This chapter introduces the distinction between semasiology and onomasiology, and surveys the main mechanisms of semasiological and onomasiological change, i.e. mechanism of meaning change like metaphor, metonymy, specialization, generalization, and prototype-based similarity, and mechanisms of vocabulary change like morphological word formation, transformation of existing words, pure neologism, and borrowing. While most of the attention goes to lexical and semantic innovations, a separate section is devoted to the disappearance of words and meanings. The chapter also emphasizes the interrelatedness of the various mechanisms.
A dictionary is an inventory of the words of a language, with explanations or translations. All major languages and many others have dictionaries. This chapter traces the development of dictionaries for over 2,000 years, starting with China, India, Persia, classical Greece, and Rome. Arabic and Hebrew dictionaries in the Middle Ages were of comparable cultural importance. A major impact was the invention of printing. During the Renaissance, the Latin dictionaries of Calepino and Estienne set standards for future lexicography. The prescriptive aims of European Academies during the Enlightenment are contrasted with Johnson’s descriptive principles. The historical principles of OED are contrasted with the synchronic principles of dictionaries intended as a collective cultural index and dictionaries as aids for foreign learners. In Russia (unlike America), lexicography developed harmoniously with linguistics. The relationships between dictionaries and language development in different countries are discussed. The chapter concludes with a summary of the impact of computer technology, corpora, and changing business models on lexicography.
The lexicon is traditionally viewed as distinct from the syntax of a language. Standard accounts of the history of the English language have separate chapters on syntax and vocabulary. The underlying assumption is that the two are considered either implicitly or explicitly as separate linguistic components. However, various strands of cognitive linguistics such as Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar and Croft’s Radical Construction Grammar have argued that there are no clear-cut boundaries between what are traditionally called lexicon, syntax and morphology but, rather, that they form a continuum. This chapter first examines some of the synchronic arguments in favor of this proposal before offering some diachronic arguments. It also briefly discusses three cases studies (the way construction, the adjectival resultative construction and –ingly adverbs) which support a continuum.
Dictionaries and thesauruses provide a wealth of evidence about language use, and about linguistic anxieties and attitudes. With the possible exception of those based on corpora, dictionaries cannot pretend to provide impartial representation of language use, but if their partialities and biases are taken into account, the evidence included in historical dictionaries can provide insights into the lexicon far beyond what is otherwise available. While it may be unwise to base an argument about language use or change solely on dictionary evidence, dictionaries provide valuable linguistic evidence which sometimes challenges the conclusions reached through corpus or cognitive approaches.