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Some aspects of modern diachronic onomasiology *.


The following contribution calls attention to the fact that cognitive linguistics has already had its effects on historical semasiology, but hardly on historical onomasiology. Although certain "modern" linguistic concepts can be detected in the literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it is the merit of cognitive linguistics to put them into a certain systemization. The article dwells on some aspects where further research is needed and attempts to give a few incentives. A new internet journal is presented as a necessary organ for cross-linguistic studies in the realm of onomasiology. The article then offers revisions of traditional onomasiologicai classifications, detecting shortcomings and offering new systems on the basis of cognitive linguistics. It is the explicit aim of these classifications that they be independent from specific concepts and languages. In the center are the motives for lexical, or lexemic, change (which consist of a scale from subconscious to conscious motives). The classifications respect such modern concepts as prototypicality and salience, fuzziness, iconymy (the study of motives), and political correctness.

1. Introduction

In the light of cognitive linguistics, historical semasiology has been gaining new interest in recent years (cf., e.g., the landmark work by Blank [1997a], which also encompasses an extensive bibliography, or Blank and Koch 1999a). (1) Historical onomasiology, on the contrary, has not participated in the cognitive revival of diachronic branches of linguistics. Exceptions to this are the works by Dekeyser (1995), Koch (1999a, 1999b), Krefeld (1999), Rastier (1999), and, on a more general basis of language change, Sweetser (1990), Ludtke (1986), Traugott (e.g. 1989) and Geeraerts (e.g. 1983). (2) This is indeed surprising if we keep in mind that the onomasiological direction is primary to the semasiological one. It is the speaker rather than the hearer who changes language, since speaking consists basically in expressing concepts, objects, or ideas. People do not consciously change the meaning of words, but they have a concept before them (physically or mentally) and seek to find a name for it. This is how names and changes of names arise; in other words: this is how lexical, or, better, lexemic changes arise. (3) (The term lexemic change as "change in, or of, a lexical type" seems more suitable than the terms lexical change, which as a synonym for "change concerning the lexicon" is too general, or onomasiological change, which seems to mix linguistic process and linguistic approach/view.) In sum then, cognitive historical linguistics should best profit from an onomasiological approach (cf. a similar view in Koch [1999b: 330ff.]).

The term onomasiology was coined almost one hundred years ago by the German linguist Adolf Zauner in his dissertation on body-part terminology in Romance languages (1902). Although Grimm (1848) had already applied similar methods, onomasiology proper did not begin before Diez (1875), Tappolet (1895), Zauner (1902), and Merlo (1904). Useful overviews of onomasiological work up until the end of World War II, basically in the Romance and German(ic) area, were composed by Bruno Quadri (1952) and Vittorio Bertoldi (1949). These overviews reveal that while a large number of onomasiological studies have been carried out, a general theory of lexemic change, that is, a theory independent of concepts and languages, has never been brought forward. Baldinger (1964) only pointed out the necessity of an interplay between semasiology and onomasiology; Dornseiff (1959, 1966) gives an illustrative account of onomasiology and lexemic change in German, rich in examples, but--in my view--poor in structure; Osman, in his dictionary (1999 [1971]), tries to establish a classification of motives for lexical death in German, as do Hemken (1906), Oberdorffer (1908), Offe (1908), Jaeschke (1931) and Teichert (1912) for lexical death in English. More light will be shed on these works below. All in all, the work done in the field of theoretical onomasiology seems rather rudimentary. This article will therefore attempt to point out some aspects of modern historical onomasiology and to give a first preliminary draft of a theory of (the motives for) lexemic change.

2. Practical problems of onomasiological work

It is a considerable but oft-neglected problem of onomasiology that a large number of minor and major onomasiological studies are distributed in publications that can only be found or accessed with difficulty. For comparative studies, which are the basis for any theoretical inferences, a central database and a central publication are strongly desirable. It is for this reason that I founded, in conjunction with Alfred Bammesberger, a new linguistic internet journal entitled Onomasiology Online (http:// in March, 2000. The first volume was edited in November, 2000. The journal will mostly include case studies (cf. Grzega 2000a, 2001) but, to a lesser degree, also theoretical contributions (cf. Stekauer 2001). Onomasiology Online also includes bibliographies of printed onomasiological works and of onomasiological sources (dictionaries and linguistic atlases), which are constantly being enlarged, and an interior search engine. It must be underlined, though, that the success of such a project will very much depend on the cooperation offered by other linguists.

3. Modern diachronic lexicology

Modern cognitive lexicology is associated with terms like prototype, salience, "fuzzy edges," referent and concept, expressivity and effectivity. But are these terms really inventions of recent lexicology? When the term katexochen is used by Hermann Paul (1920: 79, 88, 102) and Franz Dornseiff (1959: 47f., 1966: 12f.) or when these linguists write of the most usual species or the like (passim), then this already reminds us of the ideas of prototypicality and salience. When Dornseiff (1966:1) speaks of"Unschfirfe" (i.e. `fuzziness') and Jaberg (1917) of a "Popularbegriff mit festem Kern und unscharfen Grenzen" `popular concept with a fixed core and fuzzy edges', this seems to equate with the "modern" idea of fuzziness. The distinction between referent and concept (cf., e.g., an important feature in Blank's model of the linguistic sign [1997a: 102]) already occurs in Jaberg's (1917) distinction between "psychological, or general, meaning" and "present meaning" and Paul's (1920) differentiation between "abstract meaning" and "concrete meaning." The concepts of expressivity and effectivity as described, for example, by Geeraerts (1983, 1993, 1994), Ludtke (1986), and Keller (1994) were also already captured by Hermann Paul (1920: 32) when he speaks of the "Zweckmassigkeit," the `effectiveness' of a linguistic form, and by Kurt Jaeschke (1931) in the pair "Ausdrucksbedurfnis" `desire for expression/ expressivity' and "Zweckbedurfnis" `desire for expediency'. What Gevaudan (i.p.) names "lexical filiation" is more or less the theoretical side of the practical combination of semasiology, onomasiology, word formation, and etymology.

