Re-thinking synonymy

Call for papers

Traditionally, synonymy refers to a situation where a language has two (or more) linguistic forms for expressing one meaning. Synonymy is by no means uncommon in languages, exemplified also by the large number of synonym dictionaries and thesauri. However, it is important to note that the existence or lack of synonymy is largely a matter of definition. On the one hand, if we define synonymy as (very close) semantic similarity or (essentially) identical reference, it definitely exists to some extent in all languages. On the other hand, if we confine the notion to total synonymy (comprising not only reference, but also, for example, stylistic and sociolinguistic factors as well as contextual preferences), it becomes less evident whether synonymy really exists.

Many theories of grammar (such as Cognitive Grammar and Construction Grammar) do not acknowledge the concept of synonymy at all. Synonymy seems to militate against the expected relation of meaning and form: a difference in form should always and necessarily correspond to a difference in meaning. However, within these theories (and within linguistics in general), a recurring topic of study is lexical, constructional, functional and formal similarity. In addition, current research seems to steer clear of synonymy(and sameness), but at the same time puts a great deal of emphasis on similarities, e.g. when and why two or more constructions with seemingly similar meanings are used as each other's alternatives. Nevertheless, where does the boundary lie between the two, i.e. when do we cross over from synonymy to mere similarity, or vice versa, and, moreover, how different can two constructions or expressions be and yet still be considered similar in terms of their meaning/function? Do all synonymous expressions share a common conceptual (abstract) schema? What is the relation between these schemas and lexical (i.e. 'traditional') synonymy?

The idea of the proposed symposium is to challenge linguists both to re-think the concept of synonymy and sameness, as opposed to the similarity, of linguistic expressions and to approach the concept of synonymy from a broader perspective. What we propose is that synonymy is best seen as sameness or similarity of forms and functions, not only as a notion related to lexical semantics. For example, many languages, such as Finnish and Estonian, allow the expression of location through both cases and adpositions, and many languages have both intransitive and transitive reflexive forms; these expressions may be identical in meaning in certain contexts, but upon closer examination they also display differences.

In brief: Does a difference in form always correspond to a difference in meaning/function? If so, is there any justification for the validity of the notion of synonymy in linguistic description? If synonymy really exists on some level, do we need to broaden the concept of synonymy and if so, how? What does the way that synonymy has been studied tell us about language and, perhaps as interestingly, about linguistics?

Possible topics for talks include (but are not restricted to) the following:

The deadline for submission of abstracts (in English; max 500 words excluding data, tables and references) is April 16, 2010. Please submit your abstract by e-mail to the address of the organizing committee. Send your abstract as attachment to an e-mail message (in both .pdf and .doc formats). Please indicate clearly whether your abstract is intended as a poster or a section paper. The abstracts will be evaluated by the organizing committee and by the members of the scientific committee (see below). Participants will be notified about acceptance by May 15, 2010. The book of abstracts will be published on the web pages of the symposium.

Workshop proposals

Proposals for workshops should be submitted no later than March 15, 2010. Notification of acceptance will be given by April 9. These one-day workshops will run in parallel sessions with the main conference program. Alternatively, the first day of the symposium may be dedicated to workshops. The symposium organizers will provide the lecture rooms and other facilities, but the workshop organizers will be responsible for the organization of their workshops (choosing the speakers etc.).

The Abstract submission

The body of the e-mail should include the following information (preferably in this order):
Last modified: Monday, 09-Nov-2009 11:47:51 EET