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Abstract Buchholz & Ungerer

Apronyms as Conceptual Blends – The Search for Linguistic Evidence

SAD, WASP and PISA belong to a group of acronyms that are modelled on existing English ‘prop words’ (a type of acronyms recently dubbed as ‘apronyms’). This raises the question to what extent the acronym meaning may be influenced by the prop word meaning.

While the semantic relationship between the apronym and the prop word is quite clear as in examples like SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) vs. sad, it seems to be less so in cases like WASP vs. wasp, or even PISA vs. Pisa (with its leaning tower).

Quite obviously, the conceptual blending approach with its potential to describe online processing and open-endedness is well suited to represent the often vague meanings or associations that characterize many apronyms. However, there is a danger of arriving at fairly subjective interpretations both of the input spaces and the blended space.

The purpose of the project we are engaged in is to explore how the blending explanation of apronyms can be supported by linguistic evidence. The main goals are

  1. to select a limited set of frequent apronyms, which might claim some representativity,
  2. to collect information about the meaning of these apronyms and their prop words to provide the input spaces with relatively objective conceptual substance,
  3. to elicit from various written sources and from informants’ statements a first sketch of what the emergent structure of the blended space might be like.

The materials investigated comprise internet sources (Acronymfinder, Google, online versions of newspapers), general-purpose dictionaries and, in addition, a questionnaire to elicit informants’ associations.

Each of these materials is judged against the yardstick of the above goals. The preliminary result of this assessment is that the combination of general-purpose dictionaries and online newspapers seems to yield the most reliable data for the description of mental spaces.

Once the conceptual interpretation of the apronyms has been verified or at least been made somewhat more reliable by incorporating our findings, one might think of arranging them on a scale of semantic overlap ranging from apronyms characterized by obvious semantic concurrence to items with a hardly recognizable semantic relationship consisting only of vague associations.