CFP: Re-thinking synonymy: semantic sameness and similarity in languages and their description; 28.-30.10.2010, Helsinki

Final call for papers

Re-thinking synonymy: semantic sameness and similarity in languages
and their description

SKY (The Linguistic Association of Finland) organizes a symposium
‘Re-thinking synonymy: semantic sameness and similarity in languages
and their description’ in Helsinki, October 28-30, 2010. The official
website of the symposium, with the Call for Papers and other
information (to be added/updated later), is found at:

Traditionally, synonymy refers to a situation where a language has two
(or more) linguistic forms for expressing one meaning. Synonymy is by
no means uncommon in languages, exemplified also by the large number
of synonym dictionaries and thesauri. However, it is important to note
that the existence or lack of synonymy is largely a matter of
definition. On one hand, if we define synonymy as (very close)
semantic similarity or (essentially) identical reference, it
definitely exists to some extent in all languages. On the other hand,
if we confine the notion to absolute synonymy (comprising not only
reference, but also, for example, stylistic and sociolinguistic
factors as well as contextual preferences), it becomes less clear
whether synonymy really exists.

Many theories of grammar (such as Cognitive Grammar and some versions
of Construction Grammar) do not acknowledge the concept of synonymy at
all. Synonymy seems to militate against the expected relation of
meaning and form: a difference in form should always and necessarily
correspond to a difference in meaning. However, within these theories
(and within linguistics in general), a recurring topic of study is
lexical, constructional, functional and formal similarity. In
addition, current research seems to steer clear of synonymy (and
sameness), but at the same time puts a great deal of emphasis on
similarities, e.g. when and why two or more constructions with
seemingly similar meanings are used as each other's alternatives. But
where does the boundary lie between the two, i.e. when do we cross
over from synonymy to mere similarity, or vice versa, and, moreover,
how different can two constructions or expressions be and yet still be
considered similar in terms of their meaning/
function? Do all synonymous expressions share a common conceptual
(abstract) schema, and are the formal differences merely
‘coincidental’? What is the relation between these schemas and lexical
(i.e. ‘traditional’) synonymy?

The idea of the symposium is to challenge linguists both to re-think
the synonymy and sameness of linguistic expressions and to approach
the concept of synonymy from a broader perspective. What we propose is
that synonymy is best seen as sameness or similarity of forms and
functions – whether words, constructions or syntactic structures – not
only as a notion related to lexical semantics. For example, many
languages, such as Finnish and Estonian, allow the expression of
location through both cases and adpositions, and many languages have
both intransitive and transitive reflexive forms; these expressions
may be identical in meaning in certain contexts, but upon closer
examination they also display differences.

In brief: Does a difference in form always correspond to a difference
in meaning/function? If so, is there any justification for the
validity of the notion of synonymy in linguistic description? If
synonymy really exists on some level, do we need to broaden the
concept of synonymy and if so, how? What does the way that synonymy
has been studied tell us about language and, perhaps as interestingly,
about linguistics?

We welcome contributions dealing with synonymy from various
perspectives and backgrounds (including theoretical, empirical and
experimental approaches), ranging  from studies of lexical, functional
and formal synonymy to studies of synonymy within and across
languages. Possible topics for talks include (but are by no means not
restricted to) the following:

- The role of synonymy in linguistic theory
- Corpus-based studies of (lexical/functional) synonymy
- Psycholinguistic studies of synonymy/processing of synonymy
- Seemingly synonymous/similar categories across languages (e.g.
dative, reflexive, person, tense, deixis etc.), comparability of
functions across languages
- The role of synonymy in lexical typology: do ‘identical’ lexemes in
different languages express identical/similar meanings?
- Translatability of lexemes
- The development of synonymy; competition of synonymous forms in
- Synonymy in different theories of grammar
- The relation between lexical (‘traditional’) synonymy and functional
- Potential differences between sameness and similarity; is the
distinction meaningful or necessary?
- What does synonymy (at any level/in any form) reveal about language?
- What motivates the use of seemingly synonymous forms? Context,
meaning, sociolinguistic factors, disambiguation, verbal semantics etc.
- The synonymy of syntactic structural variants (e.g. differences in
comparative constructions)
- Synonymy of constructions within and across languages
- Semantic vs. pragmatic synonymy

The deadline for submission of abstracts (in English; max 500 words
excluding data, tables and references) is April 16, 2010
. Please
submit your abstract by e-mail to the address of the organizing
committee (synonymy-2010 /at/ Send your abstract as
attachment to an e-mail message (in both .pdf and .doc formats).
Please indicate clearly whether your abstract is intended as a poster
or a section paper. The abstracts will be evaluated by the organizing
committee and by the members of the scientific committee (see below).
Participants will be notified about acceptance by May 15, 2010. The
book of abstracts will be published on the web pages of the symposium

Body of the message should include the following information
(preferably in this order):

Name of the participant
Title of presentation
E-mail address
Is the paper meant as a section paper or, a poster, or a workshop


The deadline for submitting workshop proposals was March 15.


- Presentations by invited speakers
- Presentation by other participants
- Posters
- Workshops

Confirmed invited speakers

Dirk Geeraerts (University of Leuven)
Martin Haspelmath (MPI, Leipzig)
Beth Levin (Stanford University)

Scientific committee

Antti Arppe (University of Helsinki)
Peter Austin (SOAS, London)
Denis Creissels (University of Lyon)
Dagmar Divjak (University of Sheffield)
Adele Goldberg (Princeton University)
Stefan Gries (UCSB)
Tuomas Huumo (University of Tartu)
Laura Janda (University of Tromsø)
Jarmo Jantunen (University of Oulu)
Silvia Luraghi (University of Pavia)
Sally Rice (University of Alberta)
Anna Siewierska (University of Lancaster)
Bernhard Wälchli (University of Berne)

Organizing committee

Antti Arppe (University of Helsinki)
Seppo Kittilä (University of Helsinki)
Aki Kyröläinen (University of Turku)
Maarit Niemelä (University of Oulu)
Alexandre Nikolaev (University of Joensuu)
Jouni Rostila (University of Tampere)
Turo Vartiainen (University of Helsinki)
Laura Visapää (University of Helsinki)


The registration deadline is October 1, 2010. An on-line registration
form to the symposium will appear on the webpage of the symposium
after the evaluation of abstracts.

Registration fees

General: 100 Euro
Members of the association: 80 Euro
Undergraduate students: 50 Euro

Finnish participants are requested to pay the registration fee to the
SKY bank account when they register for the conference (bank account
number 174530-71243 (Nordea)). Participants from abroad are likewise
requested to pay in advance by bank transfer, if at all possible, to
the SKY bank account in Finland (Bank: Nordea; IBAN: FI76 1745 3000
0712 43, BIC: NDEAFIHH). However, we may also accept payment IN CASH
(only in Euros; moreover, we CANNOT accept credit cards of any sort)
upon arrival in case bank transfer is not possible. If you have paid
via bank transfer from abroad, we would kindly ask you to bring a COPY
of the original transaction receipt with you and present it upon

Conference venue

University of Helsinki


Please send all queries to synonymy-2010 /at/