In other words, have old ideas only received new names? In one way, yes. But it is the merit of modern cognitive lexicology to have defined, and to be defining, these ideas in a more systematic way. These ideas--as shall be shown in this paper--will play an important role in the classification of processes and motives of lexemic change. It is thus the aim of this article to review some of the traditional concepts, to show the advantages of the fuzziness/nondiscreteness concept of cognitive linguistics over Aristotelean classifications, and to provide the historical lexicologist with an attempt at systemizing especially the motives of lexemic change from an onomasiological viewpoint.

4. Process of lexemic change from an onomasiological perspective

Most authors elaborate a classification on the basis of the onomasiological study of a specific given concept. A "neutral," general classification that is also independent of a specific language system is seldom found in linguistic manuals. However, many onomasiological studies in the realm of Romance languages, which are considered the landmark studies in the early twentieth century, show the following fundamental distinction of word-concept developments: (4) (1) phonetically regular development of the inherited word, (2) modification of the inherited word (including word-formation processes), (3) neologism: (3a) absolutely new coinage, (3b) semantic modification of an already existing word, (3c) borrowing. Tappolet (1895), Merlo (1904), Zauner (1902), and many others defined "lexical change" as the result of one of the processes under (3), whereas the changes under (2) were merely seen as irregular developments of the same etymon, or lexical item, but not as a lexical, or "lexemic," change. If we want to look especially at English historical linguistics the name of William D. Whitney must be mentioned. Whitney (1889: 108ff.) had drawn a slightly different scheme of word-making processes. He puts the word-formation processes under (2) together with (3a) under one item as one type of "onomasiological change." In general, though, (early-)twentieth century onomasiologists from the field of English linguistics were interested rather in a catalog of motives (cf. below) than in one of processes. Nevertheless, there have been a few authors over the past 25 years who have tried to establish a classification of word-making processes. Without claiming to cover all such attempts, I would like to pick out those that seem the major ones.

The first and most encompassing one seems to be Tournier's (1985) book of some 500 pages in length. He distinguishes between four types of "lexicogenetic processes": (a) morphosemantic neologisms (derivation, composition, onomatopoetic and expressive, so-called "ideophonic" words), (b) semantic neologisms (conversion and semantic shift, which he calls metasemie), (c) morphological neologisms (front clipping, back clipping, initialism), and (d) borrowing (morphosemantic borrowing, caiques, morphological borrowing); the first three are grouped together under the heading "matrices lexicogenique internes" (cf. the summarizing table in Tournier [1985: 51]). It is unfortunate, though, that Tournier's focus is on the analytical side rather than on the synthetic one, which would be more central to onomasiology.

A very brief picture of naming processes is drawn by Zgusta (1990: 390f.) in a short article on onomasiology: (1) An already existing word is endowed with a new meaning. (2) A word that had existed in the language but became obsolete is revived. (3) A new word is built by word formation or a collocation is lexically stabilized. (4) A multiword lexical unit is frequently abbreviated (by ellipsis, truncation, or acronymy). (5) A word is borrowed. (6) A word is not borrowed but calqued (i.e. loan-translated). (7) Proper names are used as a source for a new expression. (8) A word is coined with existing linguistic material, but not by normal derivational processes. (9) A word is coined without a graspable source.

However, these and all the aforementioned classifications either overlook some processes (cf. below) or neglect the fact that some processes cannot clearly be put into one of these categories, for example, pseudo-loanwords. An exception is Algeo, who emphasizes that the ways of word-making are generally "ill-defined. The center of each type is clear, but its boundaries may be fuzzy. [...] The traditional taxonomy of word-making is messy because the classes have not been defined by any consistent set of criteria" (Algeo 1978: 123). Algeo then proposes nine criteria for categorizing the shaping of a new word. His taxonomy cannot be dealt with in detail here, but it can be stated that Algeo distinguishes between six major classes of neologisms (root creations, borrowings, conversions, clippings, composites, and blendings) with 37 subclasses altogether; (5) still, the specific position of pseudo-loanwords is not considered in his system either. Furthermore, some instances of lexical change are frequently forgotten:

a. words can be borrowed not only from other languages, but from other varieties of the same language--and not only from (other) regional (i.e. diatopic) varieties, but also (other) social (i.e. diastratic) and functional (i.e. diaphasic) varieties (this possibility is at least touched on by Schone [1951] when he talks about "langues speciales," in other words registers/jargons/slangs);

b. obsolete words can be revived--one could say, words can also be borrowed from (other) chronological (i.e. diachronic) varieties (this possibility is not forgotten, though, by Osman [1999 (1971)] and, as mentioned above, Zgusta [1990: 390]);

c. ellipsis, which could either be put under the category of semantic shift or be seen as a specific form of truncation/clipping;

d. folk-etymology, normally put under "modification of the inherited word" by early Romance linguists, is more than just a phonetically irregular development, since it reveals a new motive in the expression, or an iconym (6) as Alinei (e.g. 1996, 1997) calls it, different from the one of the original form (laudably, cases of folk-etymology are included in Alinei's [1979] system).

