Navigating polyfunctionality in the lexicon: Semantic maps and Ancient Egyptian lexical semantics

Eitan Grossman, Stéphane Polis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In lexical semantic descriptions of Ancient Egyptian, there is a tendency to search for a single basic meaning or Grundbedeutung, even if the element in question has a wide range of meanings or functions. The actual functions of these elements — as they occur in texts — are usually explained as
contextual or combinatory, derived from the interaction of the basic meaning with environmental cues or triggers. While there are certainly lexical items for which this is appropriate, there are nonetheless other ways of describing polyfunctionality, a generic term for situations in which multiple functions (or
meanings or senses) are associated with a single signifier. The goal of the present article is to demonstrate that other kinds of analyses are possible, and can be equally interesting and useful for describing the facts of Ancient Egyptian and for relating them to cross-linguistic research. Moreover we show that Ancient Egyptian linguistic data allow us to test — corroborate, extend, or revise —hypotheses that have been proposed in the typological literature. The paper is structured as follows:
Part 1 raises the problem of polyfunctionality and possible approaches to this pervasive linguistic
Part 2 presents the (classical) semantic map model developed by typologists in order to account for the cross-linguistically recurrent relationships between two or more meanings of single linguistic forms;
Part 3 examines the applicability and usefulness of this model in Ancient Egyptian with two small-scale case studies dealing with specific semantic areas ([a] instrument-companion and [b] allative). In each case, the semantic map provides a principled method for the analysis of polyfunctionality in both synchrony and diachrony.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLexical Semantics in Ancient Egyptian
Editors Eitan Grossman , Stéphane Polis , Jean Winand
PublisherWidmaier Verlag
Number of pages50
ISBN (Print)9783943955095
StatePublished - 2012

Publication series

Name Lingua aegyptia. Studia monographica


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