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Abstract

The onomasiological approach is a theoretical framework that emphasizes the cognitive-semantic component of language and the primacy of extralinguistic reality in the process of naming. With a tangible background in the functional perspective of the Prague School of Linguistics, this approach believes that name giving is essentially governed by the needs of language users, and hence assigns a subordinate role to the traditional levels of linguistic description. This stance characterizes the onomasiological framework in opposition to other theories of language, for example, structuralism or generativism, which first tackle the form of linguistic material and then move on to meaning. The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed the emergence of several cognitive-onomasiological models, all of which share an extensive use of semantic categories as working units and a particular interest in the area of word formation. Despite a number of divergences, such proposals all confront mainstream morphological research by heavily revising conventional concepts and introducing model-specific terminology regarding, for instance, the independent character of the lexicon, the (non-)regularity of word-formation processes or their understanding of morphological productivity. The result is a small set of models that have earned a pivotal position as an alternative to dominant theories of word formation.
The Onomasiological Approach
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Subject: Linguistic Theories, Morphology, Semantics Online Publication Date: Apr 2019
DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.579
The Onomasiological Approach
Jesús Fernández-Domínguez
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics
Summary and Keywords
The onomasiological approach is a theoretical framework that emphasizes the cognitive-
semantic component of language and the primacy of extra-linguistic reality in the process
of naming. With a tangible background in the functional perspective of the Prague School
of Linguistics, this approach believes that name giving is essentially governed by the
needs of language users, and hence assigns a subordinate role to the traditional levels of
linguistic description. This stance characterizes the onomasiological framework in
opposition to other theories of language, especially generativism, which first tackle the
form of linguistic material and then move on to meaning.
The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed the emergence of several
cognitive-onomasiological models, all of which share an extensive use of semantic
categories as working units and a particular interest in the area of word-formation.
Despite a number of divergences, such proposals all confront mainstream morphological
research by heavily revising conventional concepts and introducing model-specific
terminology regarding, for instance, the independent character of the lexicon, the
(non-)regularity of word-formation processes, or their understanding of morphological
productivity. The models adhering to such a view of language have earned a pivotal
position as an alternative to dominant theories of word-formation.
Keywords: affixation, compounding, conversion, functional linguistics, lexicology, morphological processes,
onomasiology, semantics, semasiology, word-formation
1. The Roots of Onomasiology
The term onomasiology, from Greek ὄνομᾰ ‘name’, is first found in Zauner (1902) and
refers to the branch of linguistics that concentrates on the act of assigning a name to a
concept or referent. In so doing, onomasiological models progress from meaning to form
and thus oppose the usual procedure adopted by schools like generativism which,
throughout the 20th century, have opted for analytical/semasiological methods instead
(for notable exceptions, see section 2.3).1 The scope of onomasiology includes any
The Onomasiological Approach
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linguistic area where concept designation becomes relevant, for example, borrowing,
semantic change, or word-formation, although the latter has certainly been the most
recurrent topic in the history of this approach. Theoretical viewpoints aside, any
onomasiological approach will therefore explore the stages leading to concept naming
and also recognize the privileged status of language users in linguistic expression.
The spirit of onomasiological research is perceptible at the dawn of the 20th century in
some detractors of the Junggrammatiker, for example, Adolf Zauner, Rudolf Meringer, or
Hugo Schuchardt. In different degrees, they opposed the hard-and-fast rules, which,
initially formulated for diachronic sound change, were felt as too distant from the human
and social component in language. Via the Wörter und Sachen (lit. words and things)
movement, Schuchardt and colleagues posited the proto-onomasiological claim that
words have a soul of their own, and that they must be studied within their social context
and alongside the objects that they represent. Some of these traits were later embraced
by the Prague Linguistic Circle and become evident, for instance, in the semantic-
pragmatic role assigned to the units of the different language levels, or in the major
function of language in the act of communication.
The cardinal principles of the onomasiological approach are found in Dokulil’s seminal
study of agentive suffixation in Czech (1956), and in Dokulil (1958), where the Circle’s
functional and structural tenets are taken up and basic issues of derivology, that is, word-
formation theory, are delineated. Geeraerts (2006) discerns two different conceptions of
onomasiology: the structuralist one and the pragmatic one. The structuralist conception
is focused on semantic relations like those in lexical field theory or in phenomena like
hyponymy, antonymy, or synonymy, while the pragmatic conception studies the particular
choices made for the designation for a given referent or concept. Phenomena like word-
formation, word creation, borrowing, or folk etymology, for example, fall within
onomasiological change viewed from a structuralist perspective because they have to do
with the incorporation of new lexical items. In contrast, a pragmatic view focuses on how
onomasiological changes actually happen in the community.
This article considers the basic principles of the onomasiological approach and reviews
the contributions of the three main types of onomasiological models: Dokulilean (section
2.1), lexicosemantic (section 2.2), and generative models (section 2.3). It offers an overall
assessment and prospective developments of the onomasiological approach (section 3).
2. Models for Onomasiological Research
Despite the awareness of extra-linguistic reality and general interests that
onomasiological models have in common, differences exist for example regarding their
treatment of the conceptual and formal levels of the naming process, or their
understanding of morphological processes. Three different kinds of proposals can be
distinguished depending on their orientation and particular preferences: those that have
assumed and developed Dokulil’s postulates, those with a focus on lexical semantics, and
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those that adhere to the principles of generative grammar. They are reviewed and their
most distinctive features discussed in this section.
2.1 Dokulilean Models
The first group is made up by linguists following the original tenets of onomasiology and
is formed by Dokulil, Horecký, and Štekauer. These models focus on the progression from
the abstract phase of the naming process to a more concrete stage where naming units
are produced, that is, on the mechanisms whereby an extra-linguistic entity gets
connected to a lexical expression.
Dokulil, unanimously regarded as the founder of the onomasiological approach,
developed his framework over several works (1962, 1964, 1968; see Dokulil, 1994) whose
relevance for contemporary word-formation cannot be overstated in view of his influence
over subsequent scholars. This includes, for example, the complex distinction between
the synchronic and diachronic components of word-formation, which in turn means
revisiting Marchand’s Wortbildung and Wortgebildetheit (1955), or an emphasis on the
extra-linguistic reality that has since turned into an emblem of onomasiology.
