Semantic maps:
Where do we stand and where are we going?

Liège, 27th-28th of June 2018

Invited speakers (alphabetically)

  • William Croft (University of New Mexico)
  • Alexandre François (Lacito – CNRS)
  • Eitan Grossman (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm (Stockholm University)
  • Johann Mattis List (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena)
  • Silvia Luraghi (University of Pavia)
  • Andrej Malchukov (Johannes Gutenberg-University)
  • Tatiana Nikitina (Inalco – UMR 8135 CNRS)
  • Loic-Michel Perrin (Inalco – CNRS)
  • Ekaterina Rakhilina & Daria Ryzhova (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow)
  • Martine Vanhove (Inalco – UMR 8135 CNRS)
  • Anna Zalizniak (Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow)


  • Johan van der Auwera (University of Antwerp)

Call for Posters

  • Deadline for abstract submission: February 15, 2018
  • Notification of abstract acceptance: February 25, 2018
  • Host Institute: The Department of Classical and Oriental Studies of the University of Liège (in collaboration with the research center in linguistics)
  • No registration fees

Potential participants are requested to send an abstract (up to 300 words, exclusive of references) by February 15, to the following address: (Thanasis Georgakopoulos)

Workshop description

The semantic map model is relatively new in linguistic research, but it has been intensively used during the past three decades for studying a variety of cross-linguistic and language-specific questions. The plethora of linguistic domains to which the model has been applied highlights its efficiency in capturing regular patterns of semantic structure and crosslinguistic similarities of form-meaning correspondence. One of the advantages of the model is that any type of meaning can be integrated in semantic maps, such as the meanings or functions of grammatical morphemes, of entire constructions, or of lexical items, resulting in Grammatical, Constructional, and Lexical semantic maps, respectively.

The big bulk of research has produced Grammatical and Constructional semantic maps, which represent the relationships between meanings in a wide range of domains (cf. van der Auwera & Temürcü, 2006: 132; Cysouw, Haspelmath, & Malchukov, 2010a; Narrog & van der Auwera, 2011): tense and aspect (Anderson, 1982), reflexives and middles (Kemmer, 1993), indefinite pronouns (Haspelmath, 1997a), impersonal constructions (Malchukov & Ogawa, 2011; Siewierska & Papastathi, 2011; van der Auwera, Gast, & Vanderbiesen, 2012; Gast & van der Auwera, 2013), modality (van der Auwera & Plungian, 1998; van der Auwera et al., 2009; Simon-Vandenberge & Aijmer, 2007: ch. 10; Boye, 2010), temporal markers (Haspelmath, 1997b), encoding of core arguments (Croft, 2001: 134–147), semantic roles (Luraghi, 2001; Haspelmath, 2003; Clancy, 2006; Narrog & Ito, 2007; Rice & Kabata, 2007; Malchukov & Narrog, 2009; Nikitina, 2009; Luján, 2010; Malchukov, 2010; Wälchli, 2010; Grossman & Polis, 2012; Hartmann, Haspelmath, & Cysouw, 2014; Luraghi, 2014), coordination (Haspelmath, 2004: 20–24; Mauri, 2010), complementation (Matras, 2004), adversatives (Malchukov, 2004), intransitive predication (Stassen, 1997), secondary predication (van  der Auwera & Malchukov, 2005; Verkerk, 2009), person-marking (Cysouw, 2007), imperative-hortatives (van der Auwera, Dobrushina, & Goussev, 2003) negative existentials (Veselinova, 2013), negative polarity items (Hoekstra, 2014), intensifying particles (Forker, 2015), additives (Forker, 2016).

In recent years, the semantic map method has experienced a ‘Lexical turn,’ the starting point of which can be traced back to François’ (2008) seminal paper, which, building on Haspelmath (2003), provides a blueprint for constructing lexical semantic maps (see also Majid et al., 2007 for an early account). Other studies that followed focused on polysemic patterns shared by diverse notions, such as quality expressions (Perrin, 2010), notions belonging to the motion domain (Wälchli & Cysouw, 2012), the notion of emptiness (Rakhilina & Reznikova, 2016), natural and spatial features (Youn et al., 2016; Georgakopoulos et al., 2016), temperature terms (see various articles in the volume edited by Koptjevskaja-Tamm, 2015; e.g., Perrin, 2015; Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Rakhilina, & Vanhove, 2016).

Notably, most of the studies using the semantic map method has been adopting a synchronic perspective, and the limited research that has added the diachronic dimension has focused almost exclusively on the grammatical domain (Lichtenberk, 1991; van der Auwera & Plungian, 1998; Narrog, 2010; Luján, 2010; Eckhoff, 2011; Luraghi, 2014). One can also notice that the scope of constructional maps has been expanded in order to include the diachronic dimension (Fried, 2007; 2009; Traugott, 2016). For lexical typology, on the other hand, semantic maps have been conceptualized explicitly as “a strictly synchronous device,” a stance justified by the complexity of the historical relations between lexical meanings (Rakhilina & Reznikova, 2016: 113). Albeit complex, the historical dimension can be integrated to semantic maps, provided that there are available resources (see Zalizniak et al., 2012 for the Catalogue of Semantic Shifts that could be used in this direction).

