"Daytime", "nighttime" and "24-hour-period" terms : a cross-linguistic study of polysemies
Widmann, Angelika M.
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This thesis investigates recurring patterns of polysemy involving "daytime", "nighttime" and "24-hour-period" terms within a sample of 180 globally distributed languages from most of the world's major language phyla. The data-base for this study was provided by answers to a questionnaire-letter, originally prepared and mailed out by Drs. C. H. Brown and S. R. Witkowski as part of a project on polysemy subsidized by the National Science Foundation. Polysemy addresses the property of languages to encode two or more meaning-related referents under one lexeme; as has already been shown for many lexical domains, worldwide patterned occurrence of polysemies allows inferences on processes of language change and concomitant cultural change. This thesis provides the necessary data that will allow inferences on such processes for the lexical domain of "daytime", "nighttime" and "24-hourperiod" terms. Though rather high percentages of our sample languages possess non-polysemous "daytime", "24-hour-period" and - above all - "nighttime" terms, there are polysemous patterns that occur at rather high frequencies. Arranged in the order of their frequency of occurrence, these include the patterns "daytime/24-hour-period", "daytime/ 24-hour-period/sun", "daytime/sun", "nighttime/darkness", "daytime/light", "24-hour-period/sleep", "24-hour-period/ time", 24-hour-period/sun" and "daytime/24-hour-period/ time". Not surprisingly,.such polysemies typically show low average orthographic lengths and high percentages of unmarked terms; but it seems worth noting that "nighttime" terms, both polysemous and non-polysemous, show a tendency toward lower linguistic complexity than either "daytime" or "24-hour-period" terms. This, together with other indications, possibly suggests particularly high nomenclatural stability of "nighttime" terms. Such observations and the presented body of data might be instrumental for the formulation of possible sequences of polysemy formation and loss for the lexical domain of "daytime", "nighttime" and "24-hour-period" terms, which again would allow inferences on language change processes and processes of cultural change they imply.