I was criticized for seeing folk-etymology as "onomasiological change" in my study on Gallo-Romance expressions for licorice (1998) by Otto Gsell, professor for Romance linguistics at the University of Eichstatt (personal communication). But the phonetic history of a word should not be considered the sole determining factor. The motivation of an item, its synchronic iconym, must, in my view, clearly be included in onomasiological studies. (7)

I will now try, in Table 1, to offer a general (i.e. language-independent) main classification that characterizes word-making processes as combinations of the aspects "stratic filiation," "morphological filiation," and "semantic filiation" (these terms are adopted from Gevaudan's system of aspects of a word's history [i.p.]). (The differences of the cognitive processes that exist between certain groups of word-making types cannot be embedded in such a table and must be reserved for another occasion.)

Some explanatory notes on the table: the "o" sign means that the question is not applicable here; it is evident that every new word form is also new content-wise. "+/-" in the fourth category shows that this concerns both native and foreign material. "-(-)" in categories II and IV indicates that the word can be either from a different variety of the same language ("-") or from a totally different language ("- -"); in category VII the alternative indicates the difference between onomatopoetic and expressive words ("-"), which show at least phonic motivation, and the normally very limited set of words that have been coined totally out of the blue ("- -").

Of course, such a classification still requires more elaboration and exploration; this, however, is not the scope of this paper, which undertakes to focus on the motives of lexemic change. Nevertheless a few more comments on some of these types seem advisable.

Ad I. This process shows that onomasiology and semasiology are deeply intertwined. Here the reader should be reminded of the recent work by Blank (1997a). (9) Diachronic prototype semantics has especially been focused on by Geeraerts (e.g. 1983, 1997) and Dekeyser (e.g. 1996, 1998).

Ad II. Since originally obsolete words that were revived sometimes came into normal speech again via the literary register (cf. the English examples in Jespersen [1955: 243]), they can easily be classified under this category.

Ad III. Blank (1997b) and Koch (1999b) shed light on word formation as an onomasiological process from a cognitive point of view. The notion of calques includes loan translation, which, as Alinei (1997: 21) rightly says, are not translations or transfers of the content of a foreign word, but of its iconym(s). An entirely novel description and classification

of word-formation processes is given by Stekauer (e.g. 2001).

Ad III vs. V. Both groups refer to formally new words built with "own" material, but compounds, derivates, and acronyms are built on existing and comparable rigid patterns (two lexical morphemes vs. one lexical and one derivational morpheme vs. initials), whereas the formation of folk-etymology, blends, and clippings is not as strictly predictable (although still motivated--in contrast to VII).

Ad IV. An English example is sensible, which in French means `sensitive'.

Ad V. A systematicity for blending and clipping--with examples from English--was established by Algeo (1977). One should not neglect the difficulties involved in the definition and classification of ellipses, since they consist of two distinct phenomena. There are cases in which the determiner has possibly been deleted (e.g. newspaper > paper) (or is it just a case of semasiological change in paper?) and there are cases where the determinant has clearly been deleted (e.g. newspaper > news); only the second instance clearly falls under "truncation."

Ad I, III, V. A special place should be reserved for partial folk-etymology. This suggests that folk-etymology can occur in several shapes: either as total formal folk-etymology, which has then to be put under the category of word formation (e.g. nickname, which was originally only a "by-name" [ME eke name] or a crawfish, which was originally not a "fish," but simply a loanword from French [OFr ecrevice]), or as semantic folk-etymology, which has then to be put under the category of semantic shifts, or as partial folk-etymology (e.g. in Arab. naranga only the first element becomes motivated in French, whereas the rest remains unmotivated: orange, crossed with or `gold'). But the general feature of folk-etymologies is that, in contrast to all other types of word formation, the word (the sound shape) attracts the concept and its associations, and not vice versa. Although Blank (1997a) has shown that folk-etymology can be motivated not only by the expression side, but also by conceptual relation (especially if a referential change is included and not just a change in association, as, e.g., with ME abreggen/abriggen `to abbreviate', from Fr. abregier, which has also come to denote `to bridge a gap'), this does not alter the basic precondition that there must be a similarity of names. (Sometimes the conceptual bond is only artificially established--triggered off by the similarity of names). The most comprehensive theoretical work on folk-etymology, with an exhaustive cross-linguistic bibliography, was written by Olschansky (1996).

Ad VI. A case of lexical pseudo-loan in English is idlesse, which is not recorded in French language history. The most famous example in German, which is known even internationally, is Handy `mobile phone', which does not exist as a substantive in English.

Ad II, IV and VI. The classical nomenclatures of borrowings are the ones by Betz (1949) and Haugen (1950).

Ad VII. First, this entry covers the invention of an entirely new, morphologically unmotivated word. This process is said to occur among primitive peoples or with trade names (cf. Guilbert 1975; McMahon 1994: 190ff.). But it may be wondered whether today a new name for an object can really be coined without any motivation on the part of its inventor. (10) In addition, this entry is also to cover onomatopoetic and expressive (ideophonic) words.

5. Motives of lexemic change from an onomasiological perspective

The general causes for lexemic change are basically those for language change in general. In this respect, the two terms expressivity and efficiency have been much used in recent years (cf., e.g., Geeraerts 1983; Ludtke 1986; Keller 1994). The efficiency principle makes people put the least linguistic (articulatory) and cognitive effort into speaking ("economy principle"), the expressivity principle makes people put more effort into speaking in order to achieve specific effects in the hearer/reader ("anti-economy principle"). (Geeraerts [1983] further distinguishes between conceptual efficiency [metaphor, metonymy], formal efficiency [ellipsis, folk-etymology, avoidance of homonymic clash], (11) conceptual expressivity [word formation, borrowing, semantic change], formal expressivity [creation of specific word-formation patterns].)

