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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2022

Keywords and Onomasiology

Kathryn Allan and Seth Mehl


This case study will demonstrate the value of an onomasiological approach to keywords research. Keywords are words with multiple contested or contradictory meanings, used prominently in social debate (Williams 1983); many of these words occupy clusters with other semantically overlapping terms. We will examine a cluster of terms that have become particularly socially sensitive in relation to the academic curriculum, including decolonize/decolonization, diversify/diversity, and liberate/liberation. We propose that the emergence and status of a “keyword” in any cluster may vary across different communities of speakers, and their selection and use (or avoidance) in particular contexts, and in relation to particular identities, can be contentious. We will illustrate a few varying uses of this set of terms, and discuss their social and cultural contexts in UK higher education.

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