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Folk Etymology and Contamination in the Romance Languages  

Martin Maiden

‘Folk etymology’ and ‘contamination’ each involve associative formal influences between words which have no ‘etymological’ (i.e., historical), connexion. From a morphological perspective, in folk etymology a word acquires at least some elements of the structure of some other, historically unrelated, word. The result often looks like a compound, of a word composed of other, independently existing, words. These are usually (but not necessarily) ‘compounds’ lacking in any semantic compositionality, which do not ‘make sense’: for example, French beaupré ‘bowsprit’, but apparently ‘beautiful meadow’, possibly derived from English bowsprit. Typically involved are relatively long, polysyllabic, words, characteristically belonging to erudite or exotic vocabulary, whose unfamiliarity is accommodated by speakers unfamiliar with the target word through replacement of portions of that word with more familiar words. Contamination differs from folk etymology both on the formal and on the semantic side, usually involving non-morphemic elements, and acting between words that are semantically linked: for example, Spanish nuera ‘daughter-in-law’, instead of etymologically expected **nora, apparently influenced by the vowel historically underlying suegra ‘mother-in-law’. While there is nothing uniquely Romance about these phenomena, Romance languages abound in them.

Article

Etymology in Romance  

Éva Buchi and Steven N. Dworkin

Etymology is the only linguistic subdiscipline that is uniquely historical in its study of the relevant linguistic data and one of the oldest fields in Romance linguistics. The concept of etymology as practiced by Romanists has changed over the last 100 years. At the outset, Romance etymologists took as their brief the search for and identification of individual word origins. Starting in the early 20th century, various specialists began to view etymology as the preparation of the complete history of all facets of the evolution over time and space of the words or lexical families being studied. Identification of the underlying base was only the first step in the process. From this perspective, etymology constitutes an essential element of diachronic lexicology, which covers all formal, semantic, and syntactic facets of a word’s evolution, including, if appropriate, the circumstances leading to its demise and replacement.

Article

Onomasiology in the Romance Languages  

Esme Winter-Froemel

Onomasiology represents an approach in semantics that takes the perspective from content to form and investigates the ways in which referents or concepts are designated in particular languages. In this way, onomasiology can be seen as being complementary to semasiology, which takes the opposite perspective and focuses on form-content relations. From a semiotic perspective, the two perspectives can be more clearly defined and delimited from each other by specifying the basic semiotic entities that represent the key reference points for onomasiological and semasiological investigations, respectively. Previous research has highlighted the contribution of both to a comprehensive understanding of lexical semantics. In this respect, the distinction between meaning change and change of designation appears to be of key importance for the domain of lexical innovation and change. In the history of Romance linguistics, onomasiological perspectives were included in early etymological studies (e.g., Diez, Salvioni, Tappolet, Merlo), and the term “onomasiology” was introduced by Zauner. The research on “Wörter and Sachen” (words and objects), and the research focus on lexical fields then took an explicit focus on onomasiological research questions, with linguistic geography established as a specific subdomain of linguistic research. The linguistic maps and atlases elaborated in this context provided important resources for multiple applications and theoretical discussions of synchronic and diachronic issues of Romance linguistics. In addition, various onomasiological case studies on particular concepts and conceptual domains were conducted, and onomasiological dictionaries elaborated. Moreover, linguistic typology has aimed to identify universal patterns of conceptualization and strategies of designation. With the rise of cognitive semantics, the synchronic relevance of onomasiology has been reinvigorated, as many basic approaches and concepts developed in this framework are inherently based on an onomasiological perspective. Bringing together typological considerations and cognitive semantics, and linking these approaches to the achievements of the prestructuralist and structuralist traditions, diachronic cognitive onomasiology opens up multiple perspectives for further research in lexical semantics. Finally, the potential of onomasiological investigations has also gained interest in language contact research, where issues of borrowability as well as semantic and pragmatic patterns of linguistic borrowing have been studied. A broad range of further research perspectives arises from the focus on the language users and their communicative intentions, these perspectives being strongly linked to the usage-based turn in cognitive linguistics as well as to investigations at the semantics-pragmatics interface.

Article

Discourse Markers in Chinese: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives  

Fangqiong Zhan

In the process of communication, different expressions in discourse often convey unequal amounts of information: some expressions have rich semantic content, expressing the specific message that the speaker wishes to convey; others seem to be nonsemantic and non-truth-conditional. The latter are not part of the propositional content the message conveys and do not contribute to the meaning of the proposition. These expressions mainly function as a relational operator to connect the propositions in the discourse. In a sequence of discourse segments S1–S2, such expression usually occurs at the initial position of S2 followed by a phonological break (a comma in writing), i and it does not affect the propositional content of the messages conveyed in the segments of the discourse. The discourse-functional expressions in language have long been the focus of attention on the part of scholars, and the term “discourse markers” (DMs) (huayu biaoji, in Chinese) has often been used in previous studies. The concept of DMs originated from “recurrent modifiers,” the common modifiers in spoken language proposed by the British linguist Randolph Quirk in the 1950s. He pointed out that “recurrent modifiers” have an important role in information transmission but have no grammatical effect. In the 1980s, DMs gradually became an independent linguistic topic among Western scholars. In the field of Chinese linguistics, from the 21st century onward, the concept of DMs has been examined in depth, and the application of the related theories to the research of Chinese DMs has been the topic of widespread discussion. However, most Chinese studies on DMs are case-based, and therefore systematic and theorized understandings of Chinese DMs have not yet been reached. This article reviews the research status of DMs in recent Western and Chinese linguistic communities, summarizes the studies on the synchronic semantics-pragmatics and diachronic development of Chinese DMs, and reveals issues worthy of further study in the future.

Article

Cognitive Semantics in the Romance Languages  

Ulrich Detges

Cognitive semantics (CS) is an approach to the study of linguistic meaning. It is based on the assumption that the human linguistic capacity is part of our cognitive abilities, and that language in general and meaning in particular can therefore be better understood by taking into account the cognitive mechanisms that control the conceptual and perceptual processing of extra-linguistic reality. Issues central to CS are (a) the notion of prototype and its role in the description of language, (b) the nature of linguistic meaning, and (c) the functioning of different types of semantic relations. The question concerning the nature of meaning is an issue that is particularly controversial between CS on the one hand and structuralist and generative approaches on the other hand: is linguistic meaning conceptual, that is, part of our encyclopedic knowledge (as is claimed by CS), or is it autonomous, that is, based on abstract and language-specific features? According to CS, the most important types of semantic relations are metaphor, metonymy, and different kinds of taxonomic relations, which, in turn, can be further broken down into more basic associative relations such as similarity, contiguity, and contrast. These play a central role not only in polysemy and word formation, that is, in the lexicon, but also in the grammar.