Dokulil presents word-formation as belonging to lexicology (because word-formation is
concerned with a part of the lexicon) and to morphology (because word-formation resorts
to morphological means), although close connections exist too with syntax, for example,
in collocations that serve as the starting point for derivation, or in the change of a
lexeme’s word-class for syntactic needs (Dokulil, 1994, pp. 127–130). All concepts in his
model rest on onomasiological categories, defined as “basic conceptual structures
establishing the foundations of naming activity in the given language” (1994, p. 133). In
the naming process, any object is analyzed as belonging to one group, of which it may be
a more or less prototypical member. Based on this categorization, the naming procedure
entails assigning the object an onomasiological base (conceptual class) and an
onomasiological mark (determiner). The former is always simple, while the latter is
potentially divisible into determined and determining constituents. Depending on the
nature and relation between the onomasiological base and the mark, three types of
onomasiological category are distinguished: relational, transpositional, and
modificational.2 In the relational onomasiological category, the onomasiological mark
specifies the base by means of one of four possible cognitive categories (SUBSTANCE,
ACTION, QUALITY, or CIRCUMSTANCE). Different configurations exist for the expression
of new concepts, for example, a notion that overall denotes SUBSTANCE may contain
constituents meaning ACTION and SUBSTANCE (e.g., write and -er in writer), but it may
also be made up of two SUBSTANCES (e.g., novel and -ist in novelist), among others. The
second type of onomasiological category is the transpositional one, which makes use of
hypostatization and implies that a unit’s lexical meaning does not vary but its part of
speech does. Such is the case of abrupt > abruptly (QUALITY) or grave > gravity
(ACTION). Finally, in the modificational category an onomasiological mark is added to the
base of a concept in order to express various possible meanings, for example, diminutive
(bird > birdie), augmentative (market > supermarket), or change of gender (actor >
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actress). These fundamental notions were later refined and polished in different ways but
notably laid the foundations of modern onomasiology and paved the way for subsequent
work.
Based on Dokulil’s pioneering rudiments, Horecký (1983, 1994, 1999; Horecký,
Buzássyová, &Bosák, 1989) develops the onomasiological approach by recognizing
several sublevels in it (conceptual, semantic, onomasiological, onomatological, and
phonological), and word-formation comes into focus. This system essentially goes back to
de Saussure’s notions of signifié and signifiant, as the semantic level represents the
signifié (i.e., the mental side of the linguistic sign), while the onomasiological,
onomatological, and phonological levels correspond to the signifiant (i.e., its formal side).
The three formal levels involve the expression of the onomasiological structure that,
following Dokulil, consists of an onomasiological base and an onomasiological mark, and
include the specification of the future unit as regards its sememic, morphemic, and
phonemic traits.
Prior to the formal constitution of a unit, its semantic features are laid down at the
semantic level, the core of Horecký’s proposal. Here, the word-classes of the lexical base
and of the derivative serve as the starting point for the understanding of the naming act,
and together they constitute a word-formation field with particular cognitive-semantic
features, for example, desubstantival adjective or deverbal substantive. A naming unit
may have four types of meaning, according to Horecký: (i) categorial, (ii) invariant, (iii)
specific, and (iv) lexical—the former three make up the so-called structural meaning and
only after them does lexical meaning emerge. Categorial meaning is related to the input
and output word-classes involved in derivation, invariant meaning is determined by the
(non-)occurrence of distinctive semantic features, and specific meaning denotes the
whole class of entities referred to by the lexeme. Finally, lexical meaning integrates the
three previous types of meaning and provides the full semantic information of the naming
unit (Panocová, 2013, pp. 267–269, 2015, pp. 14–15). For instance, the global meaning of
Slovak cvičitel ‘trainer’ can be broken down as follows:
(i) deverbal noun,
(ii) ‘concrete substance defined by the features +ERG +HUM +AGN +OFF’,
(iii) ‘someone who trains’, and
(iv) ‘a person who provides sustained instruction and practice in an art, profession,
occupation, or procedure’.
On the whole, Horecký’s strong contribution to onomasiology is justified by his
refinement of the semantic level through additional relations, features, and hierarchies,
as well as by a view of the naming act as a multilevel phenomenon.
Dokulil and Horecký defined and expanded, respectively, the scope of the onomasiological
approach in the second half of the 20th century. Štekauer, as their direct heir, has
broadened and consolidated a model of word-formation that stands as a central reference
in onomasiological studies in the early 21st century. One differentiating factor is that,
while Štekauer’s model preserves the linguistic levels of its predecessors, particular
The Onomasiological Approach
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Figure 1. Štekauer’s model of word-formation.
Reprinted with permission from Štekauer (2005B).
emphasis is placed on the extra-linguistic component, where naming needs arise and the
mechanisms of word-formation set off. One consequence is that all other levels assume
secondary importance only and are crucially affected by the necessities of the speech
community, as Figure 1 reveals.
The proposal is based on a
triad of relations between
the extra-linguistic reality,
the speech community, and
the word formation
component. In particular,
one of the axioms of
Štekauer’s model is its
emphasis on word-
formation as creativity
within productivity
constraints. This view
carries implications for the
process of naming, for
instance the neglect of the
traditional semasiological
word-formation processes
(prefixation, conversion,
blending, etc.), which are here replaced with the apparatus represented in Figure 1.3 The
onomasiological model articulates naming needs around the notion of Word-Formation
Type Cluster (WFTC), which embodies a given conceptual category and its specific
formalizations, for example, AGENT, INSTRUMENT, or LOCATION. Every WFTC
comprises eight possible Onomasiological Types (OT) that result from the interaction
between the onomasiological and the onomatological levels, and are morphosemantic
configurations shaped by the (non-)occurrence of the determining constituent of the mark
(D Const), the determined constituent of the mark (D Const), and the onomasiological
base. The constituents of the mark are the possible modifications that an expression may
carry, and the onomasiological base is the category of the structure, that is, the head in
traditional terms. The physical arrangement of these three onomasiological categories is
invariable, and the process of connecting them with morphemes of a given language is
regulated by the Morpheme-to-Seme-Assignment Principle (MSAP). Depending on the
resulting morphosemantic configuration, the object to be named will be expressed by one
or another OT.
