Situated within the emergent tradition of the semantic map methodology, the research project “Le Diasema” (December 2016 – December 2018) addresses the question of how semantic maps make significant predictions about language change at the lexical level. More specifically, this project has the following three main objectives:

  • O1: To incorporate the diachronic dimension into semantic maps of content words.

    The semantic map model was initially created in order to describe the polysemic patterns of grammatical morphemes. Recent research, however, has drawn attention to the lexical domain showing that the model can also include lexical semantics. Although it may be stated that ‘the best synchronic semantic map is a diachronic one’ (van der Auwera 2008: 43), the big bulk of research has been adopting a strictly synchronic perspective and, importantly, the limited research that has added the diachronic dimension, has focused almost exclusively on the grammatical domain. The incorporation of the diachronic dimension into lexical semantic maps, therefore, comes as a logical step forward.

  • O2: To extend the method so as to also include information about the cognitive and cultural factors behind the development of the various meanings.

    “Le Diasema” is based on both synchronic and diachronic data. We take as a point of departure semantic networks inferred from synchronic polysemy data in large language samples, such as Youn et al. (2016), CLICS (List et al., 2014), WordNet (Princeton University, 2010), and the Open Multilingual Wordnet. In a second step, we identify the lexemes that lexicalize meanings associated with various lexical domains, e.g. the temporal domain, in Ancient Greek (8th – 1st c. BC) and Ancient Egyptian (26th c. BC – 10th c. AD), two languages with significant diachronic material. Based on this diachronic material we describe the various semantic extensions and map them onto the synchronic polysemy networks. Using dynamic semantic maps, we then compare the observed extensions in the two languages in order to identify shared cognitive motivations and to assess the potential impact of cultural factors on the evolution of the various lexical fields in both languages. “Le Diasema” will provide answers to the question of the directionality of change in the lexicon of Ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian. However, our expectation is that by looking at diachrony in this fashion, significant dimensions of directionality of change with cross-linguistic extensions can be revealed, and in that way inform us about the basic nature of language and its evolution.

  • O3: To create an online platform for automatically plotting diachronic semantic maps based on polysemy data from the languages of the world.

    This online tool should enable users to interact with the map, by using different kind of visualization techniques for complex networks. Users should be able to visualize dynamically the mapping of words onto the network and to enrich the map with additional information about the type of connections and their directionality. The online platform is under construction and will be available here.