) framework of Wierzbicka and co-workers. Riemer sees NSM as a model of definitional enterprise, presented as a ''refinement'' on modern dictionaries. In proposing universally intertranslatable and indefinable semantic primitives, the NSM meant to evade charges of ethnocentrism, by developing a maximally culture-neutral methodology and objective terminology. Instead, it fell into semantic primitives that are not to be found in each culture
Ch 3: Evidence for polysemy As a way of evidencing the existence of polysemy, Riemer rejects Allwood's (2003) proposal of a continuum between the two as a ''meaning potential'' for lexical items in favor of the distinction between monosemy and polysemy. Riemer also rejects Tuggy's (1999) assumption that polysemy is the default case in accounts of meaning. Furthermore, Riemer looks at the various criteria advanced in defense of polysemy such as logical, syntagmatic, syntactic, paradigmatic, and definitional tests, and rejects all of them as defining criteria. The second half of the chapter serves to defining the author's own conception of polysemy as based on metaphor and metonymy, and captured in G (glosses), with M (manifest) and S (sensory) as subparts.
Ch 4: A four-category theory of polysemy Riemer isolates four categories that are claimed to account for English and Warlpiri's polysemy of P/I (percussion-impact) vocabulary, namely: (i) Metaphorical applications of the core verbal meaning, (ii) Effect metonymies: metonymic extensions to the effect of the action of the verb, (iii) Context metonymies: metonymic extensions to the context in which the action of the verb occurs, and (iv) Constituent metonymies: metonymic extensions by selection of a constituent of the verbal event.
Ch 5: Applications I: English Riemer isolates eight metaphoric profiles of polysemy in English in a diachronic perspective: (i) using words is subjecting them to P/I, (ii) consciousness is a surface; thoughts and percepts are impactors, (iii) attaining a desired result is hitting a surface, (iv) detrimental interaction is P/I, (v) requests are acts of P/I, (vi) arriving at a location is P/I, (vii) emotional attraction is physical impact, and (viii) metaphors with touch.
Riemer also isolates six metonymic profiles: (i) motion induced in surface by P/I, (ii) change of state caused in surface by P/I, (iii) change of mental/experiential state caused in surface by P/I, (iv) change of physical structure cause in surface by P/I, (v) surface brought into being by P/I, and (vi) surface brought into being and made to move by P/I.
Another two profiles include context metonymies, where the metonymic extension derives from the context, and constituent metonymies.
Ch 6: Applications II: Warlpiri Riemer distinguishes three types of polysemy for Warlpiri, but argues that only two of them (structural and lexical) are relevant for his purposes. Structural and lexical polysemies occur across metaphor and metonymy (effect, context, and constituent metonymies). In the analysis of Walpiri hitting verbs, the constituent type metonymy seems to be less frequent than metaphor and effect and contextual metonymies.
On a positive note, Riemer's book is one of the very few (cognitive) semantic contributions to Warlpiri, a Pama-Nyunga language spoken by several thousand people in the Northern territory of Australia. Riemer's contribution to the theory of polysemy through the study of Warlpiri counts as an extension of polysemy to include not only metaphor as motivation but, more importantly, metonymy as a conceptual phenomenon.
However, on a negative note, it seems that the refutational apparatus on which Riemer built his disagreement with CS is not well-founded. For instance, attributing a ''property correspondence'' (p. 33) theory of meaning to CS is displaced. Work within prototype theory by Rosch (1978) and on ICMs by Lakoff (1982, 1987) dealt with the repudiation of this necessary and sufficient feature theory of meaning, arguing that meanings are fuzzier and more indeterminate than has been thought. Idealized cognitive models presuppose their non-idealized counterparts, suggesting that meanings are not fixed but negotiable in discourse contexts as Riemer himself rightly argued. On the other hand, concepts are not argued within CS to be reflections of the properties of real-world phenomena; concepts are more a function of experience with categories in the world (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999), and can be argued to include a subjective dimension that makes this experience with categories quite unique. Riemer should not much disagree that a survivor in a car accident must have, as part of the packaging of the concept of car, some of his lived experience with the car and the accident that may not be available in the cognitive environment of every other individual not having experienced the same sad event.
Riemer's distinction between micro-, macro-, and intermediate-level categorizations is useful and interesting, but it is not the case that cognitive semanticists ignored the micro-level, which is basic-level category in prototype theory. Lakoff & Turner (1989: p. 113) argue that ''metaphorical understanding is grounded in semantically autonomous conceptual structure.'' However, they point out that, although semantically autonomous concepts are conventionally understood nonmetaphorically, they may be understood metaphorically if they have a complex internal structure. And they mention DOG as part of the autonomous class of OBJECTS, pointing out that we do talk about ''a dog's wagging his tail as flagging it, a dog's loyalty and friendship, which are human traits (Lakoff & Turner, 1989: p. 112).
To end this critical evaluation, it should be noted that the conclusion to the book is a theoretical discussion of semantics, where no summary of the findings can be found.
Allwood, J. (2003). Meaning potentials and context: Some consequences for the analysis of variation in meaning. In H. Cuyckens, R. Dirven & J. R. Taylor (Eds.), Cognitive Approaches to Lexical Semantics (pp. 29-65). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Lakoff, G. (1982). Categories: An essay in cognitive linguistics. In The Linguistic Society of Korea (Ed.), Linguistics in the Morning Calm (pp. 139-193). Seoul: Hanshin Publishing Company.
Lakoff, G. (1987). Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York: Basic Books.
Lakoff, G., & Turner, M. (1989). More than cool reason: A field guide to poetic metaphor. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.
Rosch, E. (1978). Principles of categorization. In E. Rosch & B. B. Lloyd (Eds.), Cognition and categorization (pp. 27-48). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Tuggy, D. (1999). Linguistic evidence for polysemy in the mind: A response to William Croft and Dominiek Sandra. Cognitive Linguistics, 10(4), 343-368.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
The reviewer is an associate professor of linguistics. His interests include cognitive linguistics and metaphor, cognitive pragmatics, cognitive psychology, experimental psycholinguistics, anthropology, critical discourse analysis, etc. He teaches two undergraduate courses in psycholinguistics and undergraduate and postgraduate courses in critical discourse analysis. He also teaches two postgraduate courses titled Critical Metaphor Analysis and Cognitive Poetics.