Dissertation > Language, writing > Linguistics > Semantics,pragmatics,lexicology, meaning school

The Family Resemblance of Semantic Categories and Its Implications

Author HuangMinFang
Tutor ChenDaoMing
School Huaqiao University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords prototype theory family resemblances polysemy
Type Master's thesis
Year 2008
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Polysemy is a pervasive phenomenon in human languages. It meets the economical need of language. A polysemous word as a synchronic entity is the result of diachronic development. Meaning extension is due to human categorization and conceptualization. Categorization refers to the psychological process that humans classify the world, and conceptualization is based on categorization. Meaning is produced when a concept is attached to a sign. With the development of society, the concept extends, which leads to the meaning extension. This is how polysemy phenomenon generates.Generally speaking, there are two representative theories of categorization—classical theory and prototype theory. The two theories are essentially different in position. According to classical theory, categories are defined by necessary and sufficient features. In the 1950s, Wittgenstein put forward the notion of family resemblances in the analysis of the semantic category“Spiel”(game), which is a breakthrough of classical theory. According to the principle of family resemblances, every member of a category has at least one, and probably several attributes similar to one or more other members, but no, or few, attributes are common to all members in the category; what decides the category is the principle of family resemblances rather than common features.“Family resemblance”then contributes to the establishment of prototype theory. It is adopted in prototype theory and becomes the basic structure of prototype theory.The classical approach is defective in the analysis of language phenomenon. A polysemous word constitutes a semantic category. However, it is hard to extract the core meaning from different meanings if we use the classical model. The principle of family resemblances can well explain the nature of polysemy and the relationship between different meanings. Cognitive linguist Taylor applies family resemblance approach to the explanation of polysemy. He uses meaning chain to describe the family resemblance network in polysemy. The seemingly discrete meanings could be connected through meaning chain.This thesis discusses the polysemous network under the framework of the principle of family resemblances in prototype theory. The family resemblance network of polysemous words“cut”,“diàn(垫)”,“dǎ(打)”are analyzed in this thesis. Through the analysis, we point out: the relationship between different meanings is motivational rather than discrete and arbitrary; the extended meanings are all derived from the prototypical meaning through cognitive devices, such as similarity, metaphor, metonymy etc.; the semantic categories are open for dynamic development, so there is no clear boundary; with the extension of categories, the newly-developed meaning moves away from the prototypical meaning gradually; the seemingly discrete meanings can be connected through meaning chain.The exploration of family resemblance network between meaning members can have favorable implications for foreign language teaching. As for the vocabulary teaching, teachers can help students realize how the seemingly discrete meanings get associated through meaning chain. Moreover, analysis of the extended mechanism from cognitive perspective make students better understand the relationship between concrete meaning and abstract meaning. By pointing out the motivation between different meanings, we can lessen students’memory burden in vocabulary acquisition, and help them master the polysemous words.From the analysis of this thesis, we can see that the principle of family resemblances is a powerful tool for the explanation of polysemy phenomenon. The family resemblance network reflects that cognition functions in colorful language. It proves again that language is grounded in cognition.

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