A study of reference-based polysemisation
Metonymy has been studied for at least two thousand years by rhetoricians, for two hundred years by historical semanticists, and for about ten years by cognitive linguists. However, they all have neglected one peculiar aspect of metonymy: its serial nature. Metonymic chains are either synchronic lexicalised chains, as in the case of paper (material, product, contents) or diachronic chains, as in the case of lavatory (container, room, special room, container). The study of serial metonymy will allow us to challenge some old views on metaphor and metonymy and to probe into the cognitive significance of metonymy. We argue that if one of the cognitive prerequisites of language is the ability to infer the referential intentions of others, serial metonymy can be seen as one of the results of this ability in (linguistic) action.
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