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2.8  Problems

[With answers]




Word senses and taxonomies, Metaphor and metonymy

In these sections, we saw examples of four ways in which the meanings of words can be shifted or extended or mislearned (in the case of children or second-language learners): generalization, specialization, metaphor (based on similarity), metonymy (based on close association, belonging).

For each of the following examples, say which of these kinds of shifts or extensions is involved, explaining your answer. The extended/shifted word is in boldface in each case.

(The speaker is an IU student discussing a basketball game; he does not play on the team.)
You should have seen us beat Purdue last night.
Both are metonymy. There is an strong three-way association between a school, its athletic teams, and its students, so the speaker can refer to Purdue's team as "Purdue" and his own team as "us". The student and the team "belong" to the university.

  1. They're performing Shakespeare tonight.
    Metonymy. This extension makes use of the association between writers and their works.
  2. A baby uses the word car for toy cars, but not real cars.

    Specialization. The baby is using the word to refer to a subcategory of cars, narrowing the original meaning.

  3. What a jock. Is there any sport he's not involved in?

    Metonymy. Jock comes from jock strap, which male athletes wear. The extension makes use of the association between people and articles of clothing that they wear.

  4. Don't pay any attention to what she's saying. It's just bullshit.

    Metaphor. What she's saying is similar to bullshit in terms of how worthless it is.

  5. The word tool was originally used only for physical devices such as hammers and axes. Now its meaning includes more abstract devices such as software to help people design machines or produce art.

    Generalization. The word has become more abstract, broadening the things that it covers.

  6. The English words beef, pork, and mutton were borrowed from French, where they referred to animals rather than meat: 'ox', 'pig', 'sheep'.

    Metonymy. The change in meaning is based on the association between an animal and its flesh.

  7. The English word infant derives ultimately from a Latin word meaning 'a very young child who has not yet learned to speak'. Of course we now use it for all very young children, whether they can speak or not.

    Generalization. The word now includes more possible referents than it used to.

  8. Originally the English word vaccine was used only to refer to a weak form of the smallpox virus used to prevent smallpox. Later it was extended to include any substance that works in the same way against a disease.

    Generalization. The word now covers more kinds of treatments than it used to.

  9. The English word igloo, usually referring to a house made of blocks of snow, comes from a word in Eskimo languages meaning simply 'house'.

    Specialization. In borrowing the word, English restricted its meaning to narrower set of objects.

  10. The English word clock comes from a French word meaning 'bell'. Before there were clocks, it was the bells in church towers that people in Europe relied on for knowing the time of day. Later those bells were replaced by clocks located on the same church towers.

    Metonymy. The change in meaning is based on the association between bells and automatic timekeeping devices; both were found in churchtowers.

2.8.2 Differences between languages

In this section, we saw that in the domain of personal pronouns, languages may make use of different dimensions to distinguish the different forms from each other. Below are the Tzeltal personal pronouns (San Jerónimo dialect). Decide which dimensions matter for Tzeltal personal pronouns, what the possible values are for each dimension, and what the values on each dimension are for each pronoun. Remember that a dimension value can be unspecified for a given pronoun (for example, you in English is unspecified for gender). Remember also that each word must have a unique combination of values; otherwise you have not distinguished all of the words from one another. Of course you don't have to know how these words are pronounced, but when writing them, note that the apostrophe is a separate letter in the Tzeltal alphabet.

  • jo'on 'I'
  • ja'at 'you (one person)'
  • ja' 'he, she, it'
  • jo'otik 'we = I and you and possibly others'
  • jo'otkotik 'we = I and others but not you'
  • ja'ex 'you (more than one person)'
  • ja'ik 'they'

Here is one possibility. This one allows for multiple values on a single dimension for a single word.

jo'on 1 SING
ja'at 2 SING
ja' 3 SING
jo'otik 1, 2 PLUR
jo'otkotik 1 PLUR
ja'ex 2 PLUR
ja'ik 3 PLUR

Here is another possibility. This one replaces PERSON with two dimensions: SPEAKER and HEARER, each of which can have values of YES or NO. (So third person is NO for each of these.)

jo'otik YES YES PLUR
jo'otkotik YES NO PLUR
ja'ik NO NO PLUR

Here's a third possibility (my least favorite, though it is closest to the traditional way of analyzing systems like this).

jo'on 1 SING
ja'at 2 SING
ja' 3 SING
jo'otik 1 NO PLUR
jo'otkotik 1 YES PLUR
ja'ex 2 PLUR
ja'ik 3 PLUR

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