Polysemy, concepts and representation

May 22, 2024 - May 23, 2024
IFIKK, University of Oslo

Seminarrom 4, Sophus Bugges hus
Niels Henrik Abels vei 36,
Oslo 0313


  • https://www.hf.uio.no/english/research/strategic-research-areas/cps/


University of Oslo
University College London
University of East Anglia
Monash University
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
University of Oslo
University of Maryland, College Park


University of Oslo
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
University of Oslo

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Word meaning is one of the least well-understood areas of language. There is general (but not universal) agreement that nearly every lexical/conceptual word is polysemous, that is, that words typically have multiple related senses.

This raises many difficult questions (Falkum & Vicente 2015). What is the lexical representation of a polysemous word? Does it encode all the different senses that it can be used to express? If so, how does this differ from homonymy (which is both intuitively and experimentally distinct)? Or are the different senses somehow created from an underlying lexical representation that does not correspond to any of the senses? If so more questions arise: what is the format of the lexical representation? Are there core semantic features that are deployed in all (or all literal) uses of a word? (Rey 2014; Allott & Textor 2017; Rey 2022; but see Allott & Textor 2022 for counter-arguments.) What is the role of context in enabling the speaker to express and the hearer to reconstruct a more specific sense (Falkum, 2015)?

There is some evidence from experimental data that the meanings stored in the mental lexicon are rather schematic: in particular, they seem to be neutral between the different senses of polysemous words (Frisson 2015). Anti-lexicalist views in morphology typically also postulate thin semantics: e.g. in Borer’s influential framework, the mental lexicon contains not words but roots, and these have no meaning and no syntactic category; the latter is instead a property of structures into which roots are inserted (Borer 2013; Alexiadou & Lohndal 2017; Lohndal 2020). In recent publications Carston has argued that this framework provides the right foundation for theories of lexical pragmatics and polysemy including cross-categorial cases (Carston 2019, 2021, 2023).

A related recent development is the systematic exploration of cases where two apparently incompatible senses are co-predicated, as in “Lunch was delicious, but lasted all afternoon” (Chomsky 2000; Collins 2017; Ortega-Andrés & Vicente, 2019). Theoretically-diverse attempts have been made to explain the data (e.g. Gotham 2022; Liu 2022; Ortega-Andrés 2022) or to explain them away (Brody & Feiman 2023; Collins, draft). Could polysemy be illusory?

Invited speakers

Professor Robyn Carston, University College London
Professor John Collins, University of East Anglia
Dr. Michelle Liu, lecturer, Monash University
Professor Georges Rey, University of Maryland, College Park


Dr. Nicholas Allott, senior lecturer, ILOS, University of Oslo
Professor Terje Lohndal, NTNU & UiT The Arctic University of Norway
Dr. Ingrid Lossius Falkum, associate professor, IFIKK & ILN, University of Oslo

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