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The onomasiology (from ancient Greek ὀνομάζειν onomazein , rename 'to ὄνομα onoma , Name') or name doctrine is a branch of semantics examined and with which linguistic expressions a certain thing is called.

It starts with an object and asks about the name - in contrast to semasiology , which asks about the meaning based on a name , e.g. B. which different objects are named. By setting up word fields , terms are systematized and gradual changes in meaning are shown.

Not in all, but in many cases, onomasiology is understood historically, that is, as a doctrine of change in designation (historical onomasiology) .

Onomasiology in the sense of the designation change theory

When naming a thing, every speaker has the option of using an existing name or - sometimes unconsciously - of creating a new name. The creation of a new name can be traced back to different reasons, motives and triggers: these can be purely linguistic-communicative, but also psychological, social and changes in the world. If you want to create a new name, you basically have three options:

  • to apply an already existing word to the thing to be named (= change of meaning , e.g. mouse (rodent) → mouse (computer accessory))
  • to adopt the corresponding designation from another language (= loan word , e.g. lat. computare → engl. computer → dt. computer - see also borrowing )
  • Create a new word with your own existing words and word modules (= word formation , e.g. German calculator + -ercalculator or white + winewhite wine ).

Research history

Although onomasiological work goes back to Jakob Grimm , the beginning of the actual onomasiology is only connected with the Romance studies of Friedrich Diez (1875), Ernst Tappolet (1895), Adolf Zauner (1902), who gave the discipline its name, and Clemente Merlo (1904) and the work of the Indo-Europeanist Berthold Delbrück (1889). As a result, numerous onomasiological works, often dissertations, have been published, especially in Romance and German studies , but also in Indo-European studies . The former Heidelberg professor Johannes Hoops can be regarded as the founder of an English onomasiology.

In the first half of the 20th century, three main trends can be traced. We can speak of an early onomasiology in which the etymologies of names for precisely definable Concrete were examined.

In a second phase, the method “words and things” or “things and words” is developed, which is associated with the two conflicting namesake from Graz, Rudolf Meringer and Hugo Schuchardt . Meringer also founded a magazine of the same name in 1909, which, however, was too much in line with the regime during the time of National Socialism under the editor Walther Wüst and was therefore no longer printed after the Second World War .

The third phase is word field research, which is associated with the name Jost Trier (around 1930), although approaches to field research can already be found in Michel Bréal (1883) and Ferdinand de Saussure (1916). At the same time, linguistic geography has also been refined since Jules Gilliéron's work : while the Atlas linguistique de la France (ALF) (1901–1910) only contains neutral terms for the most important concepts, the Linguistic and Subject Atlas of Italy and Southern Switzerland (AIS) (1928–1940, by Karl Jaberg and Jakob Jud ) have occasionally given comments on the special (situational) use of an expression. Two temporarily last onomasiological highlights appear in 1949 with the Indo-European historical dictionary by Carl Darling Buck (1866–1955), on which Buck worked intensively over 20 years of his life, aware of all the problems, and which considered around 1,500 concepts, and which for years rather little noted cross-language family study by Carlo Tagliavini on the designations for the pupil.

It is true that a large number of onomasiological treatises also emerged in the second half of the 20th century, as the "Bibliography of Onomasiological Works" of the journal Onomasiology Online shows (without it being possible to assume that all onomasiological works are completely covered, as there are many articles have been published in less popular journals). Theoretical treatises on historical onomasiology did not materialize after the Second World War, at least in Europe; only in American anthropology have noteworthy (mostly cross-lingual) works been produced, particularly connected with the names Cecil H. Brown , partly in cooperation with Stanley Witkowski and Brent Berlin . It was not until 1990 that a theoretical study of onomasiology in linguistics in the narrower sense began to emerge. From a lexicographical point of view, Henri Vernay's Dictionnaire onomasiologique des langues romanes (DOLR) should be mentioned, as well as DÉCOLAR ( D ictionnaire é tymologique et co gnitif des la ngues r omanes) developed at the University of Tübingen under the direction of Peter Koch .