(1)
ing ed
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OT1 is a ternary structure that contains the determining and the determined constituents
of the mark as well as the onomasiological base, which is why this type is the most
cognitively explicit and hence maximally hearer-friendly, as in bird trainer:
(2)
In OT2 and OT3 one element is missing from the onomasiological structure: the
determining constituent or the determined constituent of the mark, respectively:
(3)
(4)
Examples (2) to (4) exemplify how the concept ‘someone who trains birds of prey
professionally’ may be variously expressed, and accordingly they all fall within the same
WFTC, regardless of their different onomasiological structures. Note that these OTs
match only partly with the entrenched processes of the morphological tradition and that,
while OT1 always corresponds to synthetic compounding, OT2 and OT3 may be
represented by suffixation, but also by root compounding (e.g., cattleman as OT3).
Parallels can similarly be drawn between and OT4 and OT8 and conversion/ zero-
derivation, termed here conceptual recategorization (Štekauer, 2016, pp. 59–60). While
these two OTs display an identical surface structure, and have been hence subsumed
under the same morphological process, their cognitive-semantic configurations are not
identical. OT4 represents ACTION-to-SUBSTANCE recategorization (conventional verb-to-
noun conversion), where one constituent fulfils two semantic roles. In guide ‘a person
who guides (someone)’ the same element takes in the ACTION and the AGENT:
(5)
OT8 represents SUBSTANCE-to-ACTION recategorization (conventional noun-to-verb
conversion), in which case only the ACTION is specified in the binary structure, as in eye
‘to look at someone or something with interest’:
N
V
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(6)
The remaining types OT5, OT6, and OT7 are heterogeneous in nature. OT5 stands close
to OT4 with the fundamental difference that the determining constituent of the mark is
present in its structure, thus making meaning interpretation more straightforward. OT5
may surface with the two different realizations OBJECT + ACTION-AGENT, in (7), and
AGENT-ACTION + OBJECT, in (8), which correlate with traditional Noun+Noun
compounding (tour guide) and exocentric compounding (turncoat).
(7)
(8)
In OT6 only the determining constituent of the mark is expressed and, because the
onomasiological base is missing, the structure is semantically headless. This
configuration corresponds to a subclass of exocentric compounding different from that in
(8), as in paleface ‘a person who has a white face’:
(9)
Finally, in OT7 the mark cannot be decomposed, which justifies its binary structure made
up of one morpheme for the mark and one for the base:
(10)
One particularity of Štekauer’s model is that it explicitly addresses a number of themes
central to contemporary morphology, thanks to which it has achieved substantial
conceptual unity and theoretical robustness. The treatment of morphological productivity
is a case in point. For Štekauer, because the raison d’être of word-formation is to fulfill
naming needs, any naming act is examined within one WFTC, and the specific OT shaping
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the lexeme is irrelevant as long as the need is satisfied. For example, several OTs may
become involved in the designation of ‘someone who trains birds of prey professionally’,
for example, bird trainer (OT1), tamer (OT2), falconer (OT3), tame (OT4), or bird tame
(OT5). Each will display different features regarding its morphosemantics,
onomasiological structure, degree of meaning predictability, and so forth, but the
cornerstone of this model is that the necessity to name will always find a way through
word-formation constraints. In accordance with this, every WFTC is 100% productive for
a given conceptual category and productivity is assessed strictly across the eight OTs that
may denote that entity. On the same grounds, this approach handles the concept of
morphological competition WFTC-internally: OTs are rivals whose success in naming is
above all determined by the universal contradictory tendencies of economy versus
transparency (see Körtvélyessy, Štekauer, & Zimmermann, 2015). The model therefore
breaks away from the conventional conception of derivational morphology as poorly
productive and, instead, backs up word-formation as creativity within productivity
constraints. Factors that may influence which particular lexeme embodies the concept to
be named include the speakers’ personal experience, cultural knowledge, intellectual
capacity, education, age, and so forth (Štekauer, Chapman, Tomášciková, &Franko, 2005).
The latest installment of the onomasiological model is Štekauer (2017), where the
principles originally laid down for complex word-formation (Figure 1) are supplemented
by bringing in complex-word interpretation. By means of this revision, Štekauer claims
that, just as there is competition between OTs at the level of complex-word formation,
competition exists also between the potential readings of a lexeme at the level of
complex-word interpretation. This proposal elaborates on the system of meaning
predictability in Štekauer (2005A), where it is argued that one’s education, sex, or world
experience play a central role in meaning interpretation. In a nutshell, complex-word
formation and complex-word interpretation are closely linked up because the more
morphosemantically explicit a lexeme is (e.g., OT1 and OT2), the more straightforward
and unproblematic meaning interpretation will in principle be. By the same token, the
more economical a lexeme is (e.g., OT6 and OT8), the more costly and potentially
ambiguous its interpretation will be. It is therefore safe to assert that what is speaker-
friendly is hearer-unfriendly, and vice versa, as shown in Figure 2.
N N
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Figure 2. Integrated onomasiological model of
complex words.
Reprinted with permission from Štekauer (2017).
Overall, Štekauer stands
as an accredited
representative of the
onomasiological approach
thanks to the broad scope
of his theory. His model
effectively accounts for the
wide array of cognitive-
semantic possibilities
available to speakers in
the naming process, and
allows establishing partial
connections between OTs
and traditional word-
formation processes.
Naturally, the model works toward onomasiological goals and meticulous comparisons
between its components and those of form-based proposals will turn out unsatisfactory.