Motives, however, are not general principles, but concrete conditions that trigger off a specific lexemic change. Although there exist general enumerations of some motives (cf., e.g., Dornseiff 1959, 1966; Paul 1920; Blank 1997a) as well as classifications based on the study of a specific concept, what is lacking is again a systematic general catalog of motives of lexemic change, independent of language as well as of concept. We will then also have to check whether these motives can also be placed on an expressivity-efficiency continuum.

Dornseiff (1959, 1966) distinguishes between negative motives (homophony, superfluous phonetic length, taboo) and positive motives (desire for a more illustrative or drastic expression, desire for emphatic allusions). Blank (1997a: 345ff.; 1999: 70ff.), within the frame of semasiological changes, offers a catalog of motives, of which the following can also be extended to the onomasiological perspective, namely sociocultural change, close conceptual or factual relation, complexity and irregularity in the lexicon, emotionally marked concepts. These items, however, will not suffice. A comparatively frequent taxonomy is the division into (a) cultural changes, (b) subconscious changes, and (c) conscious changes (cf. Offe 1908; Osman 1999 [1971]). First of all, it should be mentioned that type (a) does not stand in contrast to types (b) and (c), the three aspects belonging to different conceptual fields. Therefore a classification such as the one by Hemken (1906), Teichert (1912), and Jaeschke (12) (1931), who first distinguished between cultural and linguistic motives, or a pure subconscious-conscious distinction as established by Oberdorffer (1908) appear more apt. (13) Second, a sharp division between conscious and subconscious motives does not seem possible to me. Here, too, boundaries are fuzzy. Here, too, we have to face a continuum. If we want to depart from a conscious-subconscious classification, (14) I suggest the following scale of motives that lead the speech community to prefer one synonym over another for a certain concept. It should be underscored though that these categories must not be understood as spots, but as overlapping areas with, again, fuzzy boundaries. I will then clarify the notions enumerated here and briefly show in how far these notions can be applied to the expressivity-efficiency scheme.

(A) lack of motivation; possibility of choosing from several
 taxonomic levels

(B) referential and conceptual fuzziness

(C) logical-formal motives

(D) emotionality of a concept; desire for plasticity; rise in
 salience of a conceptual field; remotivation; analogy

(E) homonymic clash (communicative-formal motive); length
 (communicative-formal motive)

(F) prestige; stylistic reasons/fashions; aesthetic-formal motives;
 wordplay; cultural reasons

(G) institutional reasons; taboo/political correctness; change in
 a concept; need of a name for a new concept


Some of these motives might be familiar to the reader from semasiological works, such as "referential fuzziness" and logical-formal motives, but this should not surprise us, since one possible way of denoting an object is taking an already existing word and using it in a new way. In these cases, semasiology/semantic change and onomasiology/lexemic change are deeply intertwined. Nevertheless, terms like "referential fuzziness" and logical-formal motives may have to be differently interpreted in an onomasiological approach, as shall become evident in this paper.

In general, it should be stated that BOTH concept-oriented motives expression-oriented motives are relevant to historical onomasiology. Basically, concept-oriented motives explain the creation of a lexemic innovation (which may later replace an existing motive), whereas expression-oriented motives rather explain the final replacement of an expression. But there are also expression-oriented motives that encourage the creation of an innovation, like prestige, stylistic reasons, and insitutional reasons (cf. their definitions below); concept-oriented motives are tied to motives like taboo and emotionality (cf. below). Historical onomasiology, interested in the sets of designations available for a given concept throughout time, must take both types of motive into account. The enlargement as well as the reduction of a set of possible designations for a concept are interesting for the onomasiologist.

Another thing is noteworthy when you look at the above continuum of motives for the first time. It absolutely must be underlined--because it is often neglected--that, as a rule, more than one motive triggers off a lexemic change. And none of them works as a compelling motive; in other words, these motives CAN, but NEED NOT, trigger off lexemic change--not even "laws" and "official regulations" may constrain speakers to use a specific word in spontaneous speech.

A few comments on some of these motives should be added. At the subconscious pole "lack of motivation" means that a word quietly and subconsciously passes out of use simply because other synonyms have found better acceptance. At the other extreme, there is the motive of "institutional reasons," which alludes to France's language-planning strategies by laws (the avoidance of English words, etc.) and similar cases.

The long-winded formulation "possibility of choosing from several taxonomic levels" attempts to express that concepts belonging to a structured ethnotaxonomy (15) can be referred to by expressions from different levels. A white poodle, for instance, can be referred to by a term from the subordinate level (in Berlin's [1972] terminology: specific level and generic level), such as (white) poodle; by a term from the basic level (in Berlin's terminology: life-form), such as dog; or by a term from the superordinate level (in Berlin's terminology: unique beginner), such as animal. Due to this it may occur that expressions are gradually taken for good from another vertical position in this taxonomy. From a semasiological viewpoint this implies that expressions gradually change their vertical position in a taxonomy. Lat. bestia `animal', for example, became Fr. biche `hind'; likewise, Gmc. *deuza `wild animal' is shifted down to deer `deer' in English and up to Tier `animal' in German. In this respect, the idea of a cognitive dominance of the prototype of a category, which says that these things happen especially with prototypical members, comes to mind (cf. the works by Rastier 1991; Koch 1995; Blank 1997a): compare Lat. frumentum `cereal' > Fr. froment `wheat' (as the most prototypical sort of cereal, mostly for baking bread) or originally specific flower names that are used to refer to the category of flowers as a whole in some European dialects, such as the original names for the rose, the lily, and the violet (cf. Weijnen 1986). A few problems are involved with the notion of prototypicality, though. It may be wondered, for instance, whether the (female) hind really is the wild animal in hunting par excellence, as Koch suggests, and the same doubts may be raised with other semantic changes where Blank suggests prototypicality in a given frame as the driving motive: in woodworking Lat. secare `to cut' > `to saw' (what about cutting wood with an ax?); in hunting, bird-breeding, and cooking OE fugol `bird' > Mode fowl (how is the change of OE brid `young bird' > ModE bird `bird [general]' related?); in hunting OE hund `dog' > Mode hound `dog for hunting' (what about the history of dog?) Here, the entire word field and the exact word history as well as morphological facts (16) should be studied in order to verify whether prototypicality played a role in the semantic development of a word, and if so, to what degree. (17) If we have a look at Span. tener `to have, to possess' < `to hold', then holding could indeed be considered as the most salient form of having (salience is maybe a better explanation than prototypicality); but this seems at the same time also to be linked to a desire for plasticity as described below. So is the manifestation of "vertical shifts" in an ethnotaxonomy combined with other motives only? In any case, the argument of prototypicality will require more thorough investigation.

