Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


From Compound Interpretation To(wards) a Working Model of Lexicalization

Viktor Smith (Copenhagen Business School)

I will first introduce a wider research agenda pursued by the Multimodal Communication and Cognition Group at CBS, and thereafter summarize the findings of a particular study carried out as part of that agenda in collaboration with Daniel Barratt and Jordan Zlatev (Cognitive Linguistics, in press)

What were smartphones, mouse mats, and home banking before they became known as… exactly that? Unlike grammar, the lexicon of most languages is subject to permanent and rapid evolution to keep pace with surrounding society. However, the entire sequence of events through which new words are born and become part of our shared lexicon is not fully understood. The project proposes a working model of lexicalization viewed as an ongoing process as well as a fait-accompli. It integrates recent insights from psycholinguistics and experimental psychology into online word processing and concept formation with linguistic theory on words and their meanings viewed as an inter-subjective code. The framework is put to the test in three empirical studies which replicate different stages of lexicalization in progress, using the naming of novel food products by means of Danish noun-noun compounds as a test case.

In two complementary experiments we took an integrated approach to a set of tightly interwoven, yet rarely combined questions concerning the spontaneous interpretation of novel (unfamiliar) noun-noun compounds (NNCs) when encountered in isolation, and possible (re)interpretations of novel as well as conventional (familiar) NNCs when encountered in verbo-visual context. To enhance ecological validity, we mirrored our research questions in real-life concerns on the naming of commercial food products and the risk of consumers being misled by the names that producers give to them, focusing on the Danish food market and using Danish NNCs. Specifically, we addressed a highly productive type of compound food names where the modifier denotes a geographical entity and the head denotes a type of food, e.g. Hawaii pizza. Our findings contribute new evidence to central issues of (cognitive) linguistic theory concerning the relations between semantics and pragmatics, as well as system and usage, and psycholinguistic issues concerning the processing of NNCs. New insights and methodological tools are also provided for supporting future best practices in the field of food naming and labelling.