Semantic primes, semantic molecules, semantic templates: Key concepts in the NSM approach to lexical typology
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The Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach has a long track record in cross- linguistic lexical semantics (Wierzbicka 1992, 1996, 1999; Goddard 1998, 2005, 2006, 2008; Harkins and Wierzbicka 2001; Goddard and Wierzbicka 2002; Peeters 2006; Gladkova 2010; Ye 2007a, 2007b, 2010; Bromhead 2009, 2011; Wong 2005, 2010; and other works). It is therefore not surprising that it has a clear theoretical position on key issues in lexical semantic typology and a well-developed set of analytical techniques. From a theoretical point of view, the overriding issue concerns the tertium comparationis. What are the optimal concepts and categories to support the systematic investigation of lexicons and lexicological phenomena across the world's languages? To this question, the NSM approach offers the following answer: the necessary concepts can-and must-be based on the shared lexical-conceptual core of all languages, which NSM researchers claim to have discovered over the course of a thirty-five year program of empirical cross-linguistic semantics. This shared lexical- conceptual core is the mini-language of semantic primes and their associated grammar. In addition, over the past 10 or so years, NSM researchers have developed certain original analytical constructs which promise to enhance the power and systematicity of the approach: in particular, the notions of semantic molecules and semantic templates. This paper sets out to explain and illustrate these notions, to report some key analytical findings (updated, in many cases, from previously published accounts), and to extrapolate their implications for the further development of lexical typology.
Copyright 2012 Walter de Gruyter & Co. KG Publishers. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal website for access to the definitive, published version.
Linguistic Structures (incl. Grammar, Phonology, Lexicon, Semantics)