2.2 Lexicosemantic Models
Scholars such as Blank (1997B, 2001), Dirven and Verspoor (1998), Koch (2001, 2002),
and Grzega (2002, 2015) have explored the relationship between the linguistic and extra-
linguistic levels of word-formation by resorting to the mental types of similarity, contrast,
and contiguity. While onomasiology is broadly concerned with concept naming, the
specific goal of these models is the description, through cognitive-associative principles,
of how a concept materializes into a linguistic expression. In that naming act, a base is
chosen from one of the prototypical associations of the concept to be named, and two
opposite ends are distinguished: the concept to be named and the word that conveys it.
Decisively, these models are interested in the word or affix that fills the semantic gap
between the word and the concept.
As one of the most relevant followers of lexicosemantic onomasiology, Blank (1997A,
1997B, 2001) broke new ground by applying his framework to the field of word-formation.
Like the models by Štekauer or Horecký, the naming act begins in Blank’s view with the
identification of a concept to be designated and the detection of salient subconcepts by
the speaker. The most salient subconcept will then be embodied by a word as the starting
point for word-formation, the basis, and the conceptual difference between that word and
the referent will be bridged by the co-basis, a bound or a free morpheme, depending on
which the resulting lexeme will be a case of affixation, compounding or conversion (any
other morphological process is disregarded as a naming device). Three associative
principles are contemplated by Blank for the description of the connection between basis,
co-basis, and the referent: contiguity, contrast, and similarity.
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Suffixation, for example, may express the relations of similarity and contrast. The
possible semantic dimensions in suffixation include SMALLER (a), BIGGER (b), WORSE
(c), and BETTER/ENDEARING (d), illustrated in (11) with derivations from It. ragazzo
‘boy’:
(11)
As pointed out by Grzega (2002, pp. 66–67), formations conveying the meaning of
contiguity are not listed by Blank but are not rare in English, for example in the series
ACTIVITY—PRODUCT—PERSON: writewritingwriter. Blank’s three associative
relations (1997b) are also found in cases of prefixation: contiguity (modern > post-
modern), similarity (large > extra-large), and contrast (happy > unhappy). When it comes
to conversion, Blank’s treatment heavily hinges on the notion of onomasiological
recategorization, that is, word-class change, which is presented as a basic driving force
for the activation of word-formation. Onomasiological recategorization encompasses the
processes of back-formation and zero-derivation, and entails conceptual stability from the
input to the output lexeme, that is, the word-class changes but the referent remains the
same. This wide-ranging conception has been criticized because Blank’s examples do not
correspond to word-formation but to borrowings from other languages: Fr. père ‘father’ >
paternel ‘fatherly’ (from Latin), and Sp. atacar ‘to attack’ > ataque ‘attack’ (from French).
Moreover, it has been argued that absolute conceptual identity is impossible in class-
changing derivation because, even in closely related pairs, the base and the derivative
will belong to different semantic categories, for example, père is ACTION, and paternel is
QUALITY (Štekauer, 2005B, p. 228).
The last morphological process described in Blank (1997B) is compounding, where five
different types are distinguished:
(i) Type 1. Similarity/contrast within a category + conceptual contiguity, for
example, Fr. wagon-lit (lit. bed-car) ‘sleeping car’.
(ii) Type 2. Similarity/contrast within a category + metaphorical similarity, for
example, frogman.
(iii) Type 3. Double similarity/contrast (coordinated compounds), for example, deaf-
mute.
(iv) Type 4. Integral metonymies and metaphors (exocentric compounds), for
example, skyscraper.
(v) Type 5. Double contiguity, for example, Sp. limpiabotas (lit. shine-shoes)
‘shoeshine boy’.
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Objections have been raised in relation to this classification due mainly to categorial
inconsistencies, for example in relation to Type 1, which “is characterized by the
similarity between a prototype and a peripheral member as well as by conceptual
contiguity” (Blank, 1997B). This description implies that, during naming, the concept is
classified into a category of which it is not a prototypical member, but it notably misses a
critical step in onomasiology, namely that where the speaker singles out a salient feature
to stand for the entire formation. Grzega’s solution (2002, p. 67) is to use contiguity/
partiality as a more suitable label for this type of association. By the same token, Blank
(1997B) describes Type 3 as applicable to lexemes whose designation deviates from two
prototypes and is equidistant from them. One example is deaf-mute, which allegedly
displays prominent features of the prototypes deaf and mute but “doesn’t really fit into
any of them.” While notionally coherent, Blank’s discussion does not completely explain
why deaf-mute corresponds with neither deaf nor mute, instead of arguing that it belongs
to both classes simultaneously.
Another concern in Blank (1997B) is the formal division of word-formation processes,
regarding for instance the aforementioned differences between suffixation and
prefixation, and his disregard of processes like acronymy, blending, and clipping. In
particular, his distinction between affixation and compounding is worth stressing because
it leads to a different treatment of each with regard to their underlying cognitive
relations. This becomes apparent in the opposition of word pairs like frogman versus
worker, which this model analyzes differently in that the former contains a free
morpheme (-man) and the latter contains a bound one (-er), even if both carry an identical
agentive meaning (see Grzega, 2002, pp. 67–68). All in all, Blank’s contribution to the
onomasiological approach is valuable for going deep into then-unexplored regions, and
for showing that semantic change and word-formation share a number of onomasiological
and cognitive principles.
Yet another approach to onomasiological word-formation is found in Dirven and Verspoor
(1998), an introductory textbook where six possibilities of name-giving are distinguished:
simple word, compounds, derivations, complex types, syntactic groups, and minor types
like acronymy. All of these processes occur within derivational morphology, except for the
category of simple words, which concerns cases like borrowing or semantic extension. It
is particularly worthwhile to mention Dirven and Verspoor’s distinction between
compounds (12a), complex types (12b), and syntactic groups (12c), which roughly
correspond to the canonical classes of primary solid/hyphenated Noun+Noun compound,
synthetic compound, and primary open Noun+Noun compound, respectively:
(12)
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As happens also with other proposals (see section 2.1), this three-fold division proves that
the logico-semantic structures involved in naming do not necessarily correspond to the
morphological processes conventionally associated to the name-giving act. This explains
why the units in (12), even if customarily homogenized as compounds in semasiological
studies, in fact display different cognitive structures and must stand individually in an
onomasiological description. Dirven and Verspoor also stress the semantic potential and
the versatility of compounding “in naming things” (1998, p. 60), the two main reasons for
its high incidence in the expression of hyponymy, hyperonymy, and, in general,
taxonomies in the mental lexicon.
