While cognitive metaphor can supply valuable insights into meaning changes, taken on its own it is not able to deliver a comprehensive picture of complex diachronic semantic developments, since it neglects some of the factors which may motivate innovative cognitive mappings, which in turn may lead to semantic change. Taking the semantic field of WEALTH as an example, the present study aims to demonstrate the advantages of a combination of cognitive, pragmatic and socio-cultural approaches in discussing the role metaphor plays in semantic change. The study investigates the diachronic semantic development of muck in Middle English based on a corpus culled from the quotations databases of the Middle English Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary. WEALTH is a particularly useful semantic field for such a discussion because of the variety and inventiveness of the figurative language related to it. In the Middle Ages, worldly wealth was considered one possible incarnation of sin and evil. Evidence from the Middle English data shows that predominantly religious texts and secular texts with moral implications employ metaphorical uses of words such as muck or dirt, among others, for worldly wealth. It seems clear that, within a discussion of the role played by metaphor in semantic change, a multi-faceted approach, combining cognitive, pragmatic and socio-cultural aspects, may be more useful for providing a more detailed analysis than a purely cognitive approach.
Selected Proceedings of the 2005 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis (HEL-LEX)
edited by R. W. McConchie, Olga Timofeeva, Heli Tissari, and Tanja Säily
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