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Abstract Zalizniak

A Catalogue of Semantic Shifts as a Database for Semantic Typology

The notion of “semantic shift” refers to a pair of meanings A and B which are linked by some genetic relation, either synchronically or diachronically. Semantic shift is nowadays a crucial notion of cognitive semantics and may be used as the key notion within the semantic typology which focuses on the typology of semantic derivation. In my previous publications (Zaliznjak 2001, 2003, 2006 (in print)) I outlined a project of a catalogue, which would comprise, in a unified, user-friendly format, the facts of the parallel semantic shifts from a meaning A to a meaning B that took place synchronically or diachronically in two or more words of different languages. Such an inventory would reveal the most frequent, prominent and significant semantic correlations that occur independently in different languages and at different time points, and in that way serve as a database for semantic typology. Apart from this, the catalogue of semantic shifts might be used: (1) as a linguistic evidence for the nature of cognitive processes; (2) as a semantic plausibility criterion in linguistic reconstruction; (3) as a contribution to the «history of ideas» (cf. the subtitle of the dictionary Buck 1949). A catalogue along this line is under construction at the Institute of Linguistics at the Russian Academy of Sciences. The team consists of specialists in various language families (Indo-European, Semitic, Altaic, Caucasian languages) with me as the main coordinator. My colleagues and I have elaborated a data-base format for the lexical entry of the catalogue and have already gathered approximately five hundred semantic shifts, each of them having from two to ten realizations in languages belonging to different linguistic families.

The idea of a collection of semantic shifts which are reiterated in different languages is not absolutely new. In 1964 a Russian etymologist Oleg Trubačev put forward the idea of a «Semasiological dictionary of Indo-European languages» with historically witnessed semantic changes as lexicographic entries (Trubačev 1964). But this idea was never realized. A similar project was put forward by a German linguist Johannes Schröpfer in 1952 (but not actually realized, cf. Schröpfer 1979). Some other works have to be mentioned here, namely: Javorskaja 1992, Tolstaja 2002, Sakhno 1998, 2001; Henault-Sakhno, Sakhno 2001, 2005; Heine, Kuteva 2002. In recent times several projects similar to mine appeared: that of Peter Koch (University of Tuebingen, Germany: see Koch 2004; Koch, Marzo 2005) and that of Martine Vanhove (CNRS, Paris). The advantage of my proposal consists in the fact that it is based on synchronic polysemy, which is more certain, than the reconstructed semantic evolution; meanwhile, the resulting generalizations should be basically the same.

In my paper I will define the notion of “semantic shift” as a unit of the catalogue, discuss the formal structure of the lexicographic entry of the catalogue and provide a detailed analysis of some examples of semantic parallels in the domain of basic mental concepts of several groups of Indo-European languages.