, Volume 195, Issue 2, pp 549–569 | Cite as

Levels of communication and lexical semantics

  • Peter Gärdenfors


The meanings of words are not permanent but change over time. Some changes of meaning are quick, such as when a pronoun changes its reference; some are slower, as when two speakers find out that they are using the same word in different senses; and some are very slow, such as when the meaning of a word changes over historical time. A theory of semantics should account for these different time scales. In order to describe these different types of meaning changes, I present an analysis of three levels of communication: instruction, coordination of common ground and coordination of meaning. My first aim is to show that these levels must be considered when discussing lexical semantics. A second aim is to use the levels to identify the communicative roles of some of the main word classes, in particular nouns, adjectives, verbs, indexicals and quantifiers. I argue that the existence of word classes can, to a large extent, be explained by the communicative needs that arise on the different levels.


Lexical semantics Communication Conceptual spaces Coordination of meaning Word classes 



I want to thank the Swedish Research Council for support to the Linnaeus environment Thinking in Time: Cognition, Communication and Learning. Parts of this article were written while I was a Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), which provided a generous environment for research. I am grateful to STIAS and to the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation for their support during this stay.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cognitive ScienceLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced StudyWallenberg Research Centre at Stellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa

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