An exemplar-theoretic account of word senses

Ramsey, Rachel (2017) An exemplar-theoretic account of word senses. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This thesis offers an exploratory study of certain aspects of the psychological status of the senses of four polysemous words, over, under, above and below, using three sets of sentence-sorting experiments. The thesis assumes that word senses are examples of linguistic categories; therefore, it is further assumed that categorisation tasks will offer insights into their nature as categories, and that effects predicted by existing models of categorisation can be tested. The first set of experiments questions the representativity of linguists’ intuitions about the senses of these words. The results indicate that expert and naïve speakers’ intuitions do not reliably coincide. This is consistent with existing research into the representativity of expert intuitions in syntax (e.g., Schütze, 1996). The possibility that this is due to individual differences is the subject of the second experiment. The data gathered suggest that there may be individual differences in word senses, consistent with observations of individual differences in other areas of language (e.g., Bates et al., 1995; Street and Dąbrowska, 2014). It is noted that lack of consensus may be a product of the task design, and that the scale of the task may have caused fatigue, forgetting, or semantic satiation. This was remedied in the final set of experiments. Further evidence of individual variation in word senses was found. In addition, the versatility of the methodology was exploited to test whether word senses are stored in memory, and in a manner compatible with the Generalised Context Model of Classification, or exemplar model (Nosofsky, 1986). Participants sorted the same stimuli twice, divided by a period of two months. In general, participants reached better consensus with themselves than with others. This indicates that word senses may have some form of mental representation. Effects of selective attention, a central prediction of the exemplar model, were observed in sorting behaviour. Four original contributions to knowledge are made: (1) there appear to be individual differences in word senses; (2) expert intuitions about what the senses of a given polysemous word are do not correspond to those of other speakers; (3) word senses do appear to have some form of mental representation, but not in the fixed form previously suggested (e.g., Tyler and Evans, 2001); and (4) selective attention effects are observed in this example of linguistic categorisation. The findings indicate that the exemplar model can account for the representation of word senses. This allows the conclusion that we may understand word senses as potential categories of exemplars.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Polysemy, categorization, cognitive linguistics, network theory, empirical linguistics
Subjects: Q100 Linguistics
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
Depositing User: Becky Skoyles
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2018 07:25
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 22:36

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