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Words and MeaningsLexical Semantics Across Domains, Languages, and Cultures$
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Cliff Goddard and Anna Wierzbicka

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199668434

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199668434.001.0001

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The meaning of “abstract nouns”

The meaning of “abstract nouns”

Locke, Bentham, and contemporary semantics

(p.205) 9 The meaning of “abstract nouns”
Words and Meanings

Cliff Goddard

Anna Wierzbicka

Oxford University Press

The meaning of “abstract nouns” raises fundamental philosophical and linguistic questions. Nobody was more aware of this than John Locke, whose treatment of the subject must be the central point of reference for modern semantics. Subsequent to Locke, Jeremy Bentham made another remarkable contribution with his theory of “fictitious entities”. In this chapter we set out an account of abstract nouns which builds on and seeks to re-connect with these largely forgotten antecedents. The chapter proposes several semantic templates for abstract noun meanings, and illustrates them with explications for English words such as illness, trauma, violence, suicide, beauty, and temperature. The chapter also deals with the important role of abstract nouns in constituting topics of discourse and with the profound untranslatability of many abstract nouns.

Keywords:   abstract nouns, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham

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