The term referential fuzziness was coined by Blank in his 1997 and 1998 works; in a 1999 article he speaks of blurred concepts. Blank illustrates this notion by showing the confusion of the names for mouse, mole, and rat in Italian dialects, postulating that it is not the case that speakers cannot distinguish between these concepts, but that the borders of a concept can be blurred where the frame makes the referent unambiguous (Blank 1998a: 527). With this definition, though, it would be more apt to speak of a "lack of necessity to know the exact reference." But in his dissertation Blank (1997a: 389) has added that in some cases it might be the case that speakers have difficulties in differentiating between certain concepts because of their similarity ("conceptual fuzziness/conceptual ignorance"). This seems indeed a more appropriate view, since we would not understand why speakers should consciously use a wrong name for an animal only because the frame makes the reference clear. But it is certainly true that many people see the rat as the bigger relative of the mouse and so forth. Similarly, Jaberg (1917: 98f.) has observed that although the concepts can be kept apart very clearly, speakers may not know the exact name for them; his example are the terms for eyebrows and eyelashes in Swiss German dialects ("lexical/referential ignorance"). Likewise, it has also been observed that many urban Americans know a large number of tree names but are not able to identify actual trees, with the result that tree names are sometimes overgeneralized (cf. Dougherty 1978: 73). All these cases may be regarded as "horizontal shifts" within an ethnotaxonomy--in contrast to the "vertical shifts" just mentioned in the preceding paragraph. It seems worth stating that several different phenomena have been subsumed here: (a) the "semasiological" problem that speakers cannot distinguish between concepts but know the existing names ("unclear concepts"), (b) the "onomasiological" problem that speakers can distinguish between concepts but don't know the correct names for them ("unclear reference"), and (c) the "encyclopaedic" problem that speakers bring concepts they can tell apart genetically together ("blurred concepts"). The problem is that it is not always easy to decide what the exact historical motive was. If we have a look at the contrast between G. Fohre `pine tree' and the etymologically related E. fir, we have a hard time saying whether this "semantic split" was due to "fuzziness" of type (a), (b), or (c)--also because we do not really know the original meaning of the original Indo-European root. Another problem is that the degree of consciousness is lower with (c) than with (a) and (b), where speakers know that they can make mistakes.

Instead of logical-formal motives other linguists have used the terms lexical irregularity, etymological isolation, or suppletion. Blank (1997b: 391f., 1999: 78f.) also speaks of "orphaned words." Here, one can think of cases like OE gat vs. bucca ~ haefor, which toward ModE was replaced by the pair (she-) goat vs. (he-) goat. It must be underlined, however, that there are also cases of conscious suppletion (cf. Markey 1985: 60; Mel'cuk 1976; Jaberg 1965: 230), which could be listed under "emotionality of concept" or "rise in salience" (cf. below). Thus, the fact that the dialects around Marseille, France, have replaced fils `son' by enfant, originally `child', may not only have to do with prototypical structures, as Rastier (1991: 199) suggests, but also with the fact that the entire conceptual field is very salient (cf. Markey 1985: 56) and is susceptible to suppletion. Under "logical-formal motives" we may also think of the integration of foreign words into a language.

The notion of "emotionality of a concept" reminds us of Sperber's work (1923), in which he describes how certain concepts and words function as centers of attraction. (18) The names for "good" in Romance languages, for example, go back to Lat. bonus, while the terms for "bad" show a variety of origins and iconyms: Sp. malo < Lat. malus `bad', OFr mechant < Lat. *male-cadens `falling badly', Fr. mauvais < Lat. *male-fatius `having a bad fate', It. cattivo < Lat. captivus `caught', Central Ladin ri < Lat. reus `accused'. Likewise, we have cognates of good to denote `good' also in the other Germanic languages, but for `bad' we find OE yfel, Mode bad, ModHG schlecht, Du. slecht, kwaad, and Dan. Swed. ond. On the other hand, people constantly create new terms for "WRY good." Emotionality is often brought together with taboo; nevertheless these are notions that should be kept apart, since emotionality is associated with the creation of synonymity/lexical diversity, whereas taboo is connected with the avoidance of terms.

A slightly different notion is meant by "desire for plasticity." This term shall refer to the widespread human desire, at least in Western cultures, to find figurative expressions, not only with "emotional concepts," but also with unmotivated terms or concepts that are abstract or "distant" from the immediate world of the speaker or speech community. In this respect the reader may be reminded of the mind-as-body metaphor, which is, for example, well illustrated in Sweetser's (1990: 23-48) study on perception verbs in English and other languages. It is hard for Chinese, for example, to integrate a word from a language as different as English. A word like martini is then folk-etymologically integrated as ma-ti-ni, a new lexical item literally meaning `horse hits man', simply because of the paronymy between the Chinese morphemes and the English sounds and syllables; thus foreign word (not integrated) and loanword (integrated) may exist side by side.

