Norms and Exploitations: Mapping Meaning onto Use – Patrick Hanks (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Brandeis University)

February 24, 2004 all-day

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Words in isolation have innumerable potential meanings. When they are used, the lexical entropy is greatly reduced. Corpus Pattern Analysis has shown that, while the number of possible contexts for each word is very great (infinite?), the number of typical contexts is small and manageable. Corpus Pattern Analysis (CPA) aims to account for all uses of each word by grouping its collocations into semantically motivated syntagmatic patterns. The patterns are then linked to meanings or other applications such as synonym sets or foreign translations. Noun patterns arrange statistically significant collocates in sets of prototypical statements (e.g. “A storm may be gathering, brewing, impending, storms lash coastlines, people and ships get caught in a storm, weather a storm, ride out a storm, storms are violent, severe, raging, howling,” and so on). Verb patterns are built in the SPOCA framework. Pattern elements consist of lexical sets of nouns and other elements, grouped by their clause roles in relation to the target verb. Subvalency features such as determiners can also be relevant (“took place” vs. “took his place” vs. “took someone else’s place” vs. “took third place.”) Because the normal meaning of a word can be not only activated but also exploited for rhetorical effect, the empirical linguistic theory arising from this work is known as the Theory of Norms and Exploitations. Typical exploitations include ad-hoc metaphors, ellipsis, and other figures of speech.

I am a lexicographer and corpus linguist. As chief editor of English dictionaries at Collins (1970-90) and subsequently chief editor, current English dictionaries at Oxford University Press (1990-2000), I created some of the worlds most successful English dictionaries, including the New Oxford Dictionary of English (NODE) and the highly innovative Cobuild project (based on corpus research at the University of Birmingham), described by the philosopher David Wiggins as “the first significant development in the study of word meaning since the 18th century”. In the late 1980s, he was a visiting scientist at AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, where he co-authored a series of influential and widely cited papers on statistical approaches to lexical analysis. He has also pioneered practical advances in computational onomastics and is the editor in chief of the 3-volume Dictionary of American Family Names (New York: Oxford University Press 2003). He is a Consultant (Berater) in lexical semantics and corpus linguistics to the Digitalische Worterbuch der deutschen Sprache at the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. He has been an invited keynote speaker at many conferences on lexicography, lexicology, and computational linguistics throughout the world.

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