Lexicon Translaticium Latinum

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  • William Short
  • Chiara Fedriani


While the WordNet specification affords a flexible model for creating lexical and semantic knowledge-banks for languages, one major oversight has been its inattention to figurative usage. Synsets, which represent the meanings of words, are attributed to lemmas without any indication of whether the relation between the signifier and the signified is one of literal, metonymic, or metaphoric signification. For this reason, as part of the development of the Latin WordNet 2.0, William Short of the University of Exeter and Chiara Fedriani of the University of Genoa have undertaken a joint project to extend the WordNet framework to be able to capture distinctions in figurative usage at the level of word sense as well the kinds of large-scale figurative patterns that have now been shown to operate in Latin semantics supra-lexically. In line with theories of embodiment in cognitive linguistics, the Lexicon Translaticium Latinum in fact treats metaphor as a pervasive structuring device of language that operates not only at the level of the lexicon (where mappings can be shown to motivate specific pathways of figurative extension of words’ senses) but also at the level of grammar (where they may motivate specific forms, and meanings, of syntactic constructions). Besides providing a way of distinguishing figurative from literal senses of words, the Lexicon therefore provides data structures for encoding embodied conceptual metaphors as mappings between synsets, understood as discrete concepts. The WordNet ontology has also been enriched in order to capture image schemas (gestalt experiential structures) as abstractions over sets of related synsets (such as CONTAINER, which is instantiated by the meanings of a wide set of semantically coherent lexemes referring to position in or out of bounded spatial regions – also being interpreted metaphorically, however, of other domains like SOCIETY or EMOTIONS or PHYSICAL STATES). In this way, the bodily basis of many concepts can be represented, as well as the metaphorical projection of sensorimotor concepts to more abstract domains. What’s more, the metaphorical mappings that motivate specific pathways of semantic extension in the lexicon can be organized into complex systems via different kinds of relations (superordination, subordination, extension, elaboration, and so on) to capture the highly structured nature of metaphorical conceptualization. Accordingly, by encoding information about the network of figurative relationships that characterize the semantic system of Latin (their scope, frequency, and diachronic productivity), the Lexicon will open a window on this system at different levels of granularity -- from high-order image schemas to their more specific instantiations in concrete as well as metaphorically-defined abstract concepts. The Lexicon should not be understood, then, as a mere repository of figurative usages in Latin that constitutes only an additional layer on top of the WordNet. Instead, it is conceived as a comprehensive model of the richly interconnected system of knowledge itself that Latin speakers relied upon in speaking and thinking in diverse contexts of symbolic expression.