The Onomasiological Approach
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
The onomasiological approach is a theoretical framework that emphasizes the cognitive-semantic component of language and the primacy of extralinguistic reality in the process of naming. With a tangible background in the functional perspective of the Prague School of Linguistics, this approach believes that name giving is essentially governed by the needs of language users, and hence assigns a subordinate role to the traditional levels of linguistic description. This stance characterizes the onomasiological framework in opposition to other theories of language, for example, structuralism or generativism, which first tackle the form of linguistic material and then move on to meaning.
The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed the emergence of several cognitive-onomasiological models, all of which share an extensive use of semantic categories as working units and a particular interest in the area of word formation. Despite a number of divergences, such proposals all confront mainstream morphological research by heavily revising conventional concepts and introducing model-specific terminology regarding, for instance, the independent character of the lexicon, the (non-)regularity of word-formation processes or their understanding of morphological productivity. The result is a small set of models that have earned a pivotal position as an alternative to dominant theories of word formation.