The remainder of Dirven and Verspoor’s proposal succinctly reviews derivation
(suffixation, prefixation, infixation, and circumfixation) and other word-formation
processes (conversion, back derivation, clipping, blending, and acronymy). Regarding
these, the most significant claim concerns conversion, which, it is maintained, always
implies a metonymical semantic extension that may involve any element that is
cognitively salient to the language user, for example, locative metonymy in bank > bank
(because the bank as a place stands for the entire financial transaction), or instrumental
metonymy in nail > nail (because nails stand for the whole process ‘fixing X by use of
nails’). This view has profound consequences if, as has been common practice in
morphological theory, figurative language is taken to fall out of the domains of word-
formation, in which case the position of conversion within morphology would be at stake.
The issue has been a matter of debate in recent years outside the realm of
onomasiological morphology, and consensus of opinion seems to be nowhere near (see
Cetnarowska, 2011; Valera, 2017; Bauer, 2018). Dirven and Verspoor next discuss other
processes, of which back derivation may be brought to light for two reasons. The first is
its definition as “a conversion from a more complex noun to a less complex verb” (1998,
p. 65), a somewhat misleading use of conversion because it does not totally reflect the
subtractive nature of back derivation. The second characteristic of back derivation is that,
contrary to conversion, its derivatives tend to display semantic widening from their
lexical bases, as in stage-manager ‘someone who is in charge of a theatre stage during a
performance’ versus to stage-manage ‘to organise any public event, such as a press-
conference’. This contrasts with the semantic narrowing that, they argue, characterizes
conversion, as in carpool ‘a group of people who agree to drive everyone in the group to
work or school’ versus carpool ‘to drive to work together’. In sum, while this concise
approach is eminently formal, for example, in the traditional organization of word-
formation processes, the originality in Dirven and Verspoor’s proposal lies in their
highlighting the cognitive-semantic side of morphology. It is acknowledged that, although
various possibilities may exist for concept naming, contextual factors prove decisive
therein and make it impossible to predict which naming unit will be generally accepted.
Already in the 21st century, Koch stands out among onomasiologists in the field of lexical
semantics although, strictly speaking, Koch (2001, 2002) is not an application to word-
formation, but a model for word-finding procedures. Its essential features are
encapsulated in the three-dimensional universal system shown in Figure 3.
N V
N V
N
V
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Figure 3. Three-dimensional lexicological grid for
lexical diachrony (adapted from Koch, 2001).
As can be noticed, Koch
interrelates three different
dimensions:
(i) cognitive-association
relations (identity,
contiguity, metaphorical
similarity, taxonomic
similarity, taxonomic
superordination,
taxonomic subordination,
co-taxonomic contrast,
and conceptual
contrast),
(ii) formal relations, both diachronic and synchronic (semantic change, polysemy,
change in number, change in gender, diathesis, conversion, affixation, compounding,
lexical syntagma, and idiom), and
(iii) lexical stratification, that is, native formations versus borrowings.
All the relations and processes in Koch’s dimensions may be combined with each other,
and this results in a multiplicity of options for naming, not all of which are possible in
every language. One advantage of this multiple combinability is the enormous potential
that it brings for the name-finding process, because not only borrowings or semantic
shifts, but also word-formation formation processes (here strata) have the capacity to
convey any of the eight cognitive-association relations.
One area of conflict in Koch’s model is the complex differentiation between compounding,
lexical syntagma, and phraseologism. Koch illustrates these categories with Eng. coffee
break (compound), Fr. vin rouge ‘red wine’ (lexical syntagma), and Latin interdicere alicui
aqua et igni (lit. prohibit someone from fir and water) ‘to banish
someone’ (phraseologism). While this specific Latin phraseologism is structurally
unproblematic, studies abound regarding the blurry boundary between compounds and
phraseologisms in various languages. Similar arguments can be put forward for coffee
break versus vin rouge, which, even if presented as compound and lexical syntagma,
respectively, seem to illustrate the output of the same process in two different languages,
although the syntactic or morphological nature of that process is debatable (Schlücker,
2018).
Reference should also be made to the classes of mutation and conversion, exemplified
with two verb-to-noun creating processes: Fr. manquer ‘to lack’ > le manque ‘lack’ and G.
essen ‘to eat’ > das Essen ‘food’. Mutation is defined by Koch as the change in part of
speech through replacement of a word-class-specific morpheme, while conversion is the
change of part of speech without morpheme replacement. Grzega (2002, p. 71) notes,
however, that manquer > manque can be more accurately described as a back-formation
because it is created not by vowel substitution but by removal of morphological material.
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Figure 4. Grzega’s linguistic sign model.
Reprinted with permission from Grzega (2015).
Unfortunately, Koch (2001) does not further examine these matters in this or other works,
and this makes one wonder about the possible redundancy and overlapping scope of
mutation and conversion.
One recent proposal of lexicosemantic onomasiology is that by Grzega (2002, 2003, 2005,
2009, 2015). His Cognitive and Social Model for Onomasiological Studies (CoSMOS)
draws on the work by Blank, Koch, and Štekauer, and is outlined in Figure 4.
This model sets off with
the identification of a
contextualized referent
that needs a designation,
the shape of which is
refined throughout the
ensuing levels. After
classifying the global and
local traits of the referent,
the speaker identifies it as
familiar or unfamiliar, and
then either employs an
existing designation or
creates a new one. Grzega alludes to a cost-benefit analysis whereby the speaker
evaluates which name is preferable under the particular circumstances, for example,
whether the context requires being elaborate, polite, informal, replicating the hearer’s
wording, and so forth. Depending on the specific needs, one or another form will be
selected to name the reality, a process that is affected by a catalog of cognitive,
communicative, and linguistic forces similar to Grice’s conversational maxims (1975).
Key levels in the creation of a novel complex lexeme are the level of feature analysis, the
onomasiological level, the onomatological level, and the phonetic realization of the sign.
