Conférence de Martin Haspelmath, Docteur honoris causa 2022



e 19 mars, le professeur Martin Haspelmath (Institut Max-Planck & Université de Leipzig), linguiste allemand de renommée internationale spécialisé dans le domaine de la typologie des langues, a reçu les insignes de Docteur honoris causa de notre université, en tant que candidat proposé par la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres.

En marge de cette séance académique, il a donné une conférence intitulée « The complexity of word meanings: Diversity and unity in the world’s languages » le 18 mars. Vous pouvez revoir l'intégralité de la conférence ici.


Across the world’s languages, not only the shapes of words differ, but also the meanings. For example, while English bag corresponds to German Tasche, the latter can also mean ‘pocket’, and bag can refer to a suitcase, which is not a possible meaning of Tasche. And corresponding to English go, French has various verbs such as aller, sortir, entrer, monter, descendre, most of which are more specific and can be rendered in English by additional specifications (go out, go in, go up, go down). Such differences have long been noted by linguists, but it is only in the 21st century that they have been studied systematically across a wide range of languages. In the 20th century, semantics was mostly studied from a language-particular, descriptive-structural perspective, which did not make comparison easy. The breakthrough came when it was increasingly understood that structural description and broad comparison rely on different methodologies (structural contrasts vs. non-linguistic comparative concepts). I will illustrate these differences on the basis of a range of examples, and I will show how the technical concepts of ‘colexification’ and ‘syllexification’ allow us to recognize diversity and unity simultaneously.


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