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Where Words Get their Meaning

Cognitive processing and distributional modelling of word meaning in first and second language

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Words are not just labels for conceptual categories. Words construct conceptual categories, frame situations and influence behavior. Where do they get their meaning?

This book describes how words acquire their meaning. The author argues that mechanisms based on associations, pattern detection, and feature matching processes explain how words acquire their meaning from experience and from language alike. Such mechanisms are summarized by the distributional hypothesis, a computational theory of meaning originally applied to word occurrences only, and hereby extended to extra-linguistic contexts.

By arguing in favor of the cognitive foundations of the distributional hypothesis, which suggests that words that appear in similar contexts have similar meaning, this book offers a theoretical account for word meaning construction and extension in first and second language that bridges empirical findings from cognitive and computer sciences. Plain language and illustrations accompany the text, making this book accessible to a multidisciplinary academic audience.

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