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What we talk about when we talk about corpus frequency: The example of polysemous verbs with light and concrete senses

Seth Mehl

Abstract

Gilquin (2008, What you think ain’t what you get: Highly polysemous verbs in mind and language. In Jean-Remi Lapaire, Guillaume Desagulier & Jean-Baptiste Guignard (eds.), From gram to mind: Grammar as cognition, 235–255. Bordeaux: Presse Universitaires de Bordeaux) reported that light uses of verbs (e.g. make use) tend to outnumber concrete uses of the same verbs (e.g. make furniture) in corpora, whereas concrete senses tend to outnumber light senses in responses to elicitation tests. The differences between corpus frequency and cognitive salience remain an important and much-discussed question (cf. Arppe et al. 2010, Cognitive corpus linguistics: Five points of debate on current theory and methodology. Corpora 5(1). 1–27). The question is particularly complicated because both corpus frequency and cognitive salience are difficult to define, and are often left undefined. Operationalising and defining corpus frequencies are the issues at the heart of the present paper, which includes a close, manual semantic analysis of nearly 6,000 instances of three polysemous verbs with light and concrete uses, make, take, and give, in the British component of the International Corpus of English. The paper compares semasiological frequencies like those measured by Gilquin (2008) to onomasiological frequency measurements (cf. Geeraerts 1997, Diachronic prototype semantics: A contribution to historical lexicology. Oxford: Clarendon Press). Methodologically, the paper demonstrates that these approaches address fundamentally different research questions, and offer dramatically different results. Findings indicate that corpus frequencies in speech may correlate with elicitation test results, if the corpus frequencies are measured onomasiologically rather than semasiologically; I refer to Geeraerts’s (2010, Theories of lexical semantics. Oxford: Oxford University Press) hypothesis of onomasiological salience in explaining this observation.

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Published Online: 2018-03-24
Published in Print: 2021-05-26

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