In feature analysis, the local traits of the referent are explored and then exploited for
designation, which takes place in the case of word-formation but not in borrowings or
usage of simplex words. The onomasiological level then selects one or two salient
characteristics of the referent and associates them based on four possible relations:
similarity, contrast, partiality, and contiguity/contact. Finally, the onomatological level
selects the specific morphemes to stand for these cognitive-semantic relations and the
sound model produces a naming unit with a specific phonetic realization.
Grzega stresses that this concept-to-process matching is subject to a diversity of factors
at the extra-linguistic and linguistic levels and hence it is not a “universal or
diachronically rigid rule” (2015, p. 86). This is why designations for the same referent
vary from speaker to speaker. The list of processes available is thorough and includes
word-formation processes, but also morphologically simple lexemes or the interaction of
syntax and phraseology. The following are the possible naming devices in CoSMOS:
adoption of a lexeme through semantic change or borrowing, syntactic recategorization
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(i.e., conversion), composition of different kinds, blending, back-derivation, reduplication,
morphological alteration, wordplaying, phonetic-prosodic alteration, graphic alteration,
phraseologism, root creation, clarifying composition, and formal shortening.
Upon examination, the impact of previous scholars on Grzega becomes evident, for
example in his conception of compounding, which brings together such dissimilar
phenomena as neoclassical compounds, loan translations, and pseudo-loans, which he
acknowledges to be inspired by Koch’s proposal. Štekauer’s influence can be felt as well
in the overall spirit of CoSMOS, for example, its emphasis on extra-linguistic reality and,
in particular, in the number and nature of the levels required for naming, the backbone of
the model. Among the innovations of CoSMOS, there is the presence of clarifying
formations like reindeer or hound dog, not explicitly discussed elsewhere and described
as compounds where the meaning of the right-hand member is a part of the meaning of
the left-hand one. The structure of these units is explained because the onomasiological
mark is represented by an unmotivated word (e.g., hound), so the speaker selects a base
but not a mark at the onomasiological level. It follows that only a morpheme for the base
is selected at the onomatological level, so on the phonological level the original word is
the mark and appears first (hound), and the new element is the base and stands on the
right (dog). Another novelty is the inclusion of folk-etymologies as re-interpretation of the
elements of a unit on the semantic level (e.g., sparrow-grass from Lat. asparagus) which,
alongside the rest of onomasiological processes, makes CoSMOS one of the most
comprehensive linguistic sign models.
2.3 Generative Models
Research on the naming act has also been carried out within generativism by embracing
the Separation Hypothesis, one of the founding principles of Lexeme-Morpheme Base
Morphology (LMBM; Beard, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2001; Beard & Volpe, 2005). LMBM is a
morphological theory that, not having an onomasiological scope stricto sensu, tries to
bring together some of the fundamental assumptions of onomasiology with the essential
assertions of generative grammar. In essence, LMBM maintains that lexical and
grammatical morphemes have different distinctive properties and therefore are “radically
different linguistic phenomena” (Beard & Volpe, 2005, p. 189). As main proponents of this
trend, Szymanek and Beard understand that cognitive functions are discrete from
derivational categories, and that derivational categories are so from their formal
expression. The Separation Hypothesis draws a fundamental distinction between
derivation and affixation, and maintains that lexical and syntactic derivation are
independent from morphological marking, in turn implying that “the function
(grammatically relevant “meaning”) of derivations will not be predictable on the basis of
affixation and vice versa” (Beard, 1988, p. 46; see Bloch-Trojnar, 2013A). Figure 5 outlines
the process of lexeme derivation in LMBM.
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Figure 5. Derivational and spelling operations in
LMBM.
Reprinted with permission from Bloch-Trojnar (2013
A).
Besides the Separation
Hypothesis, LMBM relies
on the Unitary
Grammatical Function
Hypothesis and the Base
Rule Hypothesis. The
former puts forward 44
universal grammatical
functions that are either
innate to humans or
“phylogenetically
fundamental” (Beard,
1995, p. 206) and which,
being primitive in nature,
must be distinguished
from conceptual
categories. Beard’s 44
categories are in principle
universal and applicable to Indo-European vernaculars, even if not all categories are
present in every language (Serbo-Croatian is used for illustration in his monograph; see
Bloch-Trojnar, 2013B for a survey into other languages). The aim of this semantic catalog
is to map grammatical functions onto derivational categories, and to this end a distinction
is made between Primary declensional functions (e.g., Subject, Object, Partitivity, Means,
or Purpose), Secondary declensional categories (e.g., Anteriority, Posteriority, Concession,
or Distribution), and Tertiary (recent) declensional functions, represented in English by
prepositions like alongside, amid, during, including, and toward. The examples in (13)
illustrate primary functions of Partitive (a) and Purpose (b), while (14) shows the
secondary functions of Concessive (a) and Distribution (b):
(13)
(14)
The third hypothesis in LMBM is the Base Rule Hypothesis, which postulates that the
universal functions of derivational morphology are identical to those of inflectional
morphology. These functions are inherent in the base structure of the grammar, and all
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languages are constrained to the same universal set of grammatical categories, so as to
fully account for all types of derivation (see Szymanek, 1985; Beard & Volpe, 2005).
Beard’s model of morphology (1995) is hence based on the strict distinction between
derivation and affixation, and consists of three modules and five levels: level 1
corresponds to phonology, levels 2 and 3 belong to an autonomous morphological level,
level 4 is syntactic, and level 5 represents semantics. These phases cover all the
phonological, lexical, syntactic, and semantic features of a lexeme, such that they can be
subsequently mapped together by morphology. Eventually, a unit will incorporate features
from the various levels, for example, Nominative, Instrumental, Locative (level 3),
Subject, Means, Manner (level 4), or THING, ACTOR, PLACE (level 5).
1. Postcyclic Phonology
2. Morphological Spelling/Allomorphy
3. Grammatical Properties
4. Grammatical Functions
5. Semantic Categories
Parallel to Beard’s grammatical functions, Szymanek (1988) provides 25 Fundamental
concepts of cognition in order to describe the types and functions of lexical derivation.
