Liane Ströbel

Ad hoc concepts or conceptual parameters in the course of time?

From the 18th until the 23rd of July I will attend the 6th UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference in Bangor.

In my talk „Ad hoc concepts or conceptual parameters in the course of time?“ I will try to solve a putative contradiction: the stability of concepts and their presupposed flexibility in usage (see Casasanto & Lupyan 2015). I will show that stability is not an illusion but rather a definitory problem. Concepts in themselves are global, yet while transferring these mental images into language, originally stable concepts – due to the linearity of language – need to be broken down into describable entities. A synchronic and diachronic analysis of more than 800 words from various Romance Languages revealed that it is exactly the breaking down of a concept into individual (at the same time universal) slices that allows for the diachronic flexibility of the concept, given the fact that whenever the concept is linguistically activated, the speaker has a choice of anchoring points (i.e., parameters). The latter may vary over time. In the beginning, prototypical parameters of the concept are favored, but with time the salience of these entities (due to frequency patterns and loss of expressivity) can alter. In sum total, the gap between the assumed stability of concepts on the one hand, and their flexibility in usage on the other, can be bridged by presuming that our knowledge is not organized in stable concepts but rather in flexible parameters which, in mutual interrelation, define and prime said concepts (see Barsalou, Wilson, and Havenkamp 2010; Spivey 2007). In order to illustrate this idea, my talk will focus on the semantic mappings between the conceptual parameters in the course of time, on the existing restrictions in the actual use of these concepts, as well as on the typological differences between related and unrelated languages. In conclusion, I will raise the question whether it is more adequate to speak of an ad hoc focalization on a particular conceptual parameter instead of ad hoc concepts.


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