The first step we will have to take is the one from ‘metonymy’ to ‘contiguity’ as its underlying, more general principle. Contiguity relations connect elements of a conceptual frame with each other as well as any one of these elements to the frame as a whole. In order to avoid any terminological “inflation” concerning the term ‘frame’, we have to set ‘contiguity’ against ‘similarity’ on the one hand and against taxonomic relations (like inclusion) on the other.
From this perspective metonymy is a frame-based (i.e. contiguity-based) figure-ground effect with respect to an invariant linguistic form. This can be regarded as the common core behind the undeniably great variety of formal, cognitive, referential and pragmatic realizations of metonymy. It is worthwhile to study the internal diversity of metonymies in order to apprehend the mechanisms of conceptual creativity involved (and to raise the question of creativity in general). We will first of all distinguish speaker-induced from hearer-induced metonymies. The latter are due to reanalysis and cannot be regarded as ‘creative’ in the same sense as the former (cf. E. Let’s hear the next witness! ‘testimony’ --> ‘person giving testimony’). Within the class of speaker-induced metonymies there is a fundamental difference between referent-oriented metonymies (e.g. the famous E. ham sandwich, without any relevance for the lexicon) and concept-oriented metonymies, which may be subdivided according to different criteria: lexical vs. grammatical (including very important types of grammaticalization, e.g. E. I am going to leave) vs. pragmatic (‘pragmaticalization’ like in E. well); different degrees of intensity (from mere imprecise conceptualization, e.g. Lat. coxa ‘hip’ --> Fr. cuisse ‘thigh’, up to expressivity and even dysphemism, e.g. Fr. bordel ‘brothel’ --> ‘mess’). Very important subtypes of metonymy should be discussed here, especially subjectification (in Langacker’s sense vs. in Traugott’s sense) and delocutive change.
As for the lexicon, metonymy not only concerns the lexeme part of words, but possibly also the elements and processes of word-formation (e.g. Lat. cavallinus ‘descending from the horse’ ‘little horse’).
The – rather simple – frame-based figure-ground effect that underlies metonymy seems to lend itself to a particularly wide range of pragmatic and referential uses. It is probably this extraordinary flexibility that can account for the well-known ubiquity and high frequency of metonymy in grammar, in the lexicon and in pragmatics.
But contiguity-based effects are not restricted to metonymy (according to the above definition). They run across the whole realm of the lexicon, encompassing even processes involving some morphological device: conversion (e.g. E. fish --> to fish); suffixation (e.g. Lat. testis ‘person giving testimony’ --> testimonium ‘testimony’ [--> E. testimony]), prefixation, composition, idioms, etc. The interesting phenomenon of popular etymology, at the cross-roads between semantic change and word-formation, is very often contiguity-based (e.g. E. umble pie --> humble pie).
The problem of entrenchment is relevant for all these kinds of contiguity-based effects. We have to distinguish: spontaneous innovation in discourse, adoption and diffusion within a given language variety or a given discourse tradition, lexicalization in the whole language (still synchronically motivated with respect to other elements of the system), and, possibly, fossilization (without any motivational relation to other elements).
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