As an example for a "rise in salience" of conceptual fields, one may think of the growth of color terms with the growing importance of fashion in recent decades. The formation of khaki beside dark green may be mentioned as an illustrative instance where rise in salience may have been the most driving factor. (19)

The notion of "remotivation" refers to the human desire to give (synchronically unmotivated) words a "sense." Strongly connected with this is the onomasiological process of folk-etymology, as already mentioned above (e.g. crawfish from Fr. ecrevisse). From this, it should not be deduced, however, that folk-etymologies fall exclusively into this category; formations like herstory instead of history, for example, are totally conscious (cf. Hohenhaus 1996: 129); an example from German is the quite young indefinite pronoun frau (< Frau `woman') next to man `one [indef.]' (historically--and visibly--related to Mann `man'). Folk-etymology and related processes and their motives are well illustrated for English language history in Mayer's (1962) dissertation on "secondary motivation."

The argument of "homonymic clash" has already been hotly debated by several linguists, (20) since it has been felt to be overused. Nevertheless, it remains a popular argument. Osman (1999 [1971]), albeit critical toward other linguists, overuses the argument himself; however, in my view, Bruch `type of trousers' did not die out because of its homonymy with Bruch `fraction', but because of changes in fashion; Feine `fineness' was not replaced by Feinheit due to its homophony with feine `fine (feminine form)', but because the morphological fashion in building deverbal abstract nouns changed (from a suffixation in -e to a suffixation in -heit). (21) For the Romance area the reader may be recommended a passage in von Wartburg (1970: 138ff.); for English language history Teichert (1912: 46ff.), Jaeschke (1931: 60ff.) and Williams (1944) debate the force of homonymic clash in a number of examples, which will be interesting for a revision, too. Certainly a good example of homonymic clash is the development of OE cwen `queen' and OE cwene `prostitute'. The two words have regularly fallen together in Modern English in the shape of ModE/kwi[??]n/. The consequence is that prostitutes are now only named by a variety of other expressions, whereas quean has basically died out. Prostitutes are certainly a lexical center of attraction, so that a constant growth of synonyms for them can be observed; but the death of the variant quean is certainly connected with the homonymic clash.

Although probably rather a communicative-formal motive, length also shares some aspects with aesthetic-formal motives (see below). The motive of "length" refers to the observation that the more salient a concept (within a given frame), the shorter the lexeme that we would expect as the corresponding expression. This observation has become known as Zipf's law (1945: 142-144) and includes the shortening of formerly long expressions. This can be done by way of clipping, acronymy, or ellipsis. Examples where this motive has obviously played an important role are bicycle > bike, television set > TV set, newspaper > paper, daily newspaper > daily.

The notion of prestige/stylistic reasons/fashions refers to the fact that very frequently specific patterns of lexical coinage are in fashion, such as the borrowing from certain languages or registers, like the French loan-words in Middle English times or the acceptance of argot words for salient concepts in standard French, or the preference of certain word-formation patterns such as acronyms (E. Master of Ceremonies > M.C. > emcee). (22) When it comes to word-formation processes, prestige has been an oft-neglected motive. An exception, where the fashion of word-formation processes is expressively named, is Scheler (1977). These notions also include linguistic peer-group pressures.

Under "aesthetic-formal motives" I group uncomfortable paronymies, that is, words that have a similar sound shape, words that are, in other words, almost homonymous. For Jaeschke (1931: 64) paronymy has an effect as strong as homonymy, which I doubt. To give but two examples: it is hardly imaginable that OE pornian `lose' died out because of its paronymy with OE porn `thorn' or that OE tanede `with a diseased toe' became extinct due to its paronymy with OE tan `twig'. Paronymy seems only relevant in cases such as E. niggard, which is avoided--at least in American English--due to its phonetic similarity to a taboo word, namely nigger.

The notion of "word-play" includes humor, irony, puns, and similar strategies. The history of one of the terms for "stupid" is worth mentioning here: Mode silly was originally a word meaning `blessed'. Its new meaning `foolish' seems to be relevant for semasiology only. But insofar as it was ironically applied to people with low intellectual abilities, the procedure is of onomasiological interest, too. It is interesting to note similar developments also in other languages: Russ. krestyanin ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) `farmer, peasant' and Fr. cretin `idiot' encompass the word for Christian.

The list then includes the motive "cultural reasons" and later also "institutional reasons." The difference between these two is that the latter refers to lexemic change due to legal or normative regulations (e.g. the linguistic laws in France triggered off by the French Academy, the Academie francaise, in order to avoid the exaggerated use of Anglicisms) and the former by societal constraints (e.g. a hot dog in Quebec should be referred to as a chien chaud because French Canadians want to clearly separate themselves from the English-speaking population, although the European French use hot dog). In Britain and America an institution like the French Academy does not exist, but the plain English movement shows similar features on the supralexemic level.

The notion of "political correctness" is on the edge of societal and institutional reasons and could theoretically be subsumed under these two. However, political correctness is, first of all, a term that is so well embedded in modern thinking and, second, a notion that stands out because it refers entirely to human beings (and derivable terms) that it should be listed as a separate motive. When speaking of nigger, for instance, political correctness can be regarded as the modern form of taboo. Less dramatically, we can also think of the replacement of chairman by chairperson and later chair. In the context of taboo and political correctness, the term euphemism is also used not infrequently.

A "change in a concept" need not necessarily require a new name, but it can, particularly if the old form of the concept continues to exist. Then the older word is dropped from usage. The borderline between "new concept" and "change in a concept" is, again, fuzzy. Striking examples are that the English still call a specific type of writing utensil pen, as in mediaeval times when feathers were still in use (pen is actually a Latin loanword meaning `feather'), whereas Germans no longer say Feder (originally `feather'), but Stift (originally `thorn, sharpened object' in the present meaning since the seventeenth century).

