This paper presents an overview of a project that aims at creating a representative catalogue of crosslinguistically recurring semantic shifts in the languages of the world and at implementing this catalogue in the form of a searchable computer database. Such a catalogue is useful in several theoretical and methodological respects. First of all, both universal and language-specific semantic shifts can be considered a window onto human cognitive mechanisms operative in the domain of linguistic conceptualization. Second, the catalogue provides a rich empirical basis for the study of genetic and areal tendencies in semantic change, as well as in polysemy patterns. Another potential application is historical reconstruction, since the catalogue gives evidence for attested paths of diachronic semantic evolution.
In Section 1 we outline the general concept of the catalogue of semantic shifts. Section 2 describes the design of the computer database. In Section 3 we discuss some difficulties that we have faced while working on the catalogue. The next three sections demonstrate how the catalogue can be used in linguistic research and present an analysis of three selected issues, namely semantic shifts in the domain of dimension (Section 4), motivation strategies in the domain of folk biology (Section 5), and euphemization as a mechanism of semantic change (Section 6).
© by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston