Polysemy In The Semantic Field Of Movement In The English Language (39388)

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Polysemy In The Semantic Field Of Movement In The English Language


One of the long-established misconceptions about the lexicon is that it is neatly and rigidly divided into semantically related sets of words. In contrast, we claim that word meanings do not have clear boundaries.1 In this paper we will give proof of the fuzziness of meaning through an analysis of the semantic field of MOVEMENT in the English language. We will show that many MOVEMENT verbs belong not only to several subdomains within the field of MOVEMENT, but also to various semantic domains through metaphorical extension.

Before dealing with the double or even triple membership of MOVEMENT verbs, let us first present the model on which our description of the lexicon is based, the Functional-Lexematic Model (Martín Mingorance, 1984, 1985a,b; 1987a,b,c; 1990a,b).

1. The Functional-Lexematic Model

The FLM integrates Coseriu’s Lexematics (1977), Dik’s Functional Grammar (1997a) and some fundamental principles of cognitive linguistics. Following Faber and Mairal (1998: 4-5), the two main objectives of this model are, on the one hand, the construction of the linguistic architecture of the lexicon of a language, and on the other hand, the representation of knowledge based on the linguistic coding of dictionary entries.

The FLM establishes three axes of analysis: the paradigmatic, syntagmatic and cognitive axes. The elaboration of the paradigmatic axis entails the structuring of the lexicon in semantic domains —each corresponding to a basic area of meaning,2 and the organization of lexical domains into hierarchically constructed subdomains elaborated on the basis of shared meaning components A subdomain is “a subdivision of semantic space derived from the factorisation of the meaning definition of its members”3 (Faber and Mairal 1998: 6). Word definitions are built according to Dik’s method of Stepwise Lexical Decomposition. This means that the definition structure of each lexeme consists of the nuclear word —the archilexeme— and a series of semantic features which mark its distance from the preceding members of the subdomain.

Following Faber and Mairal (1999), the domain of MOVEMENT is organised into four subdomains. The first subdomain describes generic movement, while the other subdomains subsume lexemes which denote movement in a number of contexts: liquid, atmosphere and land. Cutting across this major configuration of the domain, the parameters of manner and direction introduce further divisions within each subdomain.4 For instance, these parameters traverse the following subdomains within the subdomain lexicalizing generic movement:

1. Direction:

To move towards a place/person/thing

To move back

To move up

To move down

2. Manner:

To move quickly

To move slowly

To move smoothly

To move in a circular manner

As an example of a subdomain structured paradigmatically, we have selected the subdomain To move down:

fall: to move down from a high position/the sky/a tree.

plunge: to fall suddenly a long way from a high position.

plummet: to fall very quickly from a high position.

come down: to fall (rain/snow) heavily.

descend: to move down a slope/stairs (fml).

The verbs indented to the right (plunge, plummet, come down) are defined in terms of the verb immediate above them (fall), which thus becomes their definiens. They are basically differentiated from one another in terms of manner. The other archilexeme of this subdomain is descend.

The construction of the syntagmatic axis implies the analysis of the complementation patterns of each lexeme using predicate frames as integrated formulae.

The following types of information are captured in predicate frames:

(i) the form of the predicate

(ii) the syntactic category to which it belongs

(iii) its quantitative valency, i.e. the number of arguments that the predicate requires

(iv) its qualitative valency, i.e. the semantic functions of the arguments and the pertinent selection restrictions

(v) the meaning definition

Predicate frames describe a state of affairs and specify the relationship between the predicate arguments (represented by the variable x). Each argument is characterized by a selection restriction —described in terms of binary semantic features— and fulfills a semantic function (Agent, Experiencer, Goal, Recipient, etc.).

Consider the predicate frame of the verb bow:

[ (x1: prototyp. human)Ag (x2: prototyp. part of the body)Go ]Action

DEF = to bend your head and upper body as a greeting or as a sign of respect.

This frame describes an Action and specifies the relationship between a human argument, performing the function of Agent, and an argument fulfilling the function of Goal and semantically marked as part of the body (head).