What you will not find in this nomenclature is the oft-mentioned argument of "physiological reasons regarding a word's phonetic shape" (cf., e.g., Offe 1908; Oberdorffer 1908; Teichert 1912: 29ff.; Jaeschke 1931: 38ff.), as I do not think that there are sounds or sound combinations that are easier or more difficult for speakers considering the many different sounds and sound combinations that exist in the languages around the world. As a matter of fact, I don't believe that lexemic change can be initiated for purely formal reasons at all. If this were the case, why should a speech community ever allow a physiologically uncomfortable sound or sound combination at all? This, by the way, has nothing to do with the motive of length mentioned above, which is connected with the salience of the term and the original name. There are also other motives that some linguists mention, which I do not think of as possible reasons for lexemic change, for instance polysemy (cf., e.g., Offe 1908; Jaeschke 1931: 56ss.).

How can the order of the motives in the scale be explained? It can best be illuminated by way of a metaphor. When we keep in mind that lexemic change finally has to do with "killing" one word in favor of another, then we can easily detect a growth in consciousness from "natural death" (motives under A) to "involuntary word-slaughter/negligent lexicide" (motive under B) to "(voluntary) word-slaughter" (motives under E and F) to "first-degree word murder" (motives under G). The motive under B seems more conscious than the "possibility of choosing from several taxonomic levels" since the former includes an entirely new pairing of a form with a content, which is occasionally "more conscious" (speakers think about the correctness of the pairing) than changes due to the latter motive, where intension and extension are changed only very subconsciously. The motives under C and D are gray zones. Is there an "intention to kill a word"? At least, I have the impression that lexical creations due to logical-formal motives require less cognitive effort than the first three motives under D; lexical/derivational regularization is certainly less conscious than lexical/derivational irregularization and somehow tied to a decline in the salience of a conceptual field (thus standing in contrast to the rise in salience mentioned under D). In addition, analogy and remotivation are put in the middle in the scheme simply because analogy can be both very conscious and very subconscious, depending on the specific case. The distinction between the motives under E and those under F is that E gathers motives that more or less "enforce" the creation of new lexical units for formal reasons, whereas F gathers motives that trigger off creations of new lexical items for very individual reasons (expression-, content- or concept-oriented).

Finally, we must ask in how far the motives illustrated can be applied on an efficiency--expressivity continuum. Some motives are easily classified as elements of an efficiency principle (the motives under A, C, and E), while others are recognizable as elements of an expressivity principle (the motives under F as well as "emotionality of a concept," "desire for plasticity," "taboo/PC," "new concept"). With others the classification appears rather difficult. "Remotivation," "analogy," "change in a concept," "rise in salience of a conceptual field" can actually be derived from both the expressivity and the efficiency principle. Here the specific cases would have to be analyzed. The motives under B are probably best seen as working against the efficiency principle (however, this doesn't mean to imply that they are on the expressivity side). The motive "institutional reasons" seems to be able to affect the expressivity principle in both a positive and a negative way (without concerning the efficiency principle, since "institutional reasons" work against the individual right of lexical choice and are thus never "efficient"). These difficulties also show that language change cannot be placed only on a two-dimensional expressivity--efficiency continuum.

6. Final remarks

This article has only been able to offer a few thoughts about what modern, cognitive onomasiology can and should deal with. In order to find out the motive(s) for a specific lexemic change, the linguist should probe all (regional and stylistic) synonyms that exist for a given concept at the time before the change; he or she should look at the formal qualities of the words and also at the features of the concept; the study should include the entire word field; and it should also include cultural aspects. The list of motives discussed above can actually be used like a checklist.

Of course, there are many more aspects and questions worth studying. Only a few of them shall be mentioned in order to conclude this article. Do certain motives correlate with certain onomasiological processes? Do certain processes correlate with certain periods? Does the selection of iconyms follow certain (anthropologically constant) patterns? (23) What might a modern cross-linguistic onomasiological dictionary look like? (24) Are there concepts where lexical constancy is particularly frequent? Last but not least, it will be extremely interesting and important to pursue cross-linguistic studies such as those based on the ALE or the works by Berlin and Kay (1969), Brown (1979, 1983), and Witkowski and Brown (1978, 1985), or the early work by Tagliavini (1949). (25) Such works will then provide the historical lexicologist with valuable material for approaching still unsolved etymological problems. (26)

Katholische Universitat Eichstatt, Germany

Received 23 January 2001 Revised version received 11 January 2002
Table 1. Classification of word-making processes

 Material Formally Semantically
 of own already already
 variety existent? existent?

I Semantic/semasiological + + -
 change (including
 eponymy (8) and
 folk-etymological change)
II Borrowing from another -(-) + +
 language or variety)
 (incl. another diachronic
III Word formation (including + - 0
 calques) (compounding incl.
 compounds, derivation incl.
IV Semantic pseudo-loan from +/- -(-) 0
 another language or variety
V Partial folk etymology, - + -
 blending, truncation
 (incl. ellipsis), acronymy
VI Morphological/lexical - - 0
VII Root creation/word -/0 -(-) 0


* This article is an enlarged version of a paper I presented at the Austrian linguistics conference in Graz on 8 December 2000. I am grateful to the two anonymous Linguistics reviewers for their fruitful comments on earlier draft of this paper. Correspondence address: Pfahlstr. 5, 85072 Eichstatt, Germany. E-mail:

(1.) The book is reviewed in Grzega (2001b): the contents are well summarized in Blank and Koch (1999b).

