Lexical Variation and Change

Stefan Grondelaers, Dirk Speelman and Dirk Geeraerts

in The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199738632
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Lexical Variation and Change

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics



This article discusses the contribution of cognitive linguistics to diachronic lexicology and describes how lexical studies within cognitive linguistics are gradually and naturally evolving toward a sociolexicological approach that links up with sociolinguistics. It takes the distinction between semasiology and onomasiology as its basic organizing principle. Based on this distinction, the article charts the field of onomasiology (probably the lesser known of the two subfields of lexicology) and examines the contribution of cognitive linguistics to that field. It also illustrates the importance of sociolexicology for the study of onomasiological variation and change, with references to sociolinguistic studies at large within cognitive linguistics. There are two ways in which cognitive linguistics contributes to diachronic semasiology: by employing such mechanisms of semantic change as metaphor and metonymy, which cognitive linguistics has shed new light on, and by exploiting the prototype-based structure of polysemy. This article also considers prototype theory, modulations on the core cases, the development of radial sets, semantic polygenesis, semantic change from subsets, and referential and nonreferential types of meaning.

Keywords: cognitive linguistics; diachronic lexicology; sociolinguistics; semasiology; onomasiology; sociolexicology; semantic change; prototype theory; polysemy; meaning

Article.  9921 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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