Publication details [#6451]

Jurafsky, Dan. 1996. Universal tendencies in the semantics of the diminutive. Modern Foreign Languages 72 (3) : 533–578. 46 pp.
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The author proposes to model the synchronic and diachronic semantics of the diminutive category with a radial category (George Lakoff, 1987), a type of structured polysemy that explicitly models the different senses of the diminutive and the metaphorical and inferential relations which binds them. Synchronically, this model explains the varied and contradictory senses of the diminutive. Diachronically, the radial category acts as a kind of "archaeology of meaning", expressing the generalizations of the classic mechanisms of semantic change (metaphor, abstraction and inference) as well as a new one: lambda-abstraction, which accounts for the rise of quantificational meaning and second-order predicates in the diminutive. The model also predicts that the origins of the diminutive cross-linguistically lie in words semantically or pragmatically linked to children. The model is tested by considering the semantics of the diminutive in over 60 languages. (Daniel Jurafsky)