(2.) Synchronic onomasiology is dealt with in a considerable number of works (cf., e.g., Rosch 1973; Mangold-Allwinn et al. 1995; Taylor 1995; Falkner and Schmid 1999).

(3.) Cf. also Schuchardt (1912: 833f.), Dornseiff (1959: 46), Coseriu (1958), or Keller (1994).

(4.) Cf. Tappolet (1895: 148ff.), also Zauner (1902) and Merlo (1904) and other works, which are well presented in Quadri (1952).

(5.) Algeo (1980: 273ff.) also offers an interesting table showing the percentages of the various word-formation processes in English.

(6.) The term iconym must not be mixed up with etymon. An etymon refers to the original form (!) of a word, an iconym is the original content (!), or reference, of a word. Thus. e.g., the German dialect expression Auswarts and the English dialect expression back-end of the year for `autumn' certainly go back to different etymons, but the iconyms, the underlying motives, are basically the same, namely that autumn is seen as the season where the year comes to a close.

(7.) To give an example: I have given German speakers a list of 16 dialect words for licorice (G. Lakritze) and asked them to group the terms and note down the principle of grouping. 15 of the 22 informants grouped the terms according to their phonetic similarity or their (assumed) elements. These principles are interesting because they refer to the onomasiological motives. Thus speakers grouped, e.g., Lakritz, Lichkrit, Le(c)kritze, Leckeritz and Leckerzweig together, but not Kristelsafl, which according to the traditional concept of "onomasiological change" would also fall under the first group. Kristel-saft contains the name for "juice" as its second element, a proper name (cf. E. Kristle) as its first element. With the revised definition of "onomasiological change" Leckeritz and Leckerzweig would also have to be separated, since they do not just go back to Latin liquiritia but were influenced by, or crossed with, the adjective lecker `tasty' (the second word also includes Zweig `twig'). These instances from the list suffice to show the point. Mario Alinei (1979, also 1996 and 1997) was probably the first to point out the necessity of studying onomasiological motivation.

(8.) By eponymy we mean the formation of common nouns from proper nouns. The process is also known as antonomasia; Tournier (1985) calls it metonymie onomastique.

(9.) Blank's book is discussed by Grzega (1999, 2000b). From these discussions the following theoretical aspect seems particularly worth mentioning here: with some cases it is not easy to say whether we are facing a case of metaphor (similarity) or a case of metonym (contiguity), e.g. with see `see' > `understand'.

(10.) Hohenhaus (1996: 125f.) illustrates the use of root creations in science fiction novels and other corpora.

(11.) It becomes obvious that the principles concern both processes and motives of lexical change in Geeraert's theoretical edifice.

(12.) In his introductory chapter Jaeschke (1931) gives a brief critical review of Hemken (1906), Oberdorffer (1908), Offe (1908), and Teichert (1912).

(13.) A more detailed study of these classifications will be reserved for another opportunity.

(14.) Of course, other distinctions are also possible. One can differentiate between (a) formal reasons (if such reasons exist) vs. (b) reasons connected with the concept vs. (c) socio-psychological-cultural reasons vs. (d) stylistic-aesthetic reasons, or a combination of these. Another distinction could be (a) reasons that call for the deletion of a word vs. (b) reasons that call for the creation of a new word. But here, too, one will see that these classifications will show fuzziness.

(15.) An ethnotaxonomy, or folk-taxonomy, is a word field that is ordered in popular-science, not scientific, structure.

(16.) Thus it may be added that Lat. bestia was possibly narrowed down to refer to the hind only and not the stag because it was a feminine substantive.

(17.) Some comments on the development of fugol, which seems later than the semantic change in bird, and time development of hound in contrast with dog, the former being evidently more associated with "defense," the latter with "offense," can be found in Grzega (2000b: 237f).

(18.) Sperber actually distinguishes between centers of attraction (an "onomasiological" process) and centers of expansion (a "semasiological" process).

(19.) Color terms have been extensively and cross-linguistically studied by Berlin and Kay (1969). Other studies, in part directly referring to Berlin and Kay's work, followed: the MLA CDRom bibliography lists over 250 entries for the keyword "color terms."

(20.) Cf., e.g., Williams (1944) for English, Ohmann (1934) and Kieft (1941) for German, Gillieron and Roques (1912: 121ff.) and von Wartburg (1970:138ff.) for the Romance languages, Richter (1926) for the classical languages, and the other works on lexical death listed in the reference section.

(21.) Cf. the discussion on Osman's cases of homonymic clash in Grzega (2001).

(22.) Stekauer (2001: 9) claims that acronyms and clippings "are not new signs. They preserve the same meaning as their corresponding full forms. Hence, it is the mere process of FORM-REDUCTION rather than the naming process which takes place" (Stekauer's emphasis). But precisely the example of emcee shows, in my opinion, that there is more to say and that emcee does represent a new sign. A more detailled discussion must be reserved for another occasion, though.

(23.) Cf., e.g.. Koch and Oesterreicher (1996).

(24.) Paramount work was already carried out here by Buck (1949) for Indo-Enropean languages and serves as an excellent starting-point for further approaches. Furthermore, important work has been done and is being done in Romance linguistics in the DOLR (1991-) edited by Henri Vernay and the computerized DECOLAR project managed by Peter Koch and Andreas Blank [dagger] (cf. Blank et al. i.p.).

(25.) Cf. also Koch's (1999b: 333) call for large language samples in order to carry out cognitive-onomasiological investigations and to search for "recurrent patterns of (change of) designation."

(26.) The value of onomasiology (in combination with synonymy and word formation) for etymological problems has already been demonstrated for the Romance area by de Gorog (1982).


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Author:Grzega, Joachim
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Date:Sep 1, 2002
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