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Cognitive Linguistics

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Volume 26, Issue 2


Visualizing onomasiological change: Diachronic variation in metonymic patterns for woman in Chinese

Weiwei Zhang
  • Corresponding author
  • Institute of Linguistics, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai, China
  • Research Unit of Quantitative Lexicology and Variational Linguistics, Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
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  • Other articles by this author:
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/ Dirk Geeraerts
  • Research Unit of Quantitative Lexicology and Variational Linguistics, Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Dirk Speelman
  • Research Unit of Quantitative Lexicology and Variational Linguistics, Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
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Published Online: 2015-03-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2014-0093


This paper introduces an innovative method to aid the study of conceptual onomasiological research, with a specific emphasis on diachronic variation in the metonymic patterns with which a target concept is expressed. We illustrate how the method is applied to explore and visualize such diachronic changes by means of a case study on the metonymic patterns for woman in the history of Chinese. Visualization is done with the help of a Multidimensional Scaling solution based on the profile-based distance calculation (Geeraerts et al. 1999; Speelman et al. 2003) and by drawing diachronic trajectories in a set of MDS maps, corresponding to different metonymic targets. This method proves to be effective and feasible in detecting changes in the distribution of metonymic patterns in authentic historical corpus data. On the basis of this method, we can show that different targets exhibit different degrees of diachronic variation in their metonymic patterns. We find diachronically more stable targets (e.g. imperial woman), targets with a dominant trend in diachronic variation (e.g. a woman), and targets with highly fluctuating historical variation (e.g. beautiful woman). Importantly, we can identify the cultural and social changes that may lie behind some of these changes. Examining the results uncovered by the method offers us a better understanding of the dynamicity of metonymic conceptualizations.

Keywords: metonymy; conceptual onomasiological variation; historical corpus; multidimensional scaling; visualization


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About the article

Received: 2013-04-24

Revised: 2013-08-22

Accepted: 2014-11-27

Published Online: 2015-03-19

Published in Print: 2015-05-01

Funding: This research was partially sponsored by grants from Shanghai Pujiang Program (14PJC095) and “Chen Guang” Project supported by Shanghai Municipal Education Commission and Shanghai Education Development Foundation (13CG32) that were awarded to the first author.

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, Volume 26, Issue 2, Pages 289–330, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2014-0093.

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