A "cognitive onomasiology" is primarily propagated by Andreas Blank and Peter Koch . This means that in addition to the level of the concept or designate, the linguistic level of the (structured) meaning must also be taken into account and an anthropocentric perception of the world is assumed. More recent reflections on theoretical onomasiology originate from the pen of the aforementioned Pavol Štekauer himself and from Dirk Geeraerts, Peter Koch and Joachim Grzega .

Onomasiological working tools

Onomasiological working tools are language atlases and dictionaries, especially dialect dictionaries, etymological dictionaries and historical dictionaries in which the historical word is the target word and not the starting lemma . The "Bibliography of Onomasiological Sources" of the Internet journal Onomasiology Online offers lists of onomasiological sources in English .

Reasons, motives and triggers for the change in name

If a speaker has to name a certain concrete thing in a certain concrete situation, he first tries to assign it to a designate (= a category ). If he can assign the speaker to a designate or signified , signifié , he can - taking into account a communication-related, language-economical cost-benefit calculation - fall back on an existing word or decide more or less consciously to create a new name.

The formation of a new name can be due to different factors that also act simultaneously. The complete catalog includes the following factors:

  • Problems with the classification of the thing or the lexical assignment, resulting in confusion of names
  • Lexical mix-up of generic and sub-terms due to the monopoly of a certain thing in a subject area
  • Contact situations
  • institutional and non-institutional language maintenance
  • flattery
  • insult
  • obscuring speech
  • taboo
  • Avoiding the same or similar words to negatively associated terms
  • Abolition of the ambiguity of forms in context (keyword homonym conflict ),
  • Language game
  • excessive length
  • Misinterpretations of older or foreign word forms (see folk etymology )
  • Creating transparency of words by deriving other words
  • Desire for plasticity (i.e. for a catchy naming motif)
  • natural prominence of a concept
  • cultural prominence of a concept
  • Change in the world
  • Change in perception of the world
  • Fashion / prestige.

The following research literature also shows: decrease in salience , reading errors, convenience, excessive brevity, difficult sound connections, unclear stress patterns, unsuccessful formations / cacophony . More recent empirical research (cf. Joachim Grzega (2004)), however, doubt that these factors trigger changes in terms.

Procedure for changing names

Looking more closely at the change in terms, the name changes as follows: In the case of the intended, conscious innovation in terms, the speaker may have to go through several levels of the word-finding process. These are (1) the analysis of the specific features of the concept, (2) the selection of the naming motif, (3) the selection of the forms to express the naming motif.

Relation and mutual reference of signified ( le signifié ) and signifier ( le signifiant ) in the use of a sign according to Saussure .
The arrow on the left symbolizes the use in which a sequence of sounds is indicative of a mental idea, whereby an expression as the signifier can become the designation of a concept (onomasiology). The arrow on the right, on the other hand, shows the direction of a use with which a mental representation is understood as being designated by a sound sequence, whereby a conceptual content can become the signified of the meaning of an expression (see semasiology ).

Is not an already existing word cut, but an entirely new formed, so the speakers are various forms of composition (including blending and idioms), return derivative acquisition of a word already existing, syntactic Recategorisation, various forms of alternation , pun and root creation available (whereby he can follow a model of his own idiom or that of another idiom or no model - the latter, however, only in the case of the new root creations). We thus receive the following complete catalog of formal designation procedures (not all procedures occur in German):

  • Adoption of either (a) an existing own language word (change of meaning , with several subtypes) or (b) a foreign language word ( loan word , borrowed word )
  • syntactic recategorization (i.e. conversion , e.g. eating from the verb essen )
  • Composition (lato sensu, i.e. compounds and derivatives (with deliberate renunciation of separating these two types), e.g. white wine < white and wine )
  • Morpheme deletion ( ellipse , e.g. wheat < wheat beer )
  • Morpheme shortening (clipping, e.g. bus < omnibus )
  • Morpheme symbolization (acronyms and abbreviations, e.g. PC < personal computer )
  • Crossing (for example, English brunch < breakfast and lunch ; folk etymology is also a crossing, but is unintentional)
  • Derivation
  • Duplication ( e.g. mishmash )
  • morphological alternation (e.g. English people in the singular people , people , in the plural peoples )
  • Clarifying composition (for example, chickpea instead of the original name Kicher <Latin cicer = pea)
  • Pun (for example , it's different with Danes. Instead of them it's different. )
  • Phonetic - prosodic alternation ( e.g. accent changes in spite of and trótzdem )
  • graphic alternation (e.g. man and man )
  • Phraseologism
  • New root creation (including onomatopoeia)

The procedure ends with level (4), the actual debate.