These concepts include, among others, OBJECT (THING), SUBSTANCE, PERSON,
NEGATION, SHAPE, SPACE, or CAUSATION, and are reflected in derivational categories
in such a way that “there are one-to-many and many-to-one relations” (Štekauer, 2006, p.
36). For Szymanek, then, there is a distinction between cognitive categories and
derivational categories because they are asymmetrical: cognitive categories represent
what is modified in derivation, while derivational categories hinge on fundamental
concepts of cognition. Based on this, Szymanek’s lexicalist approach chooses to
differentiate between the formal and the semantic features of word-formation.
The contribution of Beard’s and Szymanek’s models to onomasiological research stems
from the fact that, despite their generative orientation, they point up the role of
semantics in morphology. This becomes manifest, for example, in the idea that
derivational categories and principles are universal and shared by Indo-European
languages, and that the specific realization of each category varies from language to
language.
3. Short- and Long-Term Prospects for
Onomasiology
This article has introduced nine models whose concern is how extra-linguistic entities are
denoted by language users in the name giving process. These proposals can be grouped
into three types: Dokulilean, lexicosemantic, and generative models. With slight
differences in their terminology and theoretical viewpoints, stress is in all cases placed on
the cognitive-semantic categories that take part in the naming of a reality and in the
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transition from the extra-linguistic to the linguistic dimension. Shared standpoints include
the Praguian emphasis on the functional role of language or a stratified view of the
naming process, which in all models progresses from the identification of a contextually
salient concept to its linguistic materialization.
Points of divergence exist too depending on the specific interests of each proposal. For
Dokulilean models, the focus of research is on the differentiation between the selection of
the onomasiological base and mark, and on the selection of the morphemes that perform
those roles, while lexicosemantic models concentrate on the nature of the relations of
similarity, contrast, and contiguity. Slight disagreement is found as well over how
morphological processes are conceived of. To name but one case, Dokulil, Horecký, and
Koch unexpectedly follow the traditional division of word-formation between
compounding and derivation, which arguably goes counter to the expected
onomasiological method that proceeds from concept to form, and not the other way
around. In contrast, Štekauer and Grzega resort to a set of OTs that are governed
exclusively by a cognitively based ternary structure (onomasiological base—determined
constituent—determining constituent), where traditional morphological processes may be
in part accommodated.
This review has hopefully shown that onomasiological models display a potential for the
study of the name-finding process in general, and word-formation in particular, and that
they have opened up a number of new horizons in this line of morphological research.
Some of these tasks are currently under way, for example through experimental work on
the sociolinguistic factors that influence the coining of morphologically complex lexemes
(Štekauer et al., 2005; Körtvélyessy, 2009; Körtvélyessy et al., 2015), or through the
application of onomasiological methods in contrastive linguistics (Defrancq & De Sutter,
2012; Goossens, 2013; Antoniová & Štekauer, 2015; Bagasheva, 2015). One increasingly
explored subject is that of derivational paradigms, which questions the similarities and
differences between paradigms in inflection and in derivation, and where affixation has
drawn almost absolute attention hitherto to the detriment of processes like compounding
or conversion. The correspondences between word-formation and inflection were noted
by Dokulil in “the direct role played by the systems of endings (by the paradigms)—or by
the so-called morphological characteristics—in word formation” (1994, p. 130), and have
been investigated with growing interest lately (Bauer, 1997; Pounder, 2000; Štekauer,
2014; Antoniová & Štekauer, 2015; Bagasheva, 2015). Derivational paradigms are high on
the onomasiological agenda with not a few unanswered questions, for example the
relation between analogy and paradigms, the applicability of paradigms in compounding,
the nature of the interaction between derivational families and paradigms, and the
inherent overlaps and partiality in networks projected by paradigmatic structures.
Strongly related to paradigmatic systems are the quality and quantity of the semantic
categories that participate in word-formation. Bagasheva (2017) offers a much-needed set
of 27 semantic concepts for cross-linguistic research on affixation that may be taken as
the point of departure for research on cognitive categories in morphology. This includes,
for instance, an in-depth analysis of semantic categories other than AGENT and
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INSTRUMENT, which have thus far absorbed virtually all practical applications of the
onomasiological approach (Štekauer, 1998, pp. 93–117; Grzega, 2009; Körtvélyessy, 2009;
Antoniová & Štekauer, 2015; Körtvélyessy et al., 2015; Panocová, 2015). A proper
treatment of cognitive categories is likewise fundamental regarding morphological
competition, which is necessarily onomasiological for the reason that the expression of a
cognitive-semantic category is the objective that rival morphological processes aim for. In
this sense, Štekauer (2017) understands morphological rivalry as a struggle between the
principles of economy of expression and semantic transparency, and shows that
competition in complex-word formation runs to a large extent parallel to competition in
complex-word interpretation.
As has been demonstrated, the onomasiological approach should not be seen as a uniform
and homogeneous whole, but as a set of proposals whose ultimate goal is the accurate
portrayal of the naming act and which ramifies variously based on particular viewpoints.
The amount and quality of recent research evince that onomasiology is gathering
momentum toward its strengthening in present-day morphology, although its
development has been probably hindered by its less formalized perspective and by a
nomenclature that diverges from that of conventional schools. Onomasiology can
nonetheless be counted as one reliable alternative for the study of present-day linguistic
theory and has become an effective and reliable alternative to traditional form-driven
views on the name giving process, both in Central and Eastern Europe, and beyond.
