Meaning change in a petri dish: Constructions, semantic vector spaces, and motion charts

Martin Hilpert, Florent Perek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
564 Downloads (Pure)


This paper explores how the visualization tool of motion charts can be used for the analysis of meaning change in linguistic constructions. In previous work, linguistic motion charts have been used to represent diachronic frequency trends and changes in the morphosyntactic behavior of linguistic units. The present paper builds on that work, but it shifts the focus to the study of semantic change. How can motion charts be used to visualize semantic change over time? In order to answer this question, we draw on semantic vector space modeling to visualize aspects of linguistic meaning. As an analogy to this approach, the title of this paper alludes to a petri dish in which the growth and development of biological microorganisms can be observed. On the basis of diachronic corpus data, we monitor developments in the semantic ecology of a construction. This allows us to observe processes such as semantic broadening, semantic narrowing, or semantic shift. We illustrate our approach on the basis of a case study that investigates the diachrony of an English construction that we call the ‘many a NOUN’ construction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-350
Number of pages12
JournalLinguistics Vanguard
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • corpus linguistics
  • semantic change
  • construction grammar
  • motion charts
  • semantic vector spaces


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