However, in order to create a designation that is not simply based on the abbreviation of an existing word, one or two physically and / or psychologically salient designation motifs ( iconemes ) must first be selected. The choice is guided by one or more potential cognitive-associative relationships between the concept to be designated and the selected designation motif or motifs. Important phenomena are:

  1. the similarity (= similarity)
  2. the contiguity (= touch = simultaneous occurrence)
  3. the partiality (= being part)
  4. the contrast

The following relations can therefore take effect:

  • Identity (that is, one uses the same expression as in another language, for example German computer from English)
  • figurative, i.e. subjectively perceived, similarity of the designate or signified, signifié partly with contiguity of the designate (for example, German woman's shoe for a flower that looks like a woman's shoe)
  • Contiguity of the designate, partly with figurative similarity of the designate (for example German glass for a "drinking vessel made of glass", German a Picasso for a "painting by Picasso")
  • Partiality of the designate (for example in German Rad für Fahrrad - there is more to the means of transport than just two wheels)
  • Contrast of the designate (for example in the ironic term pastor's daughter for prostitutes)
  • literal or figurative similarity between character expression and designate (for example onomatopoeia such as German purr )
  • close connection between the characters' content and "literal" similarity of the designate (for example in the case of expanded meanings such as umbrella in the sense of umbrella )
  • close connection between the content of the characters and the contrast between the designate (e.g. learning German colloquial in the sense of teaching )
  • close connection of the character content and literal similarity of the designate and partial contiguity of the character expressions (for example with narrowing of meaning)
  • (Literal) similarity of the sign expressions (for example in folk etymologies such as Mole from Middle High German moltwerf Erden-Werfer )
  • Contiguity of character expressions (for example, at intersections such as English brunch from breakfast and lunch , but also with abbreviations such as German car from automobile )
  • literal, i.e. objectively visible, similarity and contiguity of the designate (for example, when confusing fir and spruce)
  • literal similarity between speakers and close connection between the characters' contents
  • multiple associations (for example in some forms of wordplay)

The specific associations can come about without a model, based on a model in one's own language or on a model in a foreign language.



  • Franz Dornseiff : The German vocabulary according to subject groups , 5th edition, Berlin: De Gruyter 1959. In particular the introduction to vocabulary presentation and the theory of designations .
  • Carl Darling Buck: A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages. A Contribution to the History of Ideas. Chicago University Press, Chicago IL 1949 (also: ibid. 1988, ISBN 0-226-07937-6 ).
  • Peter Koch: Lexical Typology from a Cognitive and Linguistic Point of View. In: Alan Cruse et al. a. (Ed.): Lexicology. An International Handbook on the Nature and Structure of Words and Vocabularies. = Lexicology. An international handbook on the nature and structure of words and vocabulary. Half vol. 1. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 2002, ISBN 3-11-011308-2 , pp. 1142–1178, ( handbooks for language and communication science 21, 1).
  • Joachim Grzega : Name change: how, why, what for? A contribution to English and general onomasiology. Winter, Heidelberg 2004, ISBN 3-8253-5016-9 ( linguistic study books ).

Web links

Wiktionary: Onomasiology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Interactive version of the AIS
  2. DÉCOLAR ( memento of April 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) - This is a Romance dictionary project that has been funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) since November 1997 in the normal process. It is located at the Romance Department of the University of Tübingen . The aim is to create a historical dictionary that appears in an onomasiological print version and in a CD-ROM version as a database with various access options. Head (as of 2014) Andreas Blank ( University of Marburg ) and Peter Koch (Tübingen)
  3. Joachim Grzega: Name change: How, Why, What for? A contribution to English and general onomasiology. Winter, Heidelberg 2004, ISBN 3-8253-5016-9 (reviewed in the Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik 1/2007)
  4. Johannes Kabatek; Claus D. Pusch: Spanish Linguistics. Narr Francke Attempto, Tübingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-8233-6404-7 , pp. 43-45
  5. see also the terms designator and rigid designator .