As a scientific discipline, contemporary research into the semantics of natural language is rather fragmented: there is hardly any communication between the different research programs, and often researchers ignore the history of semantics. Geeraerts (1988) located the cognitive semantics research program in the history of lexical semantics. He distinguished four periods, from 1870 up to the present: historical-philological semantic research, structural semantics, logical semantics and cognitive semantics. Even though it is correct that cognitive semantics has been on the rise during the last decades (Peeters 2000:3), it is certainly not the case that it dominates the field of semantic research (cf. the recent developments in Relevance Theory, Discourse Representation Theory, File Change Semantics, the theory related to the Generative Lexicon, Formal Pragmatics, lexicographical research, corpus analyses etc.). More specifically, the importance of these theories is important outside the domain of lexical semantics, and especially Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986, Carston 1998, forthcoming) has been rather successful in the optimalization and integration of so-called "classical" pragmatics (associated with philosophers such as John Austin and Paul Grice) into a general and philosophically cogent theory of meaning. The three other approaches are still very much alive, but unfortunately, communication between the various paradigms is extremely limited. Especially the divide between cognitive semantics and formal semantics is remarkable, but also the position of the many recent developments in linguistic pragmatics is uncertain. The project presented here focuses on this problem and more specifically on the following three aspects:
- a survey of the relationships between different paradigms in western semantic research from 1900 up to the present
- the evaluation of those paradigms on the basis of their explicit and implicit philosophical presuppositions
Moreover, in the recent past there have been some excellent explorations of the historical-comparative filed of linguistics (Gordon 1982, 1993, Schmitter 1990, Nerlich 1992, 1993, 1995, 2000, Geeraerts 1993, Nerlich and Clarke 1994, 2000, Koerner 1995, Swiggers 1997, and the various contributions on the history of semantics to Koerner and Asher (1996) Auroux et al. (2000)). Seuren (1998) contains an extensive survey with reference to the more general linguistic context, Allan (2001) presents a synthesis of a number of insights from cognitive semantics and formal semantics as well as the philosophy of language, and the series Current Research in the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface (editors: K.M. Jaszczolt and K. Turner) studies how analyses and methods from different subdisciplines can be combined. The studies mentioned above primarily focus on the legacy of 19th century semantic research; with respect to the 20th century researchers have mainly focused on the developments from 1900 to 1950. With respect to the latter period, our project will restrict itself to a search for the roots of later research.