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English PGR Seminar Series: Dr Kathryn Allan – 24th November 2016

24th November 2016 @ 5:15 pm - 7:15 pm


Please join us for the next English Postgraduate Research Seminar (PGRS) on Thursday 24th November at 5.15pm in the Lock-keeper’s Cottage, Mile End Campus.

Exploring ‘degrees of lexicalization’ for concepts across the history of English – Dr Kathryn Allan, UCL

One of the most intriguing issues raised by the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (HTOED 2009) is the significance of vocabulary size. Why are some semantic fields very densely populated in comparison to others, and why are concepts lexicalized to differing degrees across time? For some concepts, such as those in fields such as Colour, there are obvious answers related to the external world. The rise in non-basic colour terms from the early Modern English period onwards corresponds to the technological changes that lead to sophisticated methods of creating and recreating precisely differentiated shades. This example seems to provide fairly clear evidence to support the view suggested in the preface of HTOED that in some cases the ’degree of lexicalization [of a category] reflect[s] its considerable degree of importance to speakers of the language.’ However, in other cases, including those of many abstract categories, the relationship between semantic field and conceptual domain is much less straightforward, and it is not obvious why there are either very few or very many lexical items for particular concepts in particular periods.  HTOED shows a striking imbalance between the sections for relational antonyms Teaching and Learning. At the most general level of classification, there are many partial synonyms for ‘teaching’ and ‘teach’, but only a fraction of that number for  ‘learning’ or ‘learn’; elsewhere in each section, different patterns emerge. Focusing particularly on these sections and others, this paper considers how to make sense of the degree of lexicalization of different concepts, with attention to the complications that emerge from the data itself.

Dr Kathryn Allan joined UCL in 2008 and holds a senior lectureship in the history of English.  Her main research interests are in historical and cognitive semantics and lexicology, and these are themes in most of her work. She is particularly interested in the intra- and extra-linguistic factors in semantic change, and in tracing polysemy in terms of its relationship to social-cultural change; her monograph Metaphor and Metonymy: A Diachronic Approach, which uses data from the Historical Thesaurus of English, explores the motivation for metaphor and metonymy in the semantic field intelligence. She focuses on more recent shifts in lexical meaning as part of the Keywords Project. Much of her research uses the Oxford English Dictionary as a starting point, and her interest in methodological issues around this approach has led to the volume, Current Methods in Historical Semantics, co-edited with Justyna Robinson and published with Mouton de Gruyter in the Topics in English Linguistics series. Her other co-edited volume is on Historical Cognitive Linguistics, published in Mouton’s Cognitive Linguistics Research series.


24th November 2016
5:15 pm - 7:15 pm
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English PGRS


Queen Mary University of London
327 Mile End Road
London, E1 4NS
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