One major issue for the semantic map model, which is a recurrent concern in language typology as a whole, is the choice of a good language sample that will allow for valid cross-linguistic generalizations and will increase the map’s accuracy. Although small-sized samples may suffice to arrive at a certain degree of generalization (Haspelmath, 2003: 217), restricting typological research to only a few languages could result in overlooking interesting (even if infrequent) connections between meanings (Narrog & Ito, 2007: 276) or in missing language or culture associations that are specific to geographical regions or areas. One important future area of research for the semantic map method would then be to construct and to test various areally and genealogically stratified samples (but see Bickel, 2012). One question that will necessarily arise is whether lexical semantic maps should follow the same principle as the grammatical semantic maps. In this respect, Rakhilina and Reznikova (2016: 101–102) highlight the fact that some of the restrictions of grammatical typology do not apply to lexical typology. For example, they claim that related languages can provide reliable information just as genealogically diverse ones do. Furthermore, despite the increasing availability of resources (such as the Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications, see List et al., 2014), the primary material for lexico-typological studies is not always sufficient, a factor that may impede large-scale studies.

Besides quantity of data, the accuracy of a semantic map also depends heavily on the quality of the collected crosslinguistic material, which is best ensured by identifying comparable phenomena across languages. As to what counts as meaning, comparability is reached if the same definition is used, a definition that should ideally be purely descriptive and theory-neutral (see François, 2008: 170; Koptjevskaja-Tamm, 2016: 5). As such, the meanings of a map can be seen as comparative concepts (Haspelmath, 2010; see the special issue of Linguistic Typology 20/2 [2016] devoted to this topic).

Another pending issue for the semantic map approach is to reach a point at which it would be possible to generate maps automatically on the basis of a given set of data (see Narrog & Ito, 2007: 280), given that it is practically impossible to handle large-scale crosslinguistic datasets manually. Despite the fact that significant steps towards this goal have been taken (see, e.g., Croft & Poole, 2008; Regier, Khetarpal, & Majid, 2013, to name but a few), many questions remain to be explored in this highly promising domain. The problem of network inference is a very active research area (especially in biology, where network inference is used for uncovering causal relationships between genotype and phenotype) and the number of available algorithms has grown tremendously during the last decades (e.g., Siegenthaler & Gunawan, 2014). Such algorithms should be tested on large-scale cross-linguistic data in order to evaluate their efficiency in plotting informative maps. Automatic plotting of semantic maps goes hand-in-hand with the availability of graph visualization platforms, which, with many built-in statistical methods, can reveal much information otherwise ‘hidden’ in the network. Visualization techniques and actual semantic analysis are and should be inseparable in the future of the semantic map model (see Malchukov, 2010: 177).

The workshop aims to foster dialogue between experts in Typology, Areal Semantics, Historical Linguistics, and Computational Linguistics, who would address aspects of the aforementioned topics. In particular, we invite contributions focusing on one or more of the following topics:

  1. Methodological issues (including visualization techniques and tools).
  2. Semantic maps and diachrony
    • How to integrate information about diachrony (beyond oriented vectors)?
    • How to exploit synchronic material to produce meaningful inferences about diachrony?
    • How to account for contact-induced semantic changes with semantic maps?
  3. Lexical semantic maps
  4. Areal typology of lexico-semantics
  5. Comparison between comparative approaches relying on large databases and micro-scales studies

Selected references

  • van der Auwera, J. (2008). In defense of classical semantic maps. Theoretical Linguistics, 34(1), 39–46. doi:10.1515/thli.2008.002
  • van der Auwera, J. (2013). Semantic maps, for synchronic and diachronic typology. In A. G. Ramat, C. Mauri & P. Molinelli (Eds.), Synchrony and Diachrony. A dynamic interface (pp. 153–176). doi:10.1075/slcs.133.07auw
  • van der Auwera J., & Plungian, V. A. (1998). Modality’s semantic map. Linguistic Typology, 2(1), 79–124. doi:10.1515/lity.1998.2.1.79
  • Croft, W. (2001). Radical Construction Grammar. Syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Croft, W., & Poole, K. T. (2008). Inferring universals from grammatical variation: Multidimensional scaling for typological analysis. Theoretical Linguistics, 34(1), 1–37. doi:10.1515/thli.2008.001
  • Cysouw, M. (2007). Building semantic maps: The case of person marking. In B. Wälchli & M. Miestamo (Eds.), New challenges in typology (pp. 225–248). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Cysouw, M., Haspelmath, M., & Malchukov, A. L. (2010). Introduction to the Special Issue « Semantic Maps: Methods and Applications ». Linguistic Discovery, 8(1), 1–3. doi:10.1349/ps1.1537-0852.a.358
  • François, A. (2008). Semantic Maps and the Typology of Colexification: Intertwining Polysemous Networks across Languages. In M. Vanhove (Ed.), From Polysemy to Semantic Change. Towards a Typology of Lexical Semantic Associations (pp. 163–215). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Gast, V., & van der Auwera, J. (2013). Towards a distributional typology of human impersonal pronouns, based on data from European languages. In D. Bakker & M. Haspelmath (Eds.), Languages Across Boundaries. Studies in Memory of Anna Siewierska (pp. 119–158). Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.
  • Georgakopoulos, T., Werning, A. D., Hartlieb, J., Kitazumi, T., van de Peut, E. L., Sundermeyer, A., & Chantrain, G. (2016). The meaning of ancient words for ‘earth’. An exercise in visualizing colexification on a semantic map. eTopoi. Journal for Ancient Studies, 6, 1–36.
  • Grossman, E., & Polis, S. (2012). Navigating polyfunctionality in the lexicon. Semantic maps and Ancient Egyptian lexical semantics. In E. Grossman, St. Polis, & J. Winand (Eds.), Lexical Semantics in Ancient Egyptian, Lingua Aegyptia Studia Monographica 9 (pp. 175–225). Hamburg: Widmaier Verlag.
  • Haspelmath, M. (1997a). Indefinite Pronouns. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Haspelmath, M. (2003). The geometry of grammatical meaning: Semantic maps and cross-linguistic comparison. In M. Tomasello (Ed.), The New Psychology of Language, vol. 2 (pp. 211–243) New York: Erlbaum.
  • Haspelmath, M. (2010). Comparative concepts and descriptive categories in crosslinguistic studies. Language, 86(3), 663–687. doi:10.1353/lan.2010.0021
  • Juvonen, P., & Koptjevskaja-Tamm, M. (Eds.) (2016). The Lexical Typology of Semantic Shifts. Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Koptjevskaja-Tamm, M, Divjak, D., & Rakhilina, E. (2010). Aquamotion verbs in Slavic and Germanic: a case study in lexical typology. In V. Hasko & R. Perelmutter (Eds.), New Approaches to Slavic Verbs of Motion (pp. 315–341). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Koptjevskaja-Tamm, M, Rakhilina, E., & Vanhove, M. (2015). The semantics of lexical typology. In N. Riemer (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Semantics (pp. 434–454). London & New York: Routledge.
  • List, J.-M., Mayer, T., Terhalle, A., & Urban, M. (2014). CLICS: Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications. Marburg: Forschungszentrum Deutscher Sprachatlas (Version 1.0, retrieved from, accessed on 2017-7-6).
  • Luraghi, S. (2014). Plotting Diachronic Semantic Maps: The Role of Metaphor. In S. Luraghi & H. Narrog (Eds.), Perspectives on Semantic Roles (pp. 99–150). Amsterdam: Benjamins. doi:10.1075/tsl.106.04lur
  • Malchukov, A. L. (2004). Towards a Semantic Typology of Adversative and Contrast Marking. Journal of Semantics, 21(2), 177–198. doi:10.1093/jos/21.2.177
  • Malchukov, A. L. (2010). Analyzing Semantic Maps: A Multifactorial Approach. Linguistic Discovery, 8(1), 176–198. doi:10.1349/ps1.1537-0852.a.350
  • Narrog, H. (2010). A Diachronic Dimension in Maps of Case Functions. Linguistic Discovery, 8(1), 233–254. doi:10.1349/ps1.1537-0852.a.352
  • Nikitina, T. (2009). Subcategorization pattern and lexical meaning of motion verbs: a study of the source/goal ambiguity. Linguistics, 47(5), 1113–1141. doi:10.1515/ling.2009.039
  • Perrin, L-M. (2010). Polysemous Qualities and Universal Networks, Invariance and Diversity. Linguistic Discovery, 8(1), 259–280. doi:10.1349/ps1.1537-0852.a.353
  • Rakhilina, E., & Reznikova, T. (2016). A Frame-based methodology for lexical typology. In P. Juvonen & M. Koptjevskaja-Tamm, The Lexical Typology of Semantic Shifts (pp. 95–129). Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Regier, T., Khetarpal, N., & Majid, A. (2013). Inferring semantic maps. Linguistic Typology, 17(1), 89–105. doi:10.1515/lity-2013-0003
  • Wälchli, B., & Cysouw, M. (2012). Lexical typology through similarity semantics: Toward a semantic map of motion verbs. Linguistics, 50(3), 671–710. doi:10.1515/ling-2012-0021
  • Youn, H., Sutton, L., Smith, E., Moore, C., Wilkins, J.F., Maddieson, I., Croft, W., & Bhattacharya, T. (2016). On the universal structure of human lexical semantics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(7), 1766–1771. Retrieved from
  • Zalizniak A., Bulakh M., Ganenkov D., Gruntov I., Maisak T., & Russo M. (2012). The catalogue of semantic shifts as a database for lexical semantic typology. Linguistics, 50(3), 633–670.