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Interpreting particles in dead and living languages: A construction grammar approach to the semantics of Dutch ergens and Ancient Greek pou

In this dissertation, the types of context Dutch speakers need to interpret the poly-interpretable word ergens ‘somewhere/anywhere’ are studied.

Elizabeth Koier
28 March 2013
Published by LOT
Full text available in Leiden University Repository

Words may have multiple interpretations. For instance, the word  table can refer to a piece of furniture or to a page listing the chapters of a book as in  table of contents. Generally, native speakers do not perceive this as a problem, because the context provides enough clues as to what is meant. For non-native speakers and students of dead languages, however, the existence of multiple interpretations sometimes does raise problems. This suggests that the context is not the only clue native speakers use to interpret words. 

In this dissertation, it is studied what types of context Dutch speakers need to interpret the poly-interpretable word  ergens ‘somewhere/anywhere’,  modal particle. The results of this investigation were used to find out more about the Ancient Greek form που ‘somewhere, anywhere’,  modal particle.  

This thesis shows that the study of contextual cues that allow native speakers to interpret their language provides insights that may be used in the study of dead languages. The modal interpretations of  ergens and που turned out to be quite different, but the context of both words clearly showed recurring (albeit different) patterns. Knowledge of the common interpretation of words in specific contexts seems crucial for their interpretation, suggesting that it is not words themselves that carry meaning, but words-in-context. 

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