A Study of Perceptually Grounded Polysemy in a Spatial Microdomain

TitleA Study of Perceptually Grounded Polysemy in a Spatial Microdomain
Publication TypeTechnical Report
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsZlatev, J.
Other Numbers753
Keywordscomputational linguistics, neural networks, partially structured connectionism, perceptually grounded semantics, polysemy

This paper attempts to exemplify the advantages of perceptually grounded semantics with respect to traditional formalist approaches in elucidating the nature of the controversial notion of linguistic polysemy, or multiplicity of meaning. It is also suggested how some aspects of language typically associated with compositionality could be modeled, without there being a strictly "compositional semantics."This is done through a series of experiments, using modifications of Terry Regier's connectionist system for learning spatial relations which constitutes a part of the L subscript 0 project concerned with associating descriptions in an arbitrary language with an analog environment, (sequences of) pictures of simple two-dimensional scenes.The emphasis is above all on the English preposition 'over', famous for its polysemy, and analyzed in detail by [Brugman, 1981] and [Lakoff, 1987], but some modeling has also been done of the meaning of 'under', as well as some rudimentary semantics for simple verbs such as 'be', 'go' and 'fly' that combine with the two prepositions.Three kinds of connectionist architectures have been used in trying to capture what might be called a 'polysemous over'. It is suggested that the first seems to treat polysemy like what has traditionally been regarded as generality, where distinctions are neutralized and senses are not distinct, while the second reduces polysemy to homonomy where they are distinct but not related. It is the third type of (structured) connectionist architecture that managed best in both learning different senses and reflecting the polysemous structure of the lexical item in analyses of the relevant hidden layers. In this architecture polysemy emerges as an effect of the combinatorics of words and their pairing with the environment.The main theoretical claim is that polysemy is best regarded as a contextual rather than a purely lexical phenomenon. This on its part suggests support for the claim made in [Geeraerts, 1992] that the distinction between polysemy and generality is unstable, and for a semantics that is radically anti-reificational. The results from this study suggest that such a semantics can account for the generativity and systematicity of language, despite claims to the contrary made by formalists.

Bibliographic Notes

ICSI Technical Report TR-92-048

Abbreviated Authors

J. Zlatev

ICSI Publication Type

Technical Report