Volume 14, Issue 2, 2014
Are Meanings in the Head? The Explanation of Lexical Attrition
The main question I consider in this paper is: What is the (explanatory) place of the social in cognitive linguistics? More specifically I am mainly occupied with the relationship of mind-internal (individual) and mind-external (social) in cognitive linguistics, particularly in lexical semantics that Gärdenfors talks about in the second part of his book The Geometry of Meaning.
I argue in this paper that the idea of meaning being basically in the head/mind is fine but not really controversial. What is controversial is whether the mental states that are responsible for meaning are at least partly constituted by their relations to the external (social) world. If communicative acts “as part of the process of building meanings” in any way constitute meanings, then meanings in the head by themselves cannot play the explanatory role it is given to them by cognitivists.
I try to prove my point on the example of sociolinguistic analysis of lexical loss in Split dialect arguing that the mechanism of lexical attrition is nicely explained by Gärdenfors’ idea of semantic transformations in the conceptual space but the final explanation of the lexical loss is mind-external and social. It is not only the communicative acts, as a result of the context of use, but more broadly different social factors that are most crucial for the explanation of lexical loss.