Koptjevskaja‐Tamm, M. and Vejdemo, S. (2021). Prototype Semantics and Cross‐Linguistic Comparison. In "The International Encyclopedia of Linguistic Anthropology", J. Stanlaw (Ed.).


Linguistic expressions are instrumental in categorizing the world. Prototype Semantics holds that categorization is centered on best exemplars, or prototypes, with other potential members of the categories evaluated in accordance with their similarity to it. Prototype effects have been documented in language acquisition and learning, reaction times, priming effects, saliency in listing tasks etc. However, the bulk of the research has focused on categorization within one particular language, in most cases in English. An important extension of categorization research concerns therefore cross-linguistic comparison: what is universal and what is language specific in linguistic categorization and to what extent the emerging categories can be accounted for by reference to prototypes. In our article we attempt therefore to relate the achievements and discussion within cross-linguistic research on semantics to the general discussion of categorisation and prototypes. We conclude that categories, as they emerge in the course of cross-linguistic research, have fuzzy boundaries and seem to be organized in terms of prototypes. However, somewhat surprisingly, there is on the whole relatively little discussion of prototype semantics and focal meanings in cross-linguistic research on domain categorization, apart from the color research and research on common containers. 

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Prototype Semantics and Cross‐Linguistic Comparison

About the authors:

Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm
Susanne Vejdemo