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Theoretical Linguistics

An Open Peer Review Journal

Editor-in-Chief: Krifka, Manfred

Ed. by Gärtner, Hans-Martin

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Volume 29, Issue 3


NSM and cognitive-functional models of grammar

Laura A Michaelis
Published Online: 2008-02-26 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/thli.29.3.275


The Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach articulated by Uwe Durst is a componential theory of meaning, and it inherits many of the strengths of such theories. This is especially evident when we compare NSM with componential models that share its view of linguistic cognition as a reflex of the human meaning-making capacity in general. One such strength is the model's ability to account for prototype effects in categorization judgments without assuming scalar category membership or fuzzy category boundaries. Durst argues (section 3.3) that “[s]ince meaning is more than reference, one cannot conclude from referential fuzziness or vagueness that the meanings of words are fuzzy or vague as well”. The view is reminiscent of Lakoff's (1987) radial model of category structure, in which prototypicality ratings reflect not category structure but divergence of cognitive submodels that jointly define the best exemplars. Another strength of NSM that can likewise be traced to its decompositional base is its ability to capture cross-linguistic differences in lexical conflation patterns, as exemplified by Durst's comparison of words denoting anger in a variety of languages (section 3.3). Similarities and differences among the cognate words are captured by partial overlaps in their propositional representations, and what emerges is a relatively constrained picture of the range of typological variation. This is a strength that NSM shares with Talmy's (1985) model of motion-verb lexicalization patterns: these models allow otherwise ineffable translation problems to be described in rigorous ways. Just as Talmy's model enables us to talk about rhetorical-style differences among languages (or language families) by reference to fundamental features of event schematization (Slobin 1996), so the NSM approach captures ‘connotational’ differences among cognate lexical items that have been neglected in denotation-based lexicography.

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Published Online: 2008-02-26

Published in Print: 2004-05-25

Citation Information: Theoretical Linguistics, Volume 29, Issue 3, Pages 275–281, ISSN (Online) 1613-4060, ISSN (Print) 0301-4428, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/thli.29.3.275.

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