Chaining and historical adjective extension

AbstractA hallmark of natural language is the innovative reuse of existing words. We examine how adjectives extend over time to describe nouns and form previously unattested adjective-noun pairings. Our approach is based on the idea of chaining that postulates word meaning to extend by linking novel referents to existing ones that are close in semantic space. We test this proposal by exploring a set of models that learn to infer adjective-noun pairings from historical text corpora for a period of 150 years. Our findings across three diverse sets of adjectives support a chaining mechanism that is sensitive to semantic neighbourhood density, best captured by an exemplar model of category extension. This work sheds light on the generative cognitive mechanisms of word usage extension.

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