The elaboration of the cognitive axis entails the formulation of the predicate conceptual schemata, which are cognitive constructs encoding semantic, syntactic and pragmatic information and representing our knowledge about the lexical unit in question. Conceptual schemata are codified at three levels: lexeme, subdomain and domain.

2. Polysemy of MOVEMENT verbs

Many MOVEMENT verbs fall within several subdomains. This double/multiple membership may be accounted for on the following grounds:

a) The meaning component focalised

b) The genus of the lexeme

c) The metaphorical extension of the verb

Let us examine each of these factors.

2.1. Focalization of a meaning component

We have used Dik’s (1997a) pragmatic functions of Focus and Topic to account for some instances of polysemy in the semantic field of MOVEMENT. These functions specify the information status of the constituents of the predicate within the communicative setting in which they occur, and they are assigned to the constituents after the assigning of semantic and syntactic functions. The Topic is the entity about which the predication predicates something in the setting in question, whereas the Focus refers to the most relevant information in the setting:

(1) As for Mary (Focus), I don’t care for her (Topic).

The application of such functions to the paradigmatic description of the lexicon is based on the organization of the lexicon at three levels: domain, subdomain and lexeme. In consonance with this idea, we may formulate various levels of focalization:

Level of focalization 1: Domain

Level of focalization 2: Subdomain

Levels of focalization 3, 4, ... : Lexeme

A domain stands for the level of focalization number 1. It performs the function of Focus in that it represents one of the basic areas of meaning.

A subdomain represents the level of focalization number 2 in that it focuses on an area of meaning within a domain.

The following levels of focalization are formulated at lexeme-level. This means that the lexemes of a subdomain represent different levels of focalization based on the meaning hierarchies within the subdomain.

What is most relevant is that what is Focus on a level becomes Topic on the level below. Then a domain, which performs the function of Focus on the level of focalization number 1, becomes topic at subdomain-level in that it presents the given information, since all the subdomains of MOVEMENT lexicalize the concept of movement. Therefore, the archilexeme of the lexical field, move, which performs the function of Focus at domain-level in that it codifies the nuclear meaning of the domain, becomes Topic at subdomain-level, since it is the definiens of the archilexeme of each subdomain.

Similarly, a subdomain, which acts as Focus on the level of focalization number 2, becomes Topic at lexeme-level, since all the lexemes in the subdomain share the nuclear information formalised by the subdomain. Then, as we move down in the semantic hierarchy which characterizes the internal structure of each subdomain, what is Focus in the meaning definition of the archilexeme (level of focalization number 3) becomes Topic in the meaning definition of its hyponyms (level of focalization number 4). For example, if we take the subdomain analysed above, To move down, the definiens “to move down” acts as Focus in the definition of fall (the archilexeme), and as Topic in the definition of plunge, plummet and come down, the function of Focus being performed by the semantic parameters of manner and place in that they individuate the members of the subdomain.

Let us now consider the functions of Topic and Focus in the case of lexemes belonging to several subdomains. Here the function of Focus applies to a particular meaning component, which thus becomes especially relevant. The verbs whizz and zoom involve quick movement, thus belonging to the subdomain To move quickly. But they can also denote movement through the air:

(2) The bullets whizzed past.

Then, these verbs belong to the subdomain To move quickly or To move through the air depending on which parameter is highlighted, whether manner or medium.

Similarly, the verbs circle and whirl refer to circular movement in the air. If the manner component is focalized, then the verbs fall in the subdomain To move in a circular manner. If the focus is on the medium, then the verbs belong to the subdomain To move through the air.

The table below shows the double membership of these verbs.










To move quickly

To move in a circular manner

To move (an engine/device) very quickly with a loud whistling noise

To move (a vehicle/an aircraft) very quickly with a loud buzzing/humming noise

To move in a circular manner in the air

To turn round in the air very quickly






To move through the air

To move very quickly through the air with a loud whistling noise

To move very quickly through the air with a loud noise

To fly around in circles

To move very quickly in a circular manner through the air

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