Diacronia 4, August 1, 2016, art. A53 (p. 1–16)

Prospects and problems of prototype theory

Dirk Geeraerts


Department of Linguistics, Catholic University of Leuven, Blijde-Inkomststraat 21, PO Box 03308, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium


Received June 5, 2016
Accepted June 13, 2016
Published August 1, 2016

Key words

cognitive linguistics


Parallel to the research that I did on the application of prototype theory to questions of semantic change (which eventually resulted in my Diachronic Prototype Semantics monograph of 1997), I paid attention on a number of occasions to the theoretical clarification of the notion of prototypicality as such (and of the related notion of polysemy: see the second section of this collection). In the paper reprinted here, I try to bring some systematicity into the many uses of the concept ‘prototypicality’ by distinguishing between two cross-classifying dimensions. First, I make a distinction between two crucial structural phenomena underlying prototypicality effects: flexibility (i.e. the absence of clear boundaries and demarcations) and salience (i.e. differences of structural weight). Second, I suggest that both prototypicality phenomena may be found on an intensional level (the level of definitions) and on an extensional level (the level of referents). The cross-classification of the two dimensions defines four basic types of prototypicality effects.


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    Text:Geeraerts, D. (2016). Prospects and problems of prototype theory, Diacronia 4 (August 1), A53 (1–16),
     author = {Dirk Geeraerts},
     title = {Prospects and problems of prototype theory},
     journal = {Diacronia},
     ISSN = {2393-1140},
     year = {2016},
     month = {August},
     number = {4},
     eid = {A53},
     doi = {},
     pages = "(1–16)",
     url = {}


© 2016 The Authors. Publishing rights belong to the Journal. The article is freely accessible under the terms and conditions of the CC-BY Open Access licence.

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