Linguistics and English Language

Language evolution seminar

Speaker: Yang Xu (University of Toronto)

Title: Chaining and the growth of word meaning

Abstract: Natural language relies on a finite lexicon to express a potentially infinite range of meanings. This tension creates a funnel effect where meanings are compressed through a limited set of words. Prior work suggests that word meanings are structured for efficient compression. I describe recent development that extends this work to investigate the cognitive mechanisms in the dynamic growth of word meaning through time. I first present work that synthesizes cognitive linguistic theories of chaining with classic models of categorization to predict the historical extension of numeral classifiers for emerging referents. I then present evidence that similar models of chaining predict children’s spatial word generalization. Our findings suggest that an exemplar-based model of chaining may underlie the general mechanisms in word meaning growth. I discuss applications of this work to natural language processing and implications for research in lexicon evolution.


Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution

Henry Conklin

Centre for Language Evolution

May 11 2021 -

Language evolution seminar

2021-05-11: Chaining and the growth of word meaning

Online via link invitation