Critical Analysis of the Scholarship
Several of the references used for the present article are included in the collective
volume Štekauer & Lieber (2005), in the SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics, a
freely available journal co-edited by Štekauer, or in the linguistic platform Onomasiology
Online, run by Joachim Grzega and colleagues but inoperative since 2011. The remaining
articles and monographs discussed here mostly go back to the foundational works of
onomasiology (Zauner, 1902; Dokulil, 1956, 1958, 1962; Horecký, 1983), or to works
belonging to the upsurge of onomasiology at the turn of the 21st century (Szymanek,
1988; Štekauer, 1998, 2016; Grzega, 2015; Geeraerts, 2006; Panocová, 2013, 2015). The
vast majority of such scholars share a background in cognitive semantics and have a
continental origin, for example, former Czechoslovakia (Dokulil, Horecký, Štekauer),
Germany (Blank, Grzega, Koch), the Netherlands (Dirven, Geeraerts), or Poland
(Szymanek), with the major exception of Beard (United States). The interest in
Romanistics of some of these references plus the fact that an English version of some has
never been circulated may partly explain the former peripheral position of onomasiology,
especially if compared to the Anglocentric tradition of semasiology.
Broadly considered, efforts into onomasiological research have focused on two areas. The
first one is the understanding of the cognitive-semantic component of name giving, that
is, the specific mechanisms underlying the designation of an extra-linguistic concept, be it
through (pseudo-)loans, semantic extension, native morphological processes, or a
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combination of them. The accomplishment of such goal involves the detailed discussion of
the potential semantic relations in a naming unit, its onomasiological structure, or the
individual and contextual factors why given linguistic procedures are preferred in some
cases. As the primary aim of onomasiology, the study of how a given concept is expressed
was the main concern of the earliest publications in the field, and has remained a
pertinent topic to scholars until today (Dokulil, 1956; Horecký, 1983; Horecký,
Buzássyová, & Bosák, 1989; Blank, 1997B, 2001; Koch, 2001, 2002; Grzega, 2002;
Geeraerts, 2006).
The second major area of research within onomasiology is at the same time one that has
captured the attention of analysts in recent times: word-formation. In 1960, Marchand
declared the autonomy of word-formation from English linguistics but, for around half a
century, the priorities of morphologists were other than the links between the linguistic
and the extra-linguistic realities. Despite the early attempts by Dokulil (1956, 1958), it
was Štekauer (1996, 1998) who broke away from this form-oriented tendency with a
model of word-formation that not only meant a radical change for the understanding of
naming, but has exerted a profound influence over the next generation of word-
formationists. This renewed interest becomes apparent from the number of linguists
ready to take up the torch of onomasiological word-formation in spheres like
sociolinguistics (Körtvélyessy, 2009), contrastive linguistics (Antoniová & Štekauer, 2015;
Bagasheva, 2015), or borrowing (Panocová, 2015; see also Grzega, 2015, pp. 89–90 for a
list of unresolved topics in onomasiology).
Links to Digital Materials
Grzega, J., & Schöner, M. (2007). English and general historical lexicology:
Materials for onomasiology seminars. Onomasiology Online Monographs 1. Eichstätt,
Germany: Katholische Universität.
Further Reading
Blank, A., & Koch, P. (Eds.). (2003). Kognitive romanische Onomasiologie und
Semasiologie. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer.
Dokulil, M. (1968). Zur Theorie der Wortbildungslehre. Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der
Karl-Marx-Universität Leipzig: Gesselschafts- und Sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe, 17,
203–211.
A Festschrift for Pavol Štekauer. (2005). Special issue. SKASE Journal of Theoretical
Linguistics, 12(3).
Grzega, J. (2002). Some aspects of modern diachronic onomasiology. Linguistics, 40,
1021–1045.
Grzega, J. (2004). Bezeichnungswandel: Wie, Warum, Wozu? Ein Beitrag zur englischen
und allgemeinen Onomasiologie. Heidelberg, Germany: Winter.
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Horecký, J. (1994). Semantics of derived words. Prešov, Slovakia: Acta Facultatis
Philosophicae Universitatis Šafarikanae.
Hüllen, W. (1999). A plea for onomasiology. In W. Falkner & H. J. Schmid (Eds.), Words,
lexemes, concepts—Approaches to the lexicon: Studies in honour of Leonhard Lipka (pp.
343–352). Tübingen, Germany: Narr.
Koch, P. (1999a). Frame and contiguity. On the cognitive bases of metonymy and certain
types of word formation. In K. U. Panther & G. Radden (Eds.), Metonymy in language and
thought (pp. 139–167). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.
Koch, P. (1999b). TREE and FRUIT: A cognitive-onomasiological approach. Studi di
Linguistica Teorica ed Applicata, 28(2), 331–347.
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Notes:
(1.) Please note that, as pointed out by one of the external reviewers, it is perfectly
possible, though not frequent, for a linguistic framework to be meaning-based (i.e.,
focused on semantics) and not onomasiological (i.e., focused on the naming act).
Outstanding examples of meaning-based but not onomasiological theories are the Parallel
Architecture (Jackendoff, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2016) and the Lexical Semantic Framework
(Lieber, 1992, 2004, 2016).
(2.) An equivalent term and the one originally given in Dokulil (1962) is mutational.
Reference to relational categories is made here due to its widespread use in the
literature.
(3.) Štekauer’s original proposal has undergone a number of adjustments over time. The
present discussion is based on the latest version of the model, Štekauer (2016), where the
number of OTs is enlarged from five to eight, and where the conceptual level no longer
belongs within the word-formation component, but appears above it (see Figure 1). The
reader is referred to Štekauer (1998) and (2005b) for transitional steps in the model’s
evolution, and to Panocová (2015, 2016) for an application of the model to Neoclassical
compounding.
Jesús Fernández-Domínguez
Department of Philology, University of Granada
... In this study, we aim to identify the creative learner language constructions that deviate from conventional language forms but do not cause a breakdown in communication (see Waara, 2004, for definition for learner language construction). Therefore, we adopt an onomasiological approach, meaning we start our investigation from the meaning and explore what constructions learners use to express it (Fernández-Domínguez, 2019;Grzega, 2012). We trace the development of the ways four L2 Finnish learners' express existentiality during a ninemonth period that included two pedagogical interventions focusing on the FEC. ...
... In an onomasiological approach, the investigation starts with the meaning and the aim is to investigate what kinds of linguistic solutions are used to express it (Fernández-Domínguez, 2019;Grzega, 2012). This approach makes it possible to investigate L2 learners' make-do solutions that reflect their history, goals, and abilities at that time (Larsen-Freeman, 2013). ...
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