The Typology of Polysemy: A Multilingual Distributional Framework

AbstractLexical semantic typology has identified important cross-linguistic generalizations about the variation and commonalities in polysemy patterns---how languages package up meanings into words. Recent computational research has enabled investigation of lexical semantics at a much larger scale, but little work has explored lexical typology across semantic domains, nor the factors that influence cross-linguistic similarities. We present a novel computational framework that quantifies semantic affinity, the cross-linguistic similarity of lexical semantics for a concept. Our approach defines a common multilingual semantic space that enables a direct comparison of the lexical expression of concepts across languages. We validate our framework against empirical findings on lexical semantic typology at both the concept and domain levels. Our results reveal an intricate interaction between semantic domains and extra-linguistic factors, beyond language phylogeny, that co-shape